On Monday, December 18, 2023, The Bakersfield Senior Center (BSC) hosted a news conference to celebrate Bakersfield’s historic award of a 22 million dollar grant that will be shared amongst several organizations including the MLK Community Initiative.
Community leaders, Lilli J Parker, Executive Director of BSC, and Emprezz Nontzikelelo, with MLK Community Initiative, gave speeches regarding the importance of the Transformative Climate Communities (TCC) Implementation grant.
“I hope I don’t cry, because it is a momentous moment- it is,” Nontzikelelo said at the news conference.
Nontzikelelo discussed what motivated her to participate in the grant application process and involvement with Southeast Strong. (Southeast Strong is the name for the project encompassing several grant winners.)
“I was walking through what I call my hood to the Southeast because the home is right there in the heart of the Southeast. I was walking through and I saw such deterioration, and degradation I did not see growth. I saw vacant lots where houses had been, where I was growing up were shacks- they had been houses,” Nontzikelelo stated.
Nontzikelelo hopes to restore the positive energy in the community by deterring litter and dumping, turning vacant lots into usable infrastructure, and getting individuals connected to their neighborhoods on a personal level. Her advice for youth and activists is to get civically engaged.
“It is a new day. It will not be business as usual,” Nontzikelelo said. “The status quo is no more. We’re all in this together to build a better Bakersfield.”
Parker and Nontzikelelo shared they started their transformation journey by connecting with their community and getting direct feedback on what should be improved.
Parker was inspired to start the project in 2018 after a visit to the Inglewood Senior Center in Los Angeles. Community members were asked to bring their ideas on how to improve BSC through more housing, access to green space, and ways to use the newest technology.
“We’ll be able to do more,” Parker stated. “We’ll have affordable housing. Thirty-six units plus the first two floors will have the seniors, and all of our activities, multi-purpose room, exercise room- that’s big.”
Parker shared BSC provides services for over 1,700 people monthly.
Parker stated that the software program, MySeniorCenter.com, will be purchased for the new mixed-use buildings. This online program will create secure buildings that open and close with key cards that every member of the BSC will be able to get.
“[People] are living longer, and no not all of them have access to food, and all of those things…They’ll be able to come and get those meals, they’ll be able to socialize. And what it’ll do is decrease chronic diseases,” Parker explained.
California Strategic Growth Council awarded the TCC grant based on the criteria that it focused on affordable housing, neighborhood development, mobility and urban greening, workforce development, and economic opportunities, according to the online guide for TCC plans.
To get to the implementation phase for the multiple projects the city had to first pass rounds of judgment until the fifth round where they were awarded the monies to break ground. For more information about the timeline for past grant planning to current updates visit Bakersfield’s TCC website.
The TCC round five details shares that all co-applicants include:
• City of Bakersfield (Lead Applicant)
• Housing Authority of the County of Kern (HACK)
• Community Action Partnership of Kern
• Habitat for Humanity – Golden Empire
• Circle of Life Development Foundation (dba MLK CommUNITY Initiative)
• GRID Alternatives
• Kern Community College District
• Golden Empire Affordable Housing Inc.
• Bakersfield Senior Center
• Building Healthy Communities
• Community Interventions
• County of Kern Employers’ Training Resource
• Kern County Black Chamber of Commerce
• Mission Community Services Corporation
• Ventura County Community Development
• 3C Capital Funding
• Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance
Joe Shea, Deputy Cabinet Secretary at the Office of California Governor Gavin Newsom, spoke at the news conference. He began his speech by thanking those involved with the project, and a story of how Bakersfield city leaders reached out to the Governor’s office. Shea described the team of city leaders as having the vision needed to manifest positive change.
“There’s nowhere like Bakersfield. It’s just something about Bakersfield that’s unique,” Shea said. “There’s a unique sense of civic pride, and rightfully so because if you appreciate the history of this state you can’t acknowledge that, appreciate that without appreciating the history of this city.”
Jason Cater, Economic and Community Development Manager for Bakersfield helped many city leaders during the final steps to apply for the grant.
“There are 16 partners,” Cater said. “A lot of the projects and programs were selected based on input from residents, so I think for the community it shows that we are serious about really investing in these areas.”
Moving forward Carter stated that Bakersfield residents can count on continued community engagement. The grant will cover a five-year implementation period tentatively starting in June 2024.