Young journalists discuss issues at BMOA

Journalists at South Kern Sol discuss a range of topics during a forum at the Bakersfield Museum of Art on August 4, 2016 (KBAK/KBFX photo/Matt Boone)

Three journalists from the website South Kern Sol discussed various issues affecting young people in Kern County on Thursday night at the Bakersfield Museum of Art.

One of the panelists was Randy Villegas, a Bakersfield College graduate and reporter for the youth-led community website.

"I definitely enjoy writing, like writing about and speaking up about issues in the community, like education and immigration. I'm a strong believer that everyone should have equal opportunity to an education," he said.

One of his articles commented on what he saw as educational inequities at the Kern High School District.

"Immediately the next week, I actually got a response from a Kern High School board trustee. It wasn't a very nice response, but it made me feel good as a journalist," said Villegas.

Public officials and others running for office were invited to the event. One of the KHSD trustees, Jeff Flores, was in the audience, along with Bakersfield mayoral candidate Karen Goh and congressional candidate Wendy Reed (D).

South Kern Sol's program manager, Reyna Olaguez, called the night a unique opportunity for the journalists to interact with adults in positions of power.

"We're saying, 'Hey, we need to invest in these communities. We need to invest in youth programs. We want equity in our schools,'" she said.

Dean Welliver was also on the panel. Along with Villegas, he has been critical about Kern High School District's educational opportunities, especially for transgender students.

"I ended up leaving school, because I did not feel safe at my school, and it was causing me a lot of anxiety and mental duress," said Welliver of his experience at Stockdale High School.

But journalism, he said, gave him a way to fight back.

"Not having an advocate, I really had to become my own advocate," he said.

He hopes to use his story as a tool to prevent other students from facing similar situations.

"When somebody can put a face to an issue and say, 'Wow, these are real people that are experiencing these struggles and issues and aren't just a number or statistic,' it's really impactful."

To read stories published by South Kern Sol, visit its website here.

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