BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Mothers Against Gang Violence and several community groups plan to March to Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Southeast Bakersfield, with a flier saying the groups are “Taking our community back!”
The march begins Friday at 3:30 PM from Potomac Avenue and King Street, outside Historic Union Cemetery, and it will make its way to the corner of East California Ave and King Street, at MLK Park.
Xenia King, the founder of Mothers Against Gang Violence, says she can remember a time where kids could actually play at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, back when she was a girl and it was still called California Avenue Park. Things have changed, and not for the better.
“I went over there and I walked through the park. The toys in the park, some of them are from when I was a kid myself, and I’m 51 years old,” said King. “The bathroom, there’s homeless people living there, and they’re torn down. They’re torn down. There are holes in the ground, the benches are messed up, there’s drugs and needles all over the place, it’s not fit for a kid to play in, it’s not fit for anyone to be in.”
That park, which she called a “cornerstone” for Bakersfield’s black community, is in serious need of restoration.
“When anything was wrong, and everything was going bad, we had a park to go sit in. Beautiful trees, beautiful trees, tables, beautiful black people coming around. That park is no more. That park is no more, absolutely nothing,” King said.
This week the Measure N Citizens Oversight Committee recommended a budget that would include $500,000 earmarked for an assessment of MLK park and the Silver Creek Community Center, though it still needs approval from Bakersfield City Council. King says the park has only gotten worse despite promises to revitalize the area. She says it’s created a lack of trust in public officials, made worse by incidents such as the “hood tour” a former District Attorney prosecutor posted to social media, making light of known gang areas that have seen their share of violence and heartbreak.
“Why would you do that? Why would you go and create more chaos for our city?” King said, saying the former employee’s actions were “absolutely wrong.” King says poverty and violence in Southeast Bakersfield is a problem for the entire city.
“All of the violence, we need to get ahold of it,” said King. “This is our city. And I love greater Bakersfield. This is where I was raised all my entire life, this is where I have been, and I know that it can be better. I know that something better, is better than what is going on right now.”