Bakersfield College History
Professor Odella Johnson Remembers Ossie Davis
By Professor Odella Johnson
Reprinted from: BC Archives Newsletter, Fall 2013, V12, Is2 P6
The year was 1977 and actor Ossie Davis, a civil right activist and humanitarian came to Bakersfield College to speak to students, staff, and faculty about higher education and its connection to social change. Davis asked a question of us all. “What can you do to make a difference?” Ossie Davis had attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., and he had come to understand early in this life that he would use his career as a actor, a writer, and a producer as a platform to facilitate change. Change according to Davis is “what transforms our thinking and those around us.” When change occurs, it creates a momentum, a whirlwind, some might say, that facilitates a change within us and others.
Now, some thirty-six years since first hearing that question, I received this photograph and was immediately reminded of the day Davis graced us with his presence, but more importantly how that question impacted me. I recall the passion in his eyes and the serious turn of his body. A sudden sprinkling of nervous laughter and mumbled sounds had filled the Fireside room as those who listened felt a need to repeat the question out loud. Bakersfield College faculty, including Larry Robinson, history professor Jesse Bradford, and I, looked around the room waiting to hear what the students would say.
Both Bradford and Robinson are no longer physically a part of the Bakersfield College faculty roster. However, their legacy much like the question that Ossie Davis left with me on that day still remains. The gift is a commitment to student success, engagement, and learning because, at least a partial response to the question, “what can you do to make a difference?” has become part of the solution, not the problem. We can create the educational opportunities to promote change in the lives of our students. Just think what we can collectively do if we focus on this common goal.
Use this Centennial occasion, to contemplate the question raised by Davis, “what can you do to make a difference?” While we recognize, celebrate, and rededicate ourselves individually and collectively as faculty, staff and students of Bakersfield College to become positive change agents who brighten, enlighten, and touch lives, we commemorate Davis, Robinson, Bradford and so many other faculty, staff, and students who have made a difference here. No banners, trumpets, or accolades will be hung, sounded, or exclaimed to honor our gifts and talents: this institution stands as a testament to what we all have contributed. For me, the talented and bright stars I was privileged to walk beside on that day, February 8, 1977 will forever remain in my heart and my mind as will the question Davis posited.