I had the wonderful experience of sharing the stage Wednesday with a few of Kern County’s finest, addressing the next generation of leadership in Kern County. I was blessed to share the stage with Alphonso Rivera, Morgan Clayton, Fred Prince, Darrell Muhammad, Michael Bowers and Leon Denweed. These gentlemen’s resumes are too extensive to inscribe here, but we know and appreciate them.
This panel, sponsored by the Kern County Black Chamber of Commerce, was brought together by chamber President Nick Hill with the task to inspire, instruct and invigorate students of Project Best. The Kern High School District’s Project Best provides a support network, instructional activities and mentoring opportunities to African American male students. As the conversation developed, a recurring theme was evident throughout the discussion that solid relationships and forgiveness are necessary to heal and restore the African American community.
Our society tends to award and provide accolades when men of color jump high, run fast, score or entertain, but few discuss their value outside their gifts. My soul leaped, realizing the unlimited potential these young men possess. I looked across the auditorium in the sea of those handsome Black faces and reflected that there is a need for society to appreciate and affirm Black men’s worth, which extends beyond performance on the court or field. In addition, society has pigeonholed some and stereotyped many for far too long based on their hairstyles, apparel and music. We can all do better by recognizing these young men as future business owners, scholars, scientists, farmers, physicians, elected officials, fathers, husbands and pastors.
In July 1981, Nobel Peace Prize winner and author Toni Morrison said, “I don’t think one parent can raise a child. I don’t think two parents can raise a child. You really need the whole village.” Morgan Clayton challenged the adults in the room, saying, “It’s up to us to help them germinate and cultivate their seed.”
It is easy to criticize and condemn, but it is work to walk alongside, stimulate and encourage. This generation is hungry and thirsty for guidance and direction. I believe the time is now for those of us who can offer our words of wisdom and become an answer to their questions and prayers.
Keith Wolaridge is a trustee for the Panama-Buena Vista Union School District, an adjunct professor at Bakersfield College and an author.