BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — One Kern County school district is working to help amplify Black voices inside and outside the classroom.
It’s the P.R.O.U.D Academy in the Bakersfield City School District. Proud stands for Powerful, Resilient, Outstanding, Unique and Determined and it’s all to empower African American students in schools and help give them the resources to believe in themselves and excel.
Lewis Neal, the youth program coordinator at BCSD, said the program is for every child who needs a safe space but is geared mainly to African American students.
“Literally what we’ve done with this curriculum and also the support is help them believe in themselves. They are so excited. They’ve been waiting.”
Through P.R.O.U.D Academy, students get to learn about African American history and current affairs, attend youth conferences, help with academics, and increase their self-esteem.
One of the highlights for students is the cultural capital field trips that help kids learn more about the places around them.
“We expose them every opportunity. If we can get them out of Bakersfield, we know they’re going to come back, but there are times they need to see there’s something bigger than Bakersfield,” said Neal.
“We take our eighth graders to the Convention Center in Los Angeles, to the Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The kids love that, they get to see people who look like them who are doing extremely well.”
They also sometimes visit other universities like Cal State University Northridge and UCLA.
Bryson Ovidel, a student who has been with the program for the past four years said one of the trips made an impact on them.
“[An] educational field trip I went to was when we went to Allensworth. There’s this library with all these different types of books telling us about Black History, and I remember there was this really old-timey classroom that still had chalk on the board writing, and it had books on the desk and everything.”
For 8th-grader Romella Willis, being at P.R.O.U.D. helps give her a sense of community and a chance to share her knowledge.
“I’d be around my people, and I learn a lot of stuff and like say, I go to P.R.O.U.D Academy and then I learn stuff, and then my family doesn’t know about it. So go home and I could teach them too.”
The program also gave her a strong support system through her teachers and facilitators.
“I think of them as family because I can trust them, and I could talk to them. Like I could talk about things that I wouldn’t want to talk about with other people. That’s a special bond.”
Neal said programs like these are important for these students, especially in times like these.
“There’s some social unrest. Things that have gone on in the past couple of years. There’s a negative connotation – something about our African American students, African American males. So, what we’re helping them do is change the narrative. We’ve got some strong young men and women who are doing the right thing, who can give back, who can be productive citizens.”
- RELATED: Group hopes to recruit more Black men to be teachers in effort to diversify community classrooms
Even last summer, before kids came back to school, P.R.O.U.D Academy brought some students back to help them feel comfortable in the classroom again.
“They were going to come together, and they learned a lot during the summer. We even talked about Brown vs Board of Education. We did mindful activities. The social and emotional learning because some of those kids have been out for a while and a lot of the times, there’s not a lot of structure. They had a lot of freedom. So, we just wanted to bring them back to where they could focus," said Neal.
A message to students considering the program but not sure if they should apply: “They should really try it and they could maybe learn something. And their food is good,” added Willis.
The program started about four years ago at just five schools.
Now they are moving to 11 schools in the district. It started as an after-school program with just about 100 students and is now expanding to around 400 with the program integrated during the day.
An event honoring Black History Month is also encouraging area residents to get vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19.
On Saturday, Feb. 12, organizers from Health Net, the San Joaquin Valley Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and the Friends of Allensworth will be at Allensworth State Historic Park for the free event that will offer vaccine and booster shots.
The event’s co-chair, Stephanie Gay, says they're hoping to serve all eligible age groups and residents, with an emphasis on reaching the nearby Black and Hispanic communities.
The first event of its kind is meant to celebrate the area's past, while looking towards a future that's COVID-free.
"The goal is to get everyone as possible vaccinated because what we're trying to do is each person who gets vaccinated brings us closer to a post-pandemic world and together, we can save lives."
It all takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, located at 4011 Grant Drive in Earlimart.
There is free parking Saturday for the first 150 registered guests and officials will hand out more than $15,000 in prizes and gift cards at the event.
The day will also feature live entertainment, food, informational programs about Black history, and chances to tour the park's historic buildings.