BC Panel Amplifies Black Voices: Stories and Perspectives Shared from students and faculty

February 29, 2024 /

Throughout February, Bakersfield College highlighted a variety of topics for Black History Month. BC’s Student Government Association (BCSGA) hosted a panel called “Campus Stories: Voices of Black Scholars at Bakersfield College” to share stories and perspectives from students and faculty on February 22. 

The panel included BC’s business education professor Keith Wolaeidge, program director of entrepreneurship and workforce development NaTesha Johnson, and students Tahnjanique Teague and Alexis Brown. BC’s UMOJA coordinator Dr. Paula Parks led the panel with a series of questions. 

Dr. Parks shared she wanted to ensure that they are maintaining a space that is most conducive to learning and growth. She thanked the panelists for their vulnerability and their honor to share their experience that is unique to them on campus. 

“Sometimes it can be very taxing for someone to be repeating stories or repeating experiences for the sake of others. So I just ask that we move with respect and understand that that is what’s happening,” Dr. Parks stated. “That simply means, simply because it may not be your story. It doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened. So as folks share whatever’s happened, that they’ve experienced, [or] whatever their professional experience has been. Just suspend disbelief and understand that it’s their story. It’s their story, and that’s the truth.”

Dr. Parks started the questionnaire panel by asking the faculty how they started their journey at BC.

Johnson came to BC in 2021 as a professional expert to offer consultation on entrepreneurialism under the college and to help explore different ways of how they can connect with their marginalized groups.  

“One of my recommendations that I presented to the college as a professional expert was ‘You guys need a director. You need someone to lead this thing.’ Then I think I spoke too fast, too soon because they offered me the position. But I was already doing the work, so it felt easy and it felt comfortable,” Johnson said.

Johnson always wanted to be part of the community just like her mom which is part of the reason why she enjoys being at BC. 

Before Wolaeidge was a business professor at BC, he wanted to be a bank president. He graduated from the University of Washington, civil banking school and then was a commercial banker for 25 years. 

After leaving banking, Wolaeidge opened his own insurance agencies.  In 2016, he was asked to teach accounting at Santa Barbara Business College. “And all of a sudden, I got the bug. And I am so glad that I got the bug,” Wolaeidge shared. “Because this is what I was really called to do. Banking was wonderful. Had a wonderful career.” 

When Dr. Parks asked the students about their educational progression, and if they have run into any challenges Brown shared after she graduated high school she didn’t plan on going to college until her mom made her sign up. Learning more about black curriculum and meeting new people made her enjoy college.

“In high school, we only learned about the same two people. I’m sure you guys know what I’m talking about. But just to be able to read about those different people, it made me interested in learning more. That’s really the main reason I continued my education. By continuing my education, I learned more about myself,” Brown said.

Although Brown had some challenges along the way, she shared that self sabotage was the main one. Especially because she, in most of her classes, was the only black student. 

“Self sabotage is not going to, it’s not going to determine my fate in terms of education. It’s not going to bring me down. It’s not going to make me quit. So I kept going and now I graduated. I think that cultural connection is really important,” Brown said. 

For Teague, she shared her educational progression was up and down. Education wasn’t something that was pushed on her growing up. So in high school she didn’t care, Teague confessed. It wasn’t until she joined Umoja, and was introduced to black scholars and business owners, that she saw the opportunities that she could have.

“I can’t achieve it if I don’t work towards it. That’s what has led me to be here today. Because I even took the two year gap during COVID and I didn’t think I was ever going to come back. But here I am making it work. I know it’s something that we definitely need, as a black woman, you [have to] be educated. You have to have somewhere to take your foot in the door. Because no one’s going to give it to you. Nothing’s going to be handed. So education is where it’s going to make my mark,” Teague said.

The next question Dr. Parks asked the panel how they would describe BC campus culture and where they find experience and create a sense of community on campus.

Johnson expressed she is still trying to find her sense of community on campus since her office is physically located downtown. She shared when she first got BC, Johnson was being the “pro black girl that you could ever meet.” 

She said she sent emails out to every black staff member to introduce herself and to put her on every team and committee. “And then there were crickets… I’m trying to be a part of the team here and I realize that there’s some internal stuff going on here that needs to be worked on too,” she continued. “So as I’m searching for a sense of community I have to realize sometimes your community could already be fractured.  It could already be broken, and so you have to find a different way to fit into those broken pieces and hope that you can mend it if you can or try to improve what’s around you.”

At first Brown had no plans of joining any programs outside the classroom because she felt like her experience was going to be the same as high school. But when she was registering for classes they recommended her to join the UMOJA program. 

“So I called up the parks and she stayed on the phone with me for like an hour or maybe more. I got my class to set up. I attended the orientation and then from that point forward, I knew that having a sense of community wasn’t going to be an issue,” Brown shared.

Dr. Parks shared that being from Los Angeles, she noticed the black community is very different  than it is here in Bakersfield. “So I think when I came here I was kind of let down in general about the black community.  But coming to Bakersfield College, I definitely bonded with the black faculty and staff as soon as I saw them… I think that the black faculty and staff, that support has been really important to me. And then in terms of politics, people make certain assumptions about my liberalness and then that will attract other people to me.  And then that has helped form a sense of community.”

BCSGA will host more “Campus Stories” panels in the upcoming months and throughout the next year. In March there will be a panel for Women’s History Month, a panel for Second Chance Month in April, and a panel for Pride Month in June. 

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