BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Having spent his whole life in Bakersfield, Rich Richardson understands what it means to grow up facing hardships, only to come out on top.
"You’re the one that’s going to have to make it or break it," Richardson told students at West High Saturday.
That’s why he’s spent a majority of his adult life working to positively influence youth in the African American community as an educator and administrator throughout various school districts.
“Fixed mindset is always I don’t have any control over my life but that’s not true," Richardson said. "We have all the control that we need, we just have to use it the right way, and that’s why mentors are so important.”
West High Community Councilor Diane Mcgee says influences like Richardson are desperately needed among the younger generations of African American students.
“We didn’t have very much, we had to make our fun ourselves. And so I think just be being back there in the old days I saw it," Mcgee said. "Like I said we still have those students that are struggling and need that guidance, so we want them to know we’re here for you.”
Every year at West High, in honor of Black History Month, Mcgee organizes an event for students throughout the district to come hear from community leaders. The goal is not only to provide knowledge and life skills to the students, but inspire them.
One woman who's followed in Mcgee's footsteps is Janell Burton, West High's Dean of Student Support and Services.
“It’s something special when someone that looks like you is able to mentor you, when you walk into a class or a program and you see someone that looks like you, it’s an instant connection," Burton said.
These messages from mentors and leaders in the Black community have been passed down and now fall on the ears of the younger generation. Stockdale High School student Broderick Bownds was in Richardson's lecture Saturday. He says he wants to follow in the footsteps of these men and women to bring positivity and support to those who follow him.
“I think it’s really inspiring, and I take that to heart because I am a leader in BSU and I want to apply the same methods the same course of action that they did here," Bownds said.
According to Project Best — a program that identifies African American young men and guides them through college prep and academic courses — in the Southern San Joaquin Valley, 58% of African American male students graduate high school, and 14% attend college.
“You’re tossed into a world and told to conform when nobody’s giving you instruction or even love at that point," said Andrew Jones, a global mentor in dance, education, and fitness.
Jones says his life growing up in Bakersfield wasn’t easy, and he never had anyone to show him the way through his struggles, but that’s what made him want to become a positive influence for struggling youth.
He says he wants his mentees to understand that they can find success, even if they don’t take a traditional path.
“You immediately see your value as a supporting resource that’s not an adult that they’re familiar with," siad Jones. "They get a glimpse of what the outside world, and as a mentor you get to be their illustration.”