Race relations in Bakersfleld improving, challenges stil lie ahead

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) When Jordan Josephate moved to Bakersfield some 20 years ago, his family and friend were left puzzled.

"All of my relatives in the Bay Area and San Diego thought that this was the most prejudiced place to be," said the pastor at First Ministries Church and founding member of Stop the Violence, a group dedicated to intervening in gang violence.

"Am I saying that it's a perfect place? No."

Bakersfield has long had a reputation of being a politically backwards and socially conservative town that some equate with racism. But, as Jordan found out, blacks have also held some of the top posts in several fields.

Erick Matlock served as Bakersfield police chief from 1999 to 2004. Dr. Horace Mitchell is the current president of California State University, Bakersfield, Pat Cheadle is director at Kern County Human Services, and Dr. B.A. Jinadu is past director at Kern County Health Department.

Racial harmony in the community, however, still faces challenges. Each year, a march is held in honor of Dr. Luther Martin King Jr. Most of those participating are black and Hispanic. Few whites, other than politicians, turn out for the community-based march.

"You won't see those white people, because that march is normally done in this community, and there's that stigma that says if you're white, you can't come on this side of town," said Pastor Josephate.

Others acknowledge Bakersfield has its challenges in improving race relations. But, gains have been made, said Dr. Chuck Wall. He is the founder behind the Random Act of Kindness movement, author, former member of the Kern County Human Relations Commission and retired professor at Bakersfield College.

Wall said two issue affect race relations: gangs, which impact all communities, and immigration reform.

"One of these days, our politicians are going to recognize that the people want a solution here, and not use this as a football to gain admittance into groups for political gain," said Wall.