When you’re passionate about something, you go all in. For these people, it’s more than that — they’re inspired to change the world one step at a time. Kern County is home to many brave and strong leaders. You might not know their faces or names, but you’ll want to know their stories. Celebrated inside the January edition are 14 changemakers who are empowering the underserved and making Kern County a better place.
These days, Ulysis Baal finds himself in the company of several elderly individuals, but he wouldn’t have it any other way, because it might save someone’s life.
Going to the grocery store can be a luxury for senior citizens and immunocompromised individuals, who, in recent months, have had to avoid outings due to the coronavirus. Realizing how dangerous it might be for some, Baal decided to do the shopping for them.
Through Relief Shoppers, Baal, and several other volunteers, shop for and deliver items to senior citizens. A delivery can be set up online or through phone. An individual provides a shopping list and selects a delivery time while volunteers handle the rest. Those utilizing the service can pay for groceries with EBT cards, cash or through services such as PayPal, Venmo or Zelle.
Over the course of eight months, the clientele list has grown and around $20,000 worth of groceries have been purchased. It’s the hardest Baal has worked, he said, but without hesitation it’s the best thing he’s ever done.
Living a life full of health and wellness is important to Kalli Beckwith: she’s a Bakersfield native, co-owner to A3 Sports Performance, a health coach and urban farmer, to name a few. She met husband, Ryan, in San Francisco, where she pursued her master’s degree.
Beckwith began a garden six months after giving birth to her youngest son and acknowledged eating organic food was expensive. From then on, Beckwith would begin the art of neglectful gardening and is now on her seventh growing season. Beckwith pumps out about 1,000 pounds of fresh food a year.
Aside from creating a massive garden full of colorful foods, Beckwith combined her passion of fitness and performance, behavior analysis and growing food to forge a better path to a sustainable and healthy lifestyle. During the coronavirus pandemic in April, Beckwith and her husband were able to start a community garden at A3 where they gave athletes the opportunity to harvest their own foods.
She also has plans to transform A3’s parking lot into an edible landscape paradise to showcase low maintenance gardening, urban food production and sustainable practices to help the environment.
Beckwith hopes to continue to inspire youth and families to eat more fresh foods and encourage them to grow their own.
Community activist / Stop the Violence, Community Garden
“Making a difference” is a term Isaiah Crompton has lived by most of his life. Crompton dedicated his life to helping his community in every way possible. He’s involved in Stop the Violence, two community gardens and has established a men’s home.
Crompton grew up watching his parents take leadership roles in the community and said they are the reason why he does what he does today.
Crompton partners with the Martin Luther King Community Collaborative and brings other organizations alongside them for the betterment of the community. One project is feeding the community with the community garden he established more than 20 years ago. Crompton and his team have distributed thousands of pounds of food in the last year and a half. All donations given to the community garden go back to the garden.
Another project Crompton is a part of is Stop the Violence, a program that helps individuals through counseling or services to prevent violence in any way.
At 63 years old, Crompton continues to wake up every morning and give back to his community. Crompton said he feels blessed to be a part of the work he does and looks forward to providing meals for the homeless and seniors and providing his service to others.
He acknowledges there’s more work to do: he hopes to turn empty lots into walking parks, bring more grocery stores and add plenty of gardens to beautify the southeast side of Bakersfield.
Kei Deragon and Sarah Noble
Creative Crossing founders
What started off as negativity in her own community was a chance for local artist Kei Deragon to turn art into a positive influence in her neighborhood.
Deragon remembered being bothered by the effects of vandalism among the community and asked herself how she could make it better. With the help of a new friend and co-founder, Sarah Noble, they’ve created Creative Crossing.
Deragon and Noble’s mission was to bring the community together through murals and make a beautiful Bakersfield. Since then, it has evolved into having other local artists work together to create a better representation of Bakersfield.
Creative Crossing began its journey by beautifying the Oleander neighborhood and leaving a lasting impression on the community.
A year after founding Creative Crossing, the artistic duo has invested $300,000 back into their neighborhoods in art value alone.
The Creative Crossing team plans to expand to other parts of Bakersfield and build more unity in the community. Deragon and Noble also plan to continue working with other artists and bringing the community together through art.
Community activist/Retrain the Night co-founder
Tiara King is the kind of woman who wants to see change in the world. King is a local activist and co-founder of Retrain the Night, a program that seeks to help men in the community and prevent human trafficking by educating and a providing a resource for them.
King grew up in Bakersfield and went to a historically black college and university in Missouri. She moved back to Bakersfield seven years ago, not really looking forward to it, but that didn’t stop her from becoming involved in the community for the better.
King began working for the Counseling and Psychotherapy Center and helped individuals who are on parole for sex offenses by mandating a treatment program for them. She remembers looking at all the case files and wanting to get on the other side of the problem.
King looked for volunteer opportunities and worked with the Kern Coalition Against Human Trafficking, Magdalene Hope and Global Family Care. After seeing new girls come in Magdalene Hope every night, King knew there was more to be done.
She co-founded Retrain the Night alongside Kristin Smith and decided to put the focus on the men by educating offenders and helping them understand the damage done to their victims. The program helps restore families and change the minds and hearts of sexual offenders. King understood she couldn’t change the world, but wanted to change Bakersfield. King is inspired by her daughter and her mentors.
SMILE You’re Alive founder
If there’s one thing Jessica Knott is known for, it’s empowerment. Knott is originally from Long Beach, but moved to Bakersfield at 10 years old. She jumps back and forth between the two cities for her family. Knott describes her timeline as unusual — she attended Bakersfield College and the University of Phoenix studying communications. And in 2009, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.
Not only did Knott stay strong for her family, but she was on a mission to set an example of goodness. While being treated in the hospital, Knott began a nonprofit called SMILE (See More in Life Everyday) You’re Alive, where her mission was to bring smiles to other patients and make them feel better instead of feeling broken down. She founded a passion for youth empowerment, and over time Knott wanted to provide resources and therapy for people within her nonprofit.
Last year, Knott also created a project within the community to write powerful messages in girls’ school restrooms to empower and help them through their struggles. Knott wants make a difference for those girls in school because powerful and positive messages can impact their lives.
Knott also has a YouTube channel called Let the Girls Talk, which is a roundtable discussion of young women from diverse backgrounds coming together to inspire teenage girls. Knott is currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program and plans to open up her own affordable private practice in therapy one day, offering her services to parents and kids.
Former Kern County sheriff’s deputy
The road to redemption is something Thomas Morgan had to experience. In 1997, the then-sheriff’s deputy and deputy trainee responded to a call in the area where gunshots were fired. After one of the suspects fled, Morgan chased him and soon after was shot in the neck by a 410 Derringer and left to die. Morgan miraculously survived.
After his injury, he retired in 1999 as a senior deputy sheriff. Morgan knew continuing to be angry at his shooter wouldn’t help anyone around him, including his wife, who struggled the most.
Two decades after the incident, moving on meant coming face-to-face with the person who almost took his life: Jason Samuel. He decided to open a line of communication with the Victim Offender Dialogue, an organization that helps victims and offenders reconcile to encourage healing. After exchanging many letters and VOD visits, the Morgans were able to move on and forgive Samuel, eventually advocating for his release.
That nearly fatal incident ended up leading to a friendship today, and the two even text daily.
Morgan continued a career in law and enjoys helping people and making a difference in their lives.
Krystal Mae Raynes
Student trustee on Cal State University Board of Trustees
Being the first of anything can be a daunting task with plenty of pressure on one’s shoulders. But it can also be a chance to advocate for underrepresented groups and be a champion for peers. For Cal State Bakersfield student Krystal Mae Raynes, who is the first CSUB student to serve on the CSU Board of Trustees, she’s a voice for many who have go through tough challenges.
Raynes was appointed to the board by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September. Prior to having a seat at the CSU table, the computer science major has held multiple campus leadership positions, such as interim vice president of Legislative Affairs, vice president of University Affairs, and director of legislative affairs for Associated Students Inc.
As a student trustee, she can express what it’s like to be a student in today’s times, and how board decisions affect her and her peers. Immediately upon her appointment, she decided that she would advocate for the least heard/listened to people and areas in the state, which includes the Central Valley. She shared with trustees that her upbringing was never stable, and just this past summer was homeless due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s not alone in her story, but by making trustees aware of what students are facing, it might make many think twice about their votes.
Over the course of her two-year appointment, Raynes hopes to address issues concerning food insecurity, internet connectivity, technology availability, homelessness, mental health and degree attainment in the Central Valley and other parts of the state. Many high school students believe there’s no way their families can afford college tuition, but Raynes, a first-generation college student, wants to be an example to all those out there and encourage them to pursue their educational dreams.
Pastor Robin Robinson
Director of CityServe community development and church engagement
Step into CityServe’s massive warehouse, and you can see the amount of good that is waiting to serve communities in Kern County. At the helm is Pastor Robin Robinson, who has dedicated her life to helping others.
Robinson’s journey began on a complicated path. At age 16, after facing heartbreak from her parents’ divorce years prior, she turned to drugs and alcohol. For 10 years she lived a destructive lifestyle, she said, until she decided it was time for a change. Church and God saved her life, she said, and after spending years living hard, she committed herself to living hard for the good of her community.
She has done everything from starting a bus ministry, being a children’s pastor and serving 31 years as a pastor at Canyon Hills Church. For the last two years, as director of CityServe community development and church engagement, Robinson has had a chance to see her giving spirit impact more people than she ever thought possible.
CityServe is a collaborative network of community organizations and churches connected to enable transformation. Partners send like-new returned merchandise or overproduction goods like food and household items, and these items equip small churches to minister to their neighborhoods and communities. Local churches are the key to reach into neighborhoods where food-insecure families may be living, afraid to ask for help. Through help, hope and support, churches can be a trusted source for families, Robinson said.
More than 120 churches are connected to CityServe, Robinson explained, which means the potential to help thousands of individuals throughout the county. No matter rain, heat or pandemic, CityServe volunteers have been working to give back to those who need the most help. There have been challenges, and Kern County faces its own struggles, but Robinson believes the best days are still ahead.
President/CEO Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, co-founder Kern County Latino COVID-19 Task Force
Jay Tamsi is used to giving back, particularly after seeing his parents set great examples. His father’s work in the community mattered to him, and he did not expect anything in return other than to make a difference for others, while his mother instilled in him the importance of selflessness when it comes to helping others.
As the Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce president/CEO, Tamsi has worked with individuals in the community by providing personal and professional opportunities for members through leadership programs, government relations, business academies and educational opportunities for local entrepreneurs.
The life lessons and experiences he has gained thus far came in handy for the Delano native who, as best as he could, would help Kern County’s Latino population during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the inception of the Kern County Latino COVID-19 Task Force, which Tamsi is a co-founder of, the group’s mission has been to save lives through outreach, education and awareness to find solutions to the disproportionate social and economic impacts of COVID-19 on the Latino community. As case numbers were increasing and state regulations for the economy to continue to operate were changing, the Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Kern County Public Health Department and a group of 30 dedicated and prominent individuals throughout Kern County saw a need to outreach to the Hispanic and Latino community, especially in the outlying and rural communities.
This fall, the Hispanic community made up 61 percent of positive cases in Kern County, he said. The group found ways to communicate with the Hispanic and Latino community and encourage them to get tested. The task force also focused on outreach to youth and farmworkers, created a strategic campaign in English and Spanish through various media platforms and assisted businesses and employees while providing mental and behavioral health support.
The work is still far from over, and the challenges associated with educating and reaching as many individuals as possible are felt, but Tamsi and his colleagues are determined to provide free testing sites to all members of the community and educate them on how to best take an active role in their health during the pandemic.
Sometimes you have to think big in order to make a change in your community, and mural artist Brandon Thompson sees opportunity with each wall, corridor and stretch of concrete in town.
Thompson’s art has made Bakersfield a brighter place — whether it’s a mural for a business such as the one he collaborated with Jorge Guillen for Martin’s Meats, an artwalk addition or a piece for a local exhibit. He’s been an artist all his life, but he became serious about pursuing it full-time in 2009.
Since then, his art has taken on various shapes, sizes and mediums, but one thing remains consistent: He wants his art to inspire change. With his latest mural, Bloom, located underneath the Beale Street overpass in east Bakersfield, he hopes to “change the face” and “bring life” to an area people often avoid. That part of town, he said, has always “needed the most love,” and a collaboration with City Councilman Andrae Gonzales could inspire more people “to walk this way instead of walking around it.”
Bloom will feature six to eight handpicked east Bakersfield girls of color playing, reading and experiencing life surrounded by greenery and beams of light representing the sun at various part of the day — from sunrise to sunset. It’s a message of empowerment to the girls and women of east Bakersfield to be unapologetically themselves and, like the flowers in the springtime, they have the potential to bloom and aspire for greatness. Thompson is collaborating with Jennifer Williams-Cordova and Deidre Hathor on the project.
Director of Clinical and Regulatory Operations at KKM Global Healthcare
Melina Thorpe surrounds her life with her passion — helping cancer patients and survivors find resources to assist their journey. Thorpe, who is originally from Buffalo, N.Y., moved to Bakersfield in 2015 and has a background as an oncology nurse. She’s also an 11-year breast cancer survivor, so women’s health and education has always been important to her.
When Thorpe was diagnosed with breast cancer, she said she felt blessed because she worked in the health care industry and she had access to good resources. She also acknowledged that other women don’t have that same access, so Thorpe decided to build that bridge.
Aside from her day-to-day job, she supports the Young Survivors Coalition and is also an honorary member. Thorpe started a Cancer Support Community in Bakersfield, which will bring women together and let them talk about how they’re navigating their cancer journey. The group was halted when the coronavirus pandemic hit, but she plans to continue the launch of the organization when the pandemic is over.
A cancer diagnosis is life changing for many people and maneuvering your way through it is difficult, so Thorpe wanted to help others find resources and support them through their journey. Thorpe said helping people inspires her to be the leader she is today.
ShePower Global Ambassador, Circle of Life Development Foundation’s MLKcommUNITY Initiative, The Frink Firm
Helping her community has always come naturally to Arleana Waller, and, most importantly, from the heart. As a child, her parents, Willie and Loretta Frink, set an example to give back to the community. After she moved back to Bakersfield 10 years ago, she noticed gaps in equity, justice, economics and inclusion. Soon, she decided to pave her own path and find ways to help her fellow citizens.
ShePower Leadership was inspired her late niece, Brooke Frink. It was in that moment of loss that she realized girls, especially Black and brown girls, needed more access, opportunities, mentoring, validation and safe spaces to be authentically who they are and to grow into leaders themselves. ShePower fueled the Circle of Life Development Foundation’s MLKcommUNITY Initiative, which has focused its effort on revitalizing southeast Bakersfield.
Partnerships have been created with more than 40 organizations and churches to address various problems, such as food insecurities, education inequality, transportation inequality and the housing gap. The group has given more than 600,000 pounds of food, won a $200,000 grant for transportation equity engagement and planning and built an education plan to minimize the prison pipeline for low-performing students. Waller has also worked with her company, The Frink Firm, to address the affordable housing gap in Kern County.