Bakersfield Park is brimming with crime and state officials and community members are working to restore it

BAKERSFIELD, California – In the past few years, Martin Luther King Jr. Park in southeast Bakersfield has become a crime and trash hotspot. But Councilor Eric Arias, MP Rudy Salas and the MLK Community Initiative want to change that.

When you think of neighborhood parks, think of lawns where you can picnic or play soccer with family or friends. It’s something an MLK community activist remembers Martin Luther King Jr. Park and something she works hard to come back personally.

“Once upon a time there was a beautiful room, a green room. Families would cook, children would play in the playgrounds, there would be baseball games, soccer, and I could sit and read a book as a senior, ”said Emprezz Nontzikelelo, community activist, developer and educator, MLK Community Initiative.

The 76-year-old community activist Emprezz Nontzikelelo remembers the MLK Park, which is only two blocks away 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 Councilor Eric Arias remembered.

“We want to see a change. Some of the violence we saw in this park. It’s deeply disturbing, terrible. We looked at these numbers, ”said Arias.

Speaking of these numbers, it is customary to visit the Bakersfield Police Department as they responded to 58 crimes in that area in 2021, ranging from loud music to shootings.

“It’s important to bring more light outside. It is important to repair the sidewalk where the asphalt is crumbling. It’s 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, MP Rudy Salas and the MLK Community Initiative have the MLK Walking Group in the park on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

The Arias team and people like Nontzikelelo from the MLK Community Initiative have gone door to door promoting the area to ensure that those directly affected by the fate of the park turn up for the event. But Arias says everyone is welcome.

“Let’s share this safe space, talk about the stories of how some of us have been affected by the violence there and how we need to work together, maybe some of the steps we need to take to really beautify it and reduce the violence we saw, ”said Arias.

Arias hopes this will be the first of his monthly walking group events – modeled on the Greenfield Park initiative, which he believes has been very successful in transforming this park for the better.

“It’s community run, absolutely when it turns into a group going in and cleaning up trash or spending a month on food, or even Zumba classes like the Greenfield Walking Group yelling at them.”

23ABC asked Arias if the city council was taking steps to put money into the park. He says while the budget for action has not yet been finalized by the city council, money is being proposed to be used for two reinvention plans for local parks. If that goes through, he advocates that some of this money go towards the MLK Park and MLK Community Center.

Arias says they’ll be delving deep into that budget for the next month or two. And he hopes to stand up for even more money.

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