by Chris O’Neal
chris@vcreporter.com

Locals share their experiences living within the small demographic

In 2014, the African American population in Ventura County hovered around 2.2 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, below the average state population of 6.6 percent.  African American experiences in Ventura County vary, depending on who you talk to.

Harry Jones, 64, moved to Ventura from Los Angeles six months ago. For three decades, Jones lived in Inglewood, a diverse community known for many things: its relationship to the early pioneers of rap, a sordid history of race riots and even consideration as a possible site for a future NFL stadium.

Jones remembers it, however, for something entirely different.

“Helicopters all day, trash all over the ground; it became a Third World country,” said Jones. “I lived in a real nice neighborhood but I was waking up to beer bottles on my yard.”

Moving to Ventura was a kind of reprieve for Jones. It was also an opportunity to live closer to his family and to live life at his own pace. Jones is an avid cyclist and enjoys riding through Camino Real Park. It was there that he had an encounter that he says was foretold by a friend at the gym.

“He was kidding me about the bike and said, ‘You’re black, you’ve got a hoodie on, you know the police are going to pull you over,’ ” said Jones.

One morning, as Jones rode from a local supermarket to his brother’s house, a police cruiser pulled onto the bike path. The officer approached Jones and said that he fit a description of someone they had been searching for in the area.

“The next thing he said to me was, ‘Do you have any ID?’  I said, jokingly, ‘Yeah, yeah. As a black man in America I have two or three IDs,’ and he smiled a little bit,” said Jones.

“The most important thing is having the right type of people involved and knowing what students need to make them feel like they’re part of the campus. It’s not just the African Americans who benefit from it, either. It’s the Latinos, the Pacific Islanders, the Native Americans; they all benefit from having a diverse faculty.” -- Perry Martin, a retired military sergeant and a programs adviser at Ventura College’s Veterans Resource Center

“The most important thing is having the right type of people involved and knowing what students need to make them feel like they’re part of the campus. It’s not just the African Americans who benefit from it, either. It’s the Latinos, the Pacific Islanders, the Native Americans; they all benefit from having a diverse faculty.”
— Perry Martin, a retired military sergeant and a programs adviser at Ventura College’s Veterans Resource Center

Though the encounter ended shortly thereafter, Jones says he thinks police get a “bad deal” and that he’s had both bad and good experiences. In Ventura County, however, that one was his first.

“I feel right at home,” said Jones. “It reminds me of Mayberry, if you know what I mean.”

Perry Martin is a retired military sergeant and a programs adviser at Ventura College’s Veterans Resource Center. He also teaches 17- to 24-year-olds via the California Youth Authority in Oxnard. Martin will host a panel discussion today, Feb. 25, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Ventura College featuring guest speakers from the Community Advocacy Coalition, Multicultural Committee and the Ventura College Black Student Union.

“The No. 1 issue [for African American students] is feeling disconnected,” said Martin. “Even those students that are from Ventura that live in the community, some of those still feel disconnected from the community.”

The black student population across the Ventura County Community College District reflects the countywide population at 2.15 percent as of the first day of the spring semester, according to the VCCCD. Enrollment of African American students made up 1.81 percent of the student population at Moorpark College; 3.1 percent at Oxnard College, and at Ventura College; 2.17 percent.

Martin says that additional African American faculty, not limited to professors but at the administrative level, too, could assist students in adapting, in addition to community outreach and education on the programs available to them.

“The most important thing is having the right type of people involved and knowing what students need to make them feel like they’re part of the campus,” said Martin. “It’s not just the African Americans who benefit from it, either. It’s the Latinos, the Pacific Islanders, the Native Americans; they all benefit from having a diverse faculty.”

Martin says that he shares his own experiences with the students of Ventura College of having grown up in Mississippi, where he had his fair share of dealing with social segregation and racism. Yet, he says, he also experienced overwhelming hospitality. He currently resides in Thousand Oaks.

Don Montgomery, president of the Community Advocacy Coalition and chairman of the Ventura County chapter of the Black American Political Association, says that getting young people involved in community activism is the key.

“I go to those meetings and there’s a lot of gray hair,” said Montgomery. “For whatever reason, they don’t connect with people who are experienced at mounting campaigns. Sometimes people don’t know there’s something wrong until you tell them.”

Asked if the county’s low population plays a role in making issues facing the African American easy to ignore, Montgomery says yes. “What goes along with that is a feeling of isolation, like you’re by yourself and powerless.”

The CAC has launched a community radio station with plans to host programs addressing issues in the African American community and other underserved populations. The station can be heard online at www.rhythmofthecoast.com and soon at 99.1 FM.