Editor’s Note: To celebrate Black History Month, Kern Sol News is highlighting notable Black leaders in Kern County who are working to create positive change in their community.
Traco Matthews has dedicated his time to a large number of causes with a mission to serve, encourage and coach those in need.
When he’s not working his full-time job for Community Action Partnership of Kern, he’s dedicating his time to one of the 10 boards he sits on, spending time with his family or enjoying his community.
“Everything I do, whether in my family, church, workplace, or community, everything flows from that foundation,” Matthews said of his purpose in life. “I want to help inspire and uplift everyone who is in my circle of influence.”
As the Chief Program Officer for CAPK, Matthews works to provide services to low-income clients that empower them to become more self-sufficient.
“That is the heart of who I am as a person,” he said. “That is what I want my life and legacy to be.”
Matthews oversees the programs CAPK has to offer, such as health and human services, food services, energy and utility assistance programs, education programs, a homeless shelter, youth and family resource centers and a county helpline.
However, his role at CAPK is much bigger than that, he said. Matthews strives for the clients to have a strong sense of belonging. He also strives to help those who have been historically or currently marginalized have an equal playing field when it comes to services.
“When every single resident in Kern County says they feel an equal inheritance of what Kern has to offer, that is when I will feel good,” Matthews said.
As a local leader, Matthews exemplifies the qualities of a noble servant, as he serves his community in multiples aspects. The most important part of being an effective leader is genuinely caring for those who are being served, Matthews said.
“You have to find a way to capture their hearts and emotions,” Matthews said. “You have to find a way to expand your heart and care about every person you have the privilege to lead.”
“Leadership is always a privilege because the heart of people are precious. That trust is sacred.”
Matthews has taken on quite a bit of leadership roles throughout Kern County. Aside from working for CAPK, Matthews serves on the board for Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services; CSUB’s African American Advisory Council; CSUB’s University Police Department; the Bakersfield Police Department’s Advisory Committee; Adventist Health Foundation Board; Kern Community First Organization; and Kern High’s Project Best Board, just to name a few.
As a local Black leader, Matthews said he finds it extremely important to honor Black History Month.
“I truly believe diversity is enriching,” Matthews said. “I think it’s even more important for us to celebrate and highlight the achievement of Black Americans because historically, those stories have been ignored and marginalized.”
Matthews said he doesn’t remember learning about Black history when he was in school. His teachers didn’t tell stories of successful Black leaders, and the history in the textbooks.
“(The history) was limited to our pain and suffering but not to our recovery or success,” Matthews said. “It’s hard to be what you don’t see as a Black man.”
Matthews said representation matters to young boys and girls, and he strives to empower and inspire young Black boys and girls by telling the stories of successful Black individuals in history — something he didn’t have as a young boy.
“It’s hopeful for us to celebrate it because for every little Black boy and Black girl, highlighting those stories is incredibly meaningful and valuable,” he said. “It allows them to feel that sense of belonging.”
Although celebrating Black History Month is extremely important, Matthews said he also finds it important to celebrate what he calls “Black present” and “Black future.” These stories can also inspire young people in the community.
Black present celebrates the “great things happening today,” he said, for example, Amanda Gorman performing at the 2021 Inauguration and Super Bowl.
“These stories need to be told today about Black present and the success we are experiencing and witnessing today,” Matthews said.
Black Future refers to advocating for change that will elevate Black boys and girls to be on an equal playing field with their peers.
Matthews said, “How can I create change that will provide that sense of belonging and inheritance for all the little Black boys and girls after me and to inspire them to soar and be their best.”
To create this change, Matthews believes people need to come together.
“When we come together to change our future, anything is possible,” Matthews said. “It will require grace and courage, but I truly believe we have greatness in us and we can accomplish that.”