By Darlene L. Williams | Feature Writer

(Bakersfield, Ca.) — The annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. community awards breakfast celebration was held, Monday, January 16, at the Dr. MLK Jr. Center. The event, themed, “IT STARTS WITH ME: Cultivating a Beloved Community Mindset To Transform Unjust Systems,” attracted approximately 460 elected officials, business owners, and community members.

Attendees, at this year’s celebration, were met by several protesters holding signs and passing out hand-outs titled, “NONPARTISAN STATEMENT IN OPPOSITION TO AWARDING KEVIN MCCARTHY AN MLK AWARD.”  The peaceful protesters remained outside of the 4-hour event throughout its duration.

Mistress of Ceremony, Natesha Johnson kept the audience energized with comedic interjections and “upside” energy throughout the celebration. Several preliminaries took place prior to the presentation of awards including: a flag salute, welcome address, an opening prayer and the proclamation address by Mayor Karen Goh.   

Keynote Speaker, Bishop Broderick A. Huggins Sr., captivated the crowd with his self-titled, “spreeach”. He told the audience that he was somewhat undecided on how he would deliver his address whether he would present a speech or preach. 

Rev. Huggins quoted “one of his mentors,” the late Pastor Ted Johnson, Compassion Christian Center, “I would rather attempt something great and fail than to do nothing and succeed,” to which the audience gave a thunderous applause.  

 Huggins proceeded to deliver an arousing soul-stirring speech that seemed to mimic the passion and energy of Dr. King.  

“The goal of freedom, the dream, the ideal, the aim and the greatness of freedom is too virtuous and too vital to not put forth an effort” Huggins said. “There are too many needs together we can meet, too many prisons that can be emptied; too much poverty and sickness; too much violence, and political gridlock; too much social upheaval and too much racism.”  

“The problems of humanity are too complex and convoluted to not be active in the freedom movement”. Huggins said. “Freedom is not a document, nor a piece of legislation, but freedom is a lifestyle.” 

Dr. MLK Jr. awards were presented to: Makul Anand (academically decorated high school & college student); Dr. Jessica Grimes (Regional Chair of the Central/Mother Lode Regional Consortium(CRC), and Dean of Workforce and Economic Development (CTE); Heather Kimmel (Executive Director of Kern County Housing Authority); Traco Matthews (Chief Program Officer at CAPK); Dr. David Goh (Co-Lead Pastor of The Garden, Founder of Garden Pathways); Detective Aaron Watkin (Bakersfield Police Department); Reverend Richard Garcia (Director of Cru Inner City Bakersfield); James Luckey Jr. (Chief Editor Bakersfield News Observer, LA News Observer, and Valley’s News Observer); and Congressman Kevin McCarthy (House Speaker)

A significant portion of those in attendance walked out when Congressman McCarthy’s name was called to accept his award. 

Attendees, at this year’s celebration, were met by several protesters holding signs and passing out hand-outs titled, “NONPARTISAN STATEMENT IN OPPOSITION TO AWARDING KEVIN MCCARTHY AN MLK AWARD.” (Photo: Carrington Prichett)

Prior to the start of the program; the Bakersfield News Observer (BNO) spoke with Rev. Wesley Crawford (Chair) and specifically asked him about his thoughts regarding those in protest of McCarthy receiving a Dr. Martin L King award. 

“We as a people have to understand that Dr. Martin Luther King didn’t get this by himself,” Rev. Wesley Crawford Sr., said. “Had it been just us, we would still be marching today. We had Jewish, we had Christian, we had Catholic and we had Democrats and Republicans.  

On the other hand, Jenny (protester) said,” We are honoring someone (Kevin McCarthy) on Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday that does not share his (King’s) same values.”

“This is not about Democrat or Republican, this not about politics; only in the respect that I want our voting rights to be put forth so that we don’t have to be concerned about not being able to vote in certain states of these United States, Bernita Jenkins said. “ I don’t want our people to be attacked anymore and it’s going to continue to happen if we continue going down the road we’re going down in Congress”.  

“We do not appreciate that you would honor someone who is not looking after our benefit; that is why we are here,” Jenkins said. 

 “This award is given today is in honor of Dr. King’s philosophy; his beliefs and what he was striving for” Cliff Manning said. “Representative Kevin McCarthy, in our opinion, does not meet those standards, and he has no history of even promoting those standards.”

Manning further stated that McCarthy voted against the John Lewis Voting Act and he has supported things that make it difficult for people of color to go out and vote. Dr. King was opposed to all of that, so we don’t think he’s (McCarthy) a good representative of that award.” Manning said.  

Have we overcome, I asked? 

“Dr. King was about everybody, but he never forgot where he came from and he always advanced his people as part of the hard work that he was doing, God’s work; knowing that his people were in the worst conditions and the most feared for no reason,” Supervisor Leticia Perez said. 

 “We’ve got a long way to go and a lot of fears to overcome, people are afraid of my black (familia) for no reason. It is truly and honestly the most humbling and welcoming community I’ve ever seen and been a part of. We’ve got to do more of this—coming together, listening to each other and loving each other no matter what part of the globe people come from. These are moments when we overcome, when we act like Dr. King did, and when we don’t’-we don’t!” Perez said.  

BNO reached out to Congressman McCarthy’s Bakersfield office for a statement regarding the opposition. We did not receive a response prior to printing this article. 

“All have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” Rev. Crawford said.

 “Is Kevin the greatest of great? No! But, I’m not the greatest of great either.”  

Bakersfield News Observer coverage of local news in Kern County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.