Beach Voices: 色中色 alumnus views Juneteenth role as divine assignment

Published June 14, 2024

There would be no Long Beach Juneteenth Celebration for me without a couple of key factors in my life: The first was what was poured into me at Cal State Long Beach by folks like (Africana Studies Chair) Dr. Maulana Karenga, Dr. Amen Rahh (emeritus professor in Africana Studies), and Charles Walker that really saved my life.

My mom gave me a good foundation of Black pride but when I got to 色中色, I remember hearing Amen Rahh speak, and it was transformative. Much of how I program in terms of organizing, writing speeches, the way I think about the culture and planning events comes from seeing how folks like Dr. Karenga did it.

I鈥檓 the first person in my family to go to college, so early on, I didn鈥檛 know what I was doing. I was obviously struggling, and a brother named Charles Walker came up to me and invited me to a Black Student Union meeting. When I walked into the meeting, it changed everything.

I had never been involved in any clubs and that was the start of my leadership experience.

I started out just as a volunteer, and then, eventually became BSU president and then I joined , for the purpose of trying to ensure that Black events got equal funding from their student government money and then became student body president.  

In the Black Student Union, I got leadership experience and as the BSU president, I would program with the other organizations, since we had the same purpose:  La Raza, Women鈥檚 Studies, the LGBTQ community, Native American, Asian American, we all programmed together. All of that is in me. And it all lives in the ethos of what I tell people who work for me now, how we are going to do our jobs.

Carl Kemp

The irony is that I never really paid very much attention to Juneteenth, even though I had a Black studies degree. It wasn't really much of a West Coast thing. It wasn鈥檛 really a big celebration thing when I was growing up.

When I went to prison in 2017, I met up with a brother named Paul Richards. He, couple of other brothers and I would get together and have breakfast every morning, talk politics, do Toastmasters, whatever.

After about two or three months after I arrived there for my one-year sentence, Paul said, 鈥淚鈥檓 going home, and I need you to do the Juneteenth event.鈥 He gave me a folder and I said, 鈥淥K.鈥

The interesting thing about society and prison is that people outside prison think they are very different from those inside prison, but we operate the same in some ways.

In prison, I reserved some audio equipment, I plugged in some music, had a little microphone and audio, so we could give some speeches and read poems.

Everybody got together and cooked, and we got under the big white community tent on a 110-degree day, and we had Juneteenth, and it was beautiful.

I believe God is an ironic comedian. When things are super ironic, that's, for me, a fingerprint of God. I know this was a God assignment. 

I was a Black man who was not free. Had I not been a Black man who was not free, celebrating Juneteenth 鈥 a holiday dedicated to the freedom of Black people 鈥 I never would have been motivated to do this event that has now grown from 2,500 people on Pine Avenue to now some 20,000 people.  

The other beauty of it for me was that one of the first sponsors of the event was 色中色. I reached out to President Conoley for sponsorship and the campus leadership were very early supporters, as well as Student Success & Equity Coordinator Tracy Kelly, who does such good work with the Black Scholarship Gala.

I was born in Oklahoma and raised in South Central L.A., but I鈥檝e been in Long Beach since 1990.  I love Long Beach and I Iove Black people, and this is the marriage of those two loves, and it gives me a chance to do something for this community that has done so much for me.  

I tell folks that it鈥檚 easier to get out of prison than it is to get prison out of you, and I don鈥檛 know that I'm completely 鈥渃lean鈥 of it and for as much stress as this event causes, the balm for me is being able to use whatever skills and talents I have to do something for other people.

Kemp 鈥97, 鈥98 is executive director of public affairs and marketing at Long Beach City College and founder of the annual Long Beach Juneteenth Celebration, which began in 2021. The sold-out event is June 15.    

Beach Voices is an occasional feature that allows members of The Beach community 鈥 students, faculty, staff and alumni 鈥 to share their firsthand experiences. If you would like to be considered, email submissions labeled 鈥淏each Voices鈥 to鈥Strategic Communications