At 8:24 p.m. on Memorial Day, May 25, 2020, George Floyd stopped breathing.
George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, died while he was pinned to the ground, face down, in an unlawful knee-to-throat chokehold by a police officer.
It’s poignant that on Memorial Day we honor the sacrifices of American soldiers who fought and died defending our country and our rights – rights that we hold to be equal for all, and rights that, in America at least, we name and defend.
The public reaction to George Floyd’s death has been forceful, spontaneous, across the political spectrum, and coast-to-coast. What is most striking to me are the voices that bear witness that George Floyd’s tragic death is far from an isolated incident, but is instead part of a long history. As another colleague texted me - “horrific and common”.
I believe that in the 50 years since King asked this question we have made enormous progress that we can and should be proud of. But we need to hear what George Floyd’s Memorial Day death – and our national reactions to it – are saying. It is a long and painful history, which makes it harder to hear. It is a dark and confusing time, which makes it harder to see how to move forward. But as Bakersfield College Renegades, we owe it to our community, to our veterans, and we each owe it to George Floyd, to join together, listen with humility, and to bring light that can illuminate the way ahead.
Dr. Sonya Christian
President, Bakersfield College
Under the leadership of our faculty, staff and administration, BC is planning a series of events around Black Independence Day on June 19th.
Join Bakersfield College and the Danny Morrison Show for a two-week series of conversations and virtual celebrations across multiple platforms to bring light to racism and white supremacy in our community, the state, and our nation. We invite you to listen, engage, and develop a call to action.
We're encouraging students, staff and anyone in our community to #ShineALight on injustice and share their thoughts about racism, police brutality, or the demonstrations around the country over the last few weeks. Submissions will be published on this website as they come in.
Director, Financial Aid
Dr. Paula Parks
Umoja Community Coordinator
Director, Public Safety Training Programs
Director, Outreach and Early College
How did we get here?
First, how do we even define "here"? "Here" is bigger than the recent killing of George Floyd. It is a manifestation of centuries of inequality derived from not valuing the lives of Black people. Floyd’s inability to breathe and his ultimate death were due to the officer’s knee on Floyd’s neck, but the circumstances around his death represent the situation of all African Americans who metaphorically have had white people’s knees on their necks for centuries, as was aptly explained by Rev. Al Sharpton at Mr. Floyd’s funeral. African Americans are a people whose bodies and minds have never mattered.
Historic illustration Courtesy of the University of California, Berkeley
Slavery in America was the most brutal version in recorded history. It was not the traditional type to work off a debt; instead, slavery became inextricably bound to an entire race of people, generation after generation, starting with the 10 to 15 million Africans who were ripped from the continent and brought to America. People of African descent were repeatedly raped by the owners and other members of the household, forced to have children with others who were enslaved, forced to labor long hours around the plantation, beaten for any perceived infraction, sold away from their families at the whim of the owner, and continually belittled and ridiculed.
The cruelty with which these new Patriots behaved was at odds with their professed faith and the country’s ideals of freedom. So a narrative was created, through “scientific and medical studies,” to justify the treatment of enslaved Africans. Literature “documented” Black people as lazy, stupid, not fully human (specifically 3/5), child-like, impervious to pain, incapable of feeling grief, not civilized, dishonest, and unattractive. Those outright lies were repeated and repeated and purposefully woven into movies, books, and live performances. Sadly, so many of these myths, especially the lie of criminality, are still believed today, reflected in the media, and ingrained in popular culture.
Immediately after slavery, very little changed as Southern businesses had to figure how to replace slave labor. So states instituted convict leasing, a way for the accused to serve his/her time by performing hard and often dangerous labor on plantations, in mines, and on railroads. Charges were often fabricated and almost anyone could be swept up by police for something as inconsequential as loitering or not having a job. Landowners cared even less about the convict’s well-being than they had about their slaves’. These were more expendable. When a convict was worked to death, a replacement was promptly issued. About 25 percent of convicts died. The passage of the 13th Amendment didn’t mean African Americans were free nor safe.
Lynching became another way to exert control over and legally kill Black people due to their “criminal” behavior. Black people were lynched for disrespecting a white person, looking at a white woman, being independent or “uppity,” or for nothing at all. From 1877 to 1950, more than 4,000 African Americans were lynched, mostly by a mob. Many lynchings included a family picnic or religious event and were memorialized with souvenir post cards. Often fingers, toes, private parts, and ears were cut off the victim and sold to attendees before the victim was burned alive while hanging from a tree. For centuries, perceived criminality has been justification to kill a Black person.
In addition to enduring voting barriers and legalized segregation, African Americans suffered through strategic attacks on any economic advancement. For example, 35 city blocks of a self-sustaining, thriving community called Black Wall Street in Tulsa were burned to the ground and 300 people were killed. In other cases, policies such as redlining, enforced by realtors and lenders, meant that Blacks could only live in certain parts of town where the property values were lower but the insurance rates and interest rates were much higher. Residents paid for their homes many times over. Due to contributing to someone else’s wealth through enslavement, not inheriting property nor wealth, and being subjected to targeted discrimination, the average African-American family has one tenth the wealth of the average white family.
Graphic courtesy of Mennonite Central Commission
Black people are still seen by many in society, as well as by those in the criminal justice system as threatening criminals and have been disproportionately affected by the exponential increase in incarceration rates. While African Americans are 12% of the population, they are 36% of the state and federal prison population. Major contributing factors include being subjected to mandatory minimum sentencing laws, being pressured to make plea deals, having inadequate legal representation, and being targeted by police. Furthermore, in prison, convicts perform janitorial, agricultural, and manufacturing work that benefits the state and major corporations while only earning pennies per hour.
Photo by Laurie Shaull via Wikimedia Commons
Police brutality is just a recent example of dominant society’s knee on Black America’s neck – a continuation of slavery’s behaviors and attitudes. In fact, slave patrols, a practice that started in the 1700s to return runaways and to inflict terror, evolved into lynch mobs as well as our current police system. The same lynch mob mentality which resulted in the death of Emmet Till in 1955 also contributed to the beating of Rodney King in 1992. Sadly, while the open casket of Till and video of King’s beating shocked the world, they didn’t result in a conviction nor a reduction in such abuse. And currently, the deaths of Trayvon Martin through George Floyd have the same theme of legally extinguishing Black lives with or without a knee.
Dr. Paula Parks
Professor of English and BC Umoja Community Coordinator
It is my fervent hope that these heart-breaking events will lead to change. Although change needs to occur at all levels of society, it starts with individuals. I invite you to join me today to commit to doing better. We can create vibrant and thriving educational communities that are safe environments to live, work, learn, and grow. Let us be a diverse and unified community that leads the way in changing for the better!
Tom Burke, KCCD Chancellor
Read Tom Burke's full letter to the KCCD community
I have experienced both subtle and overt acts of racism throughout my life. In order for our communities and our nation to combat racism and inequalities towards people of color, those individuals in positions of power and authority should understand their own feelings about race and equality, then utilize their voices, powers, and actions to listen, acknowledge acts of racism, recognize and respect cultural differences, and interrupt the racist cycle with procedures and actions that will eliminate racism and inequalities. Consider this your “fierce urgency.”
Dr. Brenda Lewis - Associate Superintendent, Kern High School District
Being a black man in America is exhausting. Even though I’m a professional - HR Director, member of six boards, adjunct professor, and Social Pastor - I still experience racism regularly... I end with what gives me hope, and it is from the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights. Among those rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Join us in making that a reality for blacks in this nation and in this community!
Traco Matthews, Social Pastor
Read Traco Matthews' full testimonial
Our nation and local communities have recently been impacted by a series of unprecedented events. The recent tragic murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor by whites citizens has given way to world-wide protests and conversations centered around social injustice.
In times like these, we have been given an opportunity to respond in a manner that moves us forward as a community. Educators and institutions of learning have a duty to ensure social justice and that opportunities exist for the success of our African American Communities.
What can Bakersfield College do? It can continue to support the Umoja Community and other programs in the African American Initiatives affinity group. Also, Bakersfield College should recommit to the recruitment, hiring, and retention of African-American administrators, faculty, and staff who provide models of support and innovation, as well as enhance culturally responsive teaching and leadership excellence. In addition, it is vital to provide resources for the Umoja program in the form of a dedicated space with support and resources that can assist students in their academic success. Students want and need a safe space to study, thrive, and connect with an academic community which respects and appreciates the diversity of all students.
Umoja Community Advisory Board - Odella Johnson, Dr. Kenneth Robinson, Addonica Stanley and Kesha Owens
“From 1st-8th grade I attended private school, so as you can imagine the black population was very small. Anyway, so in 7th grade I had this teacher that I loved. But one day I had a negative encounter with her that has stuck with me for years. She one day told me “Aleya, stop acting like a prissy white girl and act black!” She felt that comment was okay cause she had a husband of color and mixed children. I laughed it off but knew that comment wasn’t okay, so I told my mom and she was very upset. I immediately was removed from that class. Comments like that are NEVER okay even if you have a black partner or mixed raced kids. Be careful what you say. Racism isn’t just openly calling someone a racial slur. People are quick to say “I’m not racist” but they’re the ones quick to make a black joke and think it’s funny. Those are the people that need to be called out cause all that is a form of racism but they’re gonna sit back, get offended and claim they aren’t.
To the non-black people, please speak up! Call out your friends when they make racial jokes and say rude comments toward people of color. If you’re gonna stand with us you gotta stand up for us too!”
I feel that that the protest is more than just about police brutality. This specific incident involving George Floyd was the tipping point, especially after countless similar situations involving police brutality and black people. The protest to me is also about systematic oppression, racial inequality, as well as covert and overt racism that has been a part of America since the beginning. I want to feel comfortable in white spaces without being racially profiled. I want to be able to step into a room and not have the color of my skin weaponized. I would like to be able to wear my natural 4c texture hair without being deemed unkempt or uneducated. It is sad when parents have to warn their black children about being pulled over by the cops. We as black people have to be extra careful while in the police presence. Furthermore, I want young black girls and boys to feel embraced and not afraid while living in America. After all, this is our country too!
Cindy D., Early Childhood Education major
We live in a time when racism is being recorded. Police officers are abusing the true meaning behind their badges. Black children are petrified of what their future holds, and black men are living in fear every day because they don’t know when it will be their last. Black mothers are mourning the deaths of their sons because not even their open arms could have protected them. We are being hunted down like we’re wild animals that have escaped from their cages.
We have been marching, protesting, and screaming for justice and equality for years, yet nothing has changed. We pledge our allegiance to the flag that declares “liberty and justice for all," but have yet to see that justice. The individuals who are supposed to protect us are the ones who claim they are afraid of us, call us thugs, and plot on how they will kill us off. If all lives mattered, then why aren’t we getting treated accordingly? It seems as if we are reliving the past.
It tremendously breaks my heart to see how oppression has become instilled in our lives at such a young age. Parents are giving their children the survival talk instead of the “birds and bees” talk. We are given the do’s and don'ts because we live in a country that judges us based off of our skin color and not our character. Being black shouldn't be a crime.
Alexis Brown – nursing major, Umoja Community member
Due to the recent killing of George Floyd, I believe there has been a new awakening, not just in the black community but in the world, to the injustice African-Americans have been going through. I have seen protesting not only in the US, but globally. I have seen more and more people putting pressure on celebrities and people with a huge social media presence to speak up. It doesn’t matter your race, gender, sexual orientation, or nationality, you will be called out for staying silent. I have never seen so many people uplifting the black community by promoting black businesses, black history, and encouraging black people to share their own personal stories with police brutality. As a young black woman, I’m excited to see what the future holds. I finally have a hope that the burden of being black in America will finally be lifted, even if it’s just a little.
Zariyah Hall - theater major, Umoja Community member
On the many deaths of black men, I’m afraid of many things that will happen to me and my fellow brothers. I feel like I cannot hangout with a group of my friends because we would be a target for hate. I feel like when I go outside and run, the police will think I am up to mischief. I have fear every time I see a police officer and wonder if he is a good one or a bad one. On the point of George Floyd’s death, I think we hit a breaking point. When the whole world saw that video of the police officer putting his knee on his neck while George Floyd shouted, I can’t breathe - it astonished everyone. There have been many previous cases such as Botham Jean, an innocent black man shot in his apartment watching TV and eating ice cream. Another case was Atatiana Jefferson who was killed in the middle of the night in her home during a check in call by her neighbor while she was just playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew. These are just a few cases of the unjust murders many officers got away with. We protest and march to invoke empathy in others to help make a change in politics and the police departments.
Blake Burton - biology major, Umoja Community member
Living in the South, Midwest and West Coast as a black man, I have experienced racism in many forms, and this has made me fearful still of my son, brothers, cousins, and friends. I can honestly say today is the first time in my life I can talk passionately about it with a white person and not seem like an Angry Black Man.
Darrel Ballard - Athletics Program Manager, Bakersfield College
As a college student in the early 2000s I was the only student of color amongst white students. No other minority groups were present in my classes at the time, unless my groups of friends and I registered for classes together. During these times, I was very much stereotyped by the white students. They would come to me requesting to buy drugs from me and/or find a person who would provide such things. I have never tried drugs in my life and this idea of being stereotyped as a drug dealer because of the color of my skin was disruptive and hurtful. Reflecting back at this situation, I realize it was covert racism.
We need to continue to have a dialogue about race and inequality in America. Police brutality is real and our people are dying in the streets at the hands of cops when they should be protecting us. So many people turn a blind eye to its existence, but as a community we need to understand injustice to people of color. As long as we move forward with these conversations, we can get closer to justice.
Steve Agard - Counselor, Bakersfield College
I am in anguish from recent events which is additional trauma on top of generations of such abuse my ancestors suffered. I am concerned about the physical safety and mental health of my husband, sons and daughter, and my Bakersfield College students...
My Umoja students also tell me about being followed around stores while they shop. More than one student has been late to class or absent because he/she was hassled by police...they felt comfortable [sharing their experiences] in a community of understanding and love - first steps to healing.
Dr. Paula Parks - Professor or English and BC Umoja Community Coordinator
Community Voices: Lighting a candle in dark times (Published June 13, 2020)
I am a black man and I have experienced inequity and unfairness first hand, so I know it’s real. I am also a person of faith which for me means striving to be a better person, to treat others with equity and fairness and adhering to the Golden Rule “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you” People of faith across the nation are (or should be) committed to the Golden Rule, the equitable and fair treatment for all people regardless of the color of their skin.
For people of faith, this includes not being quiet when you see black or brown people mistreated – mistreatment, that can sometimes lead to death as we see in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Proactive actions include peacefully doing something when you see unfair treatment against fellow humans, it means doing something to peacefully fight racial injustice.
I call on all who believe in the Golden Rule, to peacefully do something! Whatever you can do in your sphere of influence – whatever you are comfortable doing, now is the time to stand up and be true to your convictions.
Charles Daramola - Professor and Program Director of Public Health Science, Bakersfield College
"In a country ravaged by a plague that has disproportionately harmed our neighbors of color while they reel from wounds of violence carved deep over many decades, the only appropriate way I can imagine celebrating Juneteenth is to make an unapologetic call for my white friends, family, colleagues and neighbors to commit to anti-racism."
Lesley Bonds - Director, Student Success and Equity, Bakersfield College
Community Voices: Be Part of the Solution (Published June 03, 2020)
"As a historian of civil rights activism in the United States, I understand well the genealogy of institutional racism and discrimination faced by people of color, African Americans especially, since the founding of the republic. Coalition building has always been fundamental in the fight for justice and equality in America. In this present moment of tension, hostility, and anger, I take solace in the words of James Baldwin: "The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it in us, are unconsciously controlled by it...History is literally present in all that we do." Protest and civil disobedience is part of a longer arc within the American story. When I see organized protest in the streets, I see civic engagement and direct action moving collectively toward equality and justice for all, regardless of skin color, gender or sexual orientation, place of birth, or other socially-constructed marks of difference. Reform does not come easy. It takes mobilization from below. I find hope, promise, and the renewal of the American spirit in protest."
Oliver Rosales - Professor of History, Bakersfield College
In order for any of us to truly THRIVE and be healthy & happy, we all need to be able to thrive and be healthy & happy. When one part of our community is subjected to suffering through unfair treatment or abuse of power, we are all the lesser for it.
So much misunderstanding could be avoided if only we spent more time in community with one another.
We are all brothers and sisters under the skin.
Craig Hayward - Dean of Institutional Effectiveness, Bakersfield College
It's not enough to acknowledge there is a struggle. We must engage with and support those going through it. In my experience, it has been as simple as checking in on an African American neighbor after someone drove by and yelled a racist term at them. We hear and feel for you. How can we help? We can start there.
Abel Guzman - Executive Director-Rural Initiatives, Bakersfield College
A gift of a college classroom in the discipline of history is when students open up and share their personal stories in trying to make sense of the world we live in and how it connects to critical moments in history. They will connect to stories of success and happiness but they also connect to the narratives of inequalities, despair and pain. Our society is in a lot of pain right now, and more than ever, it is time to come together and listen to each other, learn from each other and work toward positive change.
Olivia Garcia - Professor of History, Bakersfield College
I’m horrified by the police action in Minneapolis that ended the life of George Floyd.
It’s time for all of us - regardless of color - to actively work to making this a fair country for all.
As a white man, I think it is time for me to listen and learn and become active to end inequality.
With that in mind, I’m going to give most of this space to two black men who I admire and read regularly:
“It seems like there could be a sea change. But we cannot pull it off unless those who've remained on the sidelines for so long, get up and jump into the game. Not being racist isn't enough. Being actively anti-racist is what this country, this world needs.” – Keith Knight, cartoonist and musician
“So even as we continue to take to the street, we must also think of what we want to come next. What are responsive actions, specifically, that we want, need and demand? In cases like this, the old saying, “strike while the iron is hot,” most definitely applies. Otherwise, the powers that be will simply try to wait you out.” – Charles Blow, NYTimes
David Koeth, Professor of Art - Bakersfield College
I am committed to not standing by and allowing racial (or other discriminatory) conversations, jokes, words or undertones go on in my circles and around me. It is my responsibility to work to break the cycle and speak up and call people out. Discussion is important, honesty and personal experiences are important, but ignorance and bigotry must be stopped.
Heather Pennella - Alumni & Donor Relations Manager, BC Foundation
I have been crying since I first heard George Floyd call out for his mother before he left this planet. There is inherent privilege in my crying. My crying comes from the soul of a white woman who is angered, shocked that the atrocities that are consistently committed against my fellow human beings are purely fueled by hatred for the color of their skin. There is privilege in my outrage, in my grief. Regardless, I am outraged. I am terrified for and proud of the young people who are protesting. They are dying from tear gas. Elderly men are knocked over by those who have sworn to serve and protect. At the same time, officers in Flint, Michigan are walking with protesters. In my privilege, I try to find hope in that. In my privilege, I can distract myself with a movie. The color of my skin gives a cloak of invisibility, of momentary bouts of ignorant respite from my grief for what our country has become. There is privilege in my knowledge that our country can never go back to the way it was. Our country can absolutely never go back to the way it was.
Kaitlyn Hulsy - Adjunct Faculty in English, Bakersfield College
8 days have passed since the senseless killing of George Floyd. I am still struggling to process everything that has happened since. I vow to use my space, my privilege, my role as a mom, wife, educator, and community member to make a difference.
I have seen too many social media posts of people seeking to silence the voice of the oppressed. I am angry, I am sad, I am hopeless.
We need to use our platform to bring these injustices to light. Unfortunately, the killing of Mr. Floyd is only one of thousands of incidents in the history of our country. However, we all play a role in changing the current situation.
Maria Wright - Director of Academic Support Services, Bakersfield College
The events of the past few months, with the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd have left me heartbroken. However, these events are nothing new. Instead they are a status quo that Americans have accepted for too long. As a white man of privilege, I can never understand how difficult and oppressive systematic racism, implicit bias, and outright racism, must feel. I can educate myself and work as a partner for change. I stand with you. I stand and with all historically minoritized groups and ally myself to the fight for equality. Black Lives Matter.
Ronnie Wrest - Associate Professor of Art, Bakersfield College
“American society includes the expectation that we are a nation of laws that apply equally to everyone…If American society is to survive, we all need to recognize that an alternate story, that has been told in word and deed for many, many decades at least, has grown more powerful than the shared story of opportunity and equal application of the law… Do we want that? Do we really believe that the shared story on which this nation was founded is not real and can never be real?”
Nick Strobel - Professor of Astronomy, Bakersfield College
Community Voices: Believing in the Same Story (Published June 5, 2020)
I am committed to building an anti-racist culture around me. I am embarassed that my black family, friends and coworkers do not have the privilege I have and they must cautiously live life to not be target by police and others while I say nothing. I profess that Black Lives Matter to me and I will not be silent in support of a better life for all African-Americans. I promise to deal with my fears, be uncomfortable, learn more about ingrained injustices, and grow in my abilities to bring about change in laws, policing, and my own actions and behaviors. Rest in peace, George Floyd.
Rich McCrow - Dean of Instruction, Bakersfield College
I was two years old when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. It was one of my earliest memories. I remember the fear and devastation of my parents. The hope was that maybe this would result in the end of racism and inequality. Over 50 years, we saw more deaths without systemic change, so we do not believe promises and dreams, only actions. Education must work to creates financial opportunities and ensure equal rights to life and liberty. It cannot be empty equality any longer.
Stephen Waller - Dean of Instruction, Bakersfield College
[Latino students in Bakersfield] don't see themselves reflected in the classroom. This lack of Latino representation impacts student persistence and success... I believe that BC cannot be a place where our community comes to discuss our community's problems if it is, itself, unaware of and contributes to those problems...
I have often been ridiculed by my father and other family who are law enforcement professionals. As a liberal brown girl, I was called a "femi-nazi" by my father and his brother because I believed that women should be empowered and not domesticated. How is that fascist? Their occupational and military culture is rooted in a desire to retain their power and position and demean others to affirm and preserve themselves. A paradigm shift in the purpose, values and virtues of law enforcement officers is needed to transform the nature of policing as an institution in this country.
Deborah Tinoco - Adjunct Professor of Sociology, Bakersfield College
Read full testimonial
Clay is my medium. Clay only becomes strong, long-lasting ceramic by going through fire. This is a time of fire in our country and with the change that will come, our society and community with find strength.
Black Lives Matter and I stand with you
Yvonne Cavanagh, MFA
Nothing changes unless something changes.
Elizabeth Rodacker, BC professor, on the death of Robert Forbes.
Dr. Antoine Hawkins
Kappa Eta Lambda Chapter
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
William Edwards, President
Tau Alpha Alpha Chapter
Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc
Monique Hawkins, President
Gamma Alpha Sigma Alumni Chapter
Sigma Gamma Rho, Inc.
Kappa Omega Omega Chapter President
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc
Behavioral Health Recovery Specialist
CEO, ShePOWER Global
Kern County Supervisor Elect
Bakersfield College Faculty
Wildland Fire Technology
Silent Prayer Walk and Solemn Assembly Organized by Pastors Oscar Anthony and Ignacio Valdez
Live Launch of #LightACandle #RealTalk with Danny Morrison, Julian West, and Reggie Bolton
#RealTalk with Danny Morrison, Bakersfield Police Department Chief Greg Terry and Assistant Chief Joe Mullins
#CommunityStrong: Unity In the Community Call to Action Peace Rally Organized by Michael Bowers, "T" Johnson and Traco Matthews
Day 1 of #LightACandle: A Juneteenth Conversation at 6 p.m. (Pre-recorded)
#LightACandle #RealTalk with Danny Morrison at 6 p.m. (Live)
Day 2 of #LightACandle: A Juneteenth Conversation at 6 p.m. (Pre-recorded)
Day 3 of #LightACandle: A Juneteenth Conversation at 6 p.m. (Pre-recorded)
Day 4 of #LightACandle: A Juneteenth Conversation - Making a Commitment at 7 p.m. (Pre-Recorded)