Four individuals have been named Kern County Equity Champions for their work advocating for, modeling, and promoting inclusive practices in our schools and our community at large. In all, ten individuals were nominated for the honor within three categories — student, educator, and community member. The recipients were chosen by a committee and were recognized during the annual EMBRACE Kern Equity Symposium held at the Bakersfield Marriott on Sept. 26 & 27.
2023 Student Honoree
This year’s student honoree is Carter Beardsley. At just 16, Carter boasts an impressive resume. In addition to serving as Junior Class President at Frontier High School, Carter serves as the City of Bakersfield Ward 4 Youth Commissioner, is an executive board member for the Got the Dot Leadership Club for JJ’s Legacy, is the South Valley Regional Director for the California High School Democrats, and serves as Region 8 President of the California Association of Student Councils, a role in which he represents 400,000 students in Region 8.
Carter believes that there are opportunities to help all members of our community — all we need to do is reach out and form connections to help people through their journey in life.
“When I think of inclusivity and equity, I think of a phrase my mom told me once. ‘Build a larger table, not a higher fence,’” Carter said. “One of the most incredible experiences of my life has been to live with all sorts of different backgrounds.”
2023 Educator Honoree
This year’s educator honoree is Leiann Scott, Principal at Thorner Elementary School.
Leiann is an amazing example of what equity on a campus looks like. As just one example, she has implemented full inclusion practices for students in the school’s special education program. This has led to happier students who feel included in their campus community and has provided better opportunities for the students with special needs to receive what they need in the moment.
Moreover, under Leiann’s leadership, every opportunity is utilized to ensure every student has a role model that represents them. Thorner’s culture is one that brings everyone together yet allows for individualism to be expressed.
“Equity is part of Thorner’s culture and every decision with staff, parents, and students is naturally looked at through a lens of equity rather than a box that needs to be checked off,” said her nominator, Nanette Yabiku.
2023 Community Honorees
This year’s two community member honorees are Dr. Brenda Lewis and Traco Matthews.
Dr. Lewis served Kern County students her entire 33-year career as an educator, and currently serves as an appointee to the California State Board of Education. Serving all students is her passion as evidenced by her long career in the Kern High School District as a physical education teacher, dean of students, principal of Foothill High School and Associate Superintendent of Instruction.
Her work in KHSD included introducing multi-tiered systems of support to the district. The program offers students access to social workers, restorative practices, and alternative discipline programs. The changes she made kept thousands of kids in school every year and the community is a better place because of the work she’s done.
She models a continuous improvement mindset, always looking for opportunities to improve education. As a black woman, Brenda has shared that she rarely saw herself represented in education, and wants to change that, looking for ways to support diversifying our educational workforce.
Traco Matthews has positively impacted the community of Kern for years. As a local pastor and leader in the community, he lives with an open door and an open heart for equity work throughout the county. In August, Traco was appointed by Gov. Newsom to sit on California’s first Racial Equity Commission. Over the years, he has helped organizations, such as CASA of Kern County, develop diversity plans, and has provided one-on-one coaching and group training to help staff implement Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) work throughout the county.
He helped launch Kern Community First, a new nonprofit that provides a voice for the black community regarding marginalization and underrepresentation in local government. He has also led in the consulting/hiring of the new executive position of Officer of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at the County Administrative Office (CAO). As the current Chief Health Equity Officer of Kern Health Systems, he is working to create a more equitable environment for one of the largest organizations in the county and impacting more than half of the Medi-Cal recipients in the county by providing members health equity in their daily lives.
Traco Mathews / Kern Health Systems
Anastasia Lester / Kern Health Systems
Dr. Brenda Lewis / Equity Consultant
Lewis Neal / Bakersfield City School District
Dr. Timothy Fulenwider / Bakersfield City School District
Anita Cruz / KCSOS
Leiann Scott / Bakersfield City School District
Dr. Brandi Ball / Kern High School District
Dr. Jazmine Frias / Panama-Buena Vista Union School District
Carter Beardsley / Student