BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — In recent years, Martin Luther King Jr. Park, in southeast Bakersfield has become a hotspot for crime and litter. But council member Eric Arias, assemblyman Rudy Salas, and the MLK Community Initiative want to change that.
When you think of neighborhood parks, you think of grassy areas where you come with family or friends to picnic or play soccer. It’s something an MLK community activist recalls of Martin Luther King Jr. Park, and something she is working hard to personally return to.
“It once was a beautiful space, a green space to be. Families would have cookouts, children would be playing on the playgrounds, there would be baseball games, soccer, and I could go and sit, as a senior citizen, and read a book,” said Emprezz Nontzikelelo, community activist, developer, and educator, MLK Community Initiative.
That’s how 76-year-old community activist, Emprezz Nontzikelelo recalls the MLK Park, which is only two blocks from where she lives. She grew up there and even saw the park being built. But it’s no longer the place she or city council member Eric Arias, remembers.
“We want to see some change. Some of the violence we’ve seen at that park. It’s deeply disturbing, horrifying. We’ve taken a look at those numbers,” said Arias.
Speaking of those numbers, it’s been commonplace to visit for the Bakersfield Police Department as they’ve responded to 58 crimes in that area in 2021, ranging from loud music to shootings.
“It’s important to put more lighting out there, it’s important to fix that walkway where the asphalt is crumbling. It is important to clean it up and put the money there. So families can feel hopeful and happy again and I can go there again,” said Nontzikelel.
That’s why Arias, assemblyman Rudy Salas, and the MLK Community Initiative have the MLK Walking Group at the park Saturday from 10 to 11:30 a.m.
Arias’ team and people like Nontzikelelo from the MLK Community Initiative have been going door-to-door, canvassing in the surrounding neighborhood to make sure those directly affected by the fate of the park are the ones that show up to the event. But Arias says all are welcome.
“Let’s share that safe space, talk about the stories of maybe how some of us have been affected by the violence there, and talk about how we need to work together, maybe some of the steps we need to take in order to really beautify the area, and reduce the violence we’ve seen,” said Arias.
Arias hopes this will be the first of what he hopes will be monthly walking group events--modeling it after the Greenfield Park’s initiative, which he says has been very successful in changing that park for the better.
“It’s going to be community-led, absolutely so if it’s going to turn into a group that goes in and cleans up trash, or gives out food month, or even Zumba classes, like Greenfield Walking Group, shoutout to them.”
23ABC did ask Arias if the city council is making any strides to put money into the park. He says while the budget for the measure has not been finalized yet by the city council, there is proposed money that would go toward two reinvention plans for local parks. If that goes through he’s advocating for some of that money to go toward MLK Park as well as the MLK Community Center.
Arias says that they’ll be doing a deep dive into that budget for the next one or two months. And he hopes to advocate for even more money.