The Portraits in Their Own Words grant project is the first of its kind to be heard of at Bakersfield College

Hugo Maldonado Garcia, Reporter

The Portraits in Their Own Words grant is a project that was funded by California Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts.
The grant is to share and focus on the experiences and stories of Bakersfield College’s formerly incarcerated students. This grant project will feature portraits, writings, or any other form of artwork from the ideas of the student. The deadline to apply and to get involved with this project was on Sept. 30.
BC faculty who applied for this project will help as mentors with the student’s process of writing and communication skills. BC’s professor of English Andrew Bond, professor of Art Kristopher Stallworth, and Shawn Taro Newsom, professor of History is currently the three Co-Directors overseeing The Portraits in Their Own Words grant.
According to Bond, “the reason this grant project was proposed was that there has not been this type of exhibit of visual arts at BC. There was a lack of representation and a void in California humanities in the arts when it came to the national and state level overlooking the Central Valley for grants.”
There was originally a plan to take this grant project on a tour to different Universities and Colleges with the students and faculty involved, but because COVID-19 happened these plans had to be altered to a safer setting.
According to Stallworth, “There is no specific deadline for this type of grant project it is mostly a yearlong type of thing because it is time-consuming and trickier now that mostly everything has gone online. However, he did say that although it is not certain, they hope to create an online archive or possibly have some time of local television broadcast towards the end of the Spring 2021 semester for The Portraits in Their Own Words exhibit.”
“I wanted to get involved with this project because there is more to learn about the Inmate Scholars Program from BC and that important side of teaching. We’re not telling their stories for them, with this grant they have the opportunity to tell or show us with Portraits in Their Own Words. We hope to break away from the stigma of having formerly incarcerated students be talked about, instead of heard from” Stallworth said.
According to Newsom, “Before the pandemic, I taught two classes on the Southwest campus, one on the main campus and three to four in the prison system for the Inmate Scholars Program.” Where he typically had to wear a bulletproof vest because he was on the three to four level yards. “At the age of five, I was put in foster homes; I was adopted and have been in the system ever since, and years ago I wanted to change my life. I knew BC was the place I had to start with and in a way, BC saved my life.”
After attending the University of California, Berkeley on a full-ride scholarship for academics he attended other schools but decided to come back where he began.
According to Newsom, “The grant was purposed as a way to tell the story of what moment in a formerly incarcerated student’s life did, they decide to attend BC, why this specific college and that is what The Portraits in Their Own Words grant would do.”
“You have to overcome adversity because that’s what stops people from going back to college,” Newsom said.