BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The Cancer Survivors Plaza was once a beacon of hope sitting right here in Bakersfield. When it was first gifted back in 1996, the bronze statues told the story of cancer patients and their journey through treatment.
But unfortunately, the monument here in Bakersfield, one of only two dozen parks found nationwide, is in disarray.
“This is where we came together. And this is kind of sacred ground,” said Dr. Corey Gonzales, Ph.D, a local clinical psychologist and cancer survivor.
The memorial for cancer survivors was erected in Beach Park thanks to the Richard and Annette Bloch Family Foundation. It's meant as a symbol of hope, one desperately needed, especially given the events of the last few years.
“We’ve all been through a real tough time with this pandemic,” Gonzales said. "It's all made us feel insecure, scared, anxious."
Gonzales remembers when the monument was first given to Bakersfield. He was there that first day.
The monument was sacred to him given his own experience after being diagnosed with stage four metastatic terminal cancer at 23 years old. This monument reminded him every day of his struggle and his victory.
“Going into the maze, you could see that people were nervous, distressed, anxious. They look on the faces of the statues, there was a lot of anxiety," he said. "And as you got through the maze, you see them on the other side, you would see hope and joy and we’re going to make it through this thing.”
But those statues of hope and the plaques with inspirational quotes are all gone.
“You wonder is anything sacred anymore?" Gonzales asked.
Recreation and Parks Director Rick Anthony says the stolen statues and defaced property is nothing new to the department actions like this are something they’ve seen across the city for years.
“Let’s just say this, it is an ongoing issue at every park," Anthony said. “So I can totally understand why over the years, as things continued to kind of decline, there wasn’t a sharp knee-jerk reaction.”
Anthony says while it’s up to the parks department to watch over and maintain these areas and monuments, oftentimes maintaining the parks falls on the shoulders of various different agencies including police and public works. With a variety of oversight and staffing shortages the last few years, it's been difficult keeping track these of incidents.
Even though he’s only eight months into the job, Anthony knows this is an important issue.
“We have to put a foundation in place that's going to protect anything we do there. So that's the first priority. The second thing is you work with the community. You work with the medical community, you work with the public," Anthony said.
Anthony says one of his priorities for parks is the installment of a ranger program so that instead of various departments, there's one single entity with the sole purpose of protecting these revered areas.
For Gonzales, he hopes one day this ground will again inspire hope to anyone whole walks it.
“If we can collectively come together as a community, and not let this divide us, maybe something good will come out of this,” Gonzales said.
Of course, as the saying goes, if you see something say some. If you visit our local parks, you can do your part to protect them by reporting any illegal activity or vandalism to local police at (661) 327-7111 and the parks department at (661) 326-3866.