Wider impact seen from racially charged incidents in York County

Emily Thurlow//September 7, 2018

Wider impact seen from racially charged incidents in York County

Emily Thurlow//September 7, 2018

And they are prompting people to speak up.

That’s a good thing, said Dominic F. DelliCarpini, dean of York College’s Center for Community Engagement.

“The discussions that are being had are long overdue,” he said.

Historically, relations between the white and black communities in York County have been seen as strained.

York City hit national headlines in 2001 when its then-mayor, a former police officer, was indicted on charges related to a homicide during race riots in 1969. The trial and resulting publicity led to clashes between groups of protesters in the city.

Earlier this year, management at a Dover Township-based golf course called the police twice on five black women golfers and asked them to leave, claiming they were golfing too slowly.

More recently, fliers produced by the Ku Klux Klan were distributed in the parking lot of a movie theater in West Manchester Township and another flier was left in the driveway of a Dover Township home.

Following turbulence in the past, communities and businesses would return to their routines without much discussion, said Carla Christopher, a diversity trainer and member of the York chapter of the YWCA’s racial justice committee. But today, there is a stronger desire to address race relations from a business, local and state level, she added.

“While racial tension is deeply engrained in York County, I have to believe it’s different this time,” she said.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, for example, has investigated incidents like the one at the golf course.

As organizations work to address the friction, will York County be able to shed a reputation that is appearing to make a resurgence? And have recent incidents hurt the county’s economy?

For the latter question, according to a number of county organizations, the answer is yes.

National news stories have not put York County in a good light, said Laura Gurreri, acting president of the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In fact, the tourism bureau was bidding for the chance to host a conference in 2019 and 2020 for a group with a diverse background, but the group ultimately decided it would not come to York County, said Gurreri. News of recent incidents, she said, played a part.

“We include diversity and crime statistics in some of our bidding packages, and those aren’t always the highlights of our bids,” she said.

When groups examine hosts for a potential conference, they want to know if a community would be a good fit or is welcoming to the particular group they represent.

Because York County is home to several companies with an international reach, the consequences of a racially charged incident can have ripple effects, said Adam Nugent, president of York Young Professionals and director of special events for York Revolution.

The places where companies make or distribute their products can affect their reputation. If an area has a negative reputation when it comes to diversity and inclusion, for example, a company based there might also – even temporarily – share that negative light.

“Every time we have an incident, it takes us, not one, but 50 or more steps back,” Nugent said. “It’s incredibly damaging.”

That negative light also has an effect on the county’s colleges and universities. It makes it harder to ask students and faculty of color to come to the county, said DelliCarpini.

Nonetheless, many organizations in York remain focused on creating a welcoming environment.

The first step that businesses and nonprofits can take in addressing this decades-long issue is acknowledging that there is a problem as it pertains to race relations, said Christopher. The issue should be accepted countywide and not just on a case-by-case basis.

To better address the problem, organizations should also start increasing the ranks of people of color on their executive and advisory boards, she added.

“The best motto to follow is ‘not about us without us’,” Christopher said.

Acknowledging that the issue isn’t going to be remedied overnight, Christopher said that continued conversations will help to advance a more accepting culture in the county.

The tourism bureau, meanwhile, has hosted training sessions geared toward cultural diversity, inclusion and anti-bias, courtesy of the YWCA of York County. Jean M. Treuthart, CEO of the YWCA, said that during these sessions, members of the YWCA are helping groups examine their marketing materials, communication with customers and hiring practices.

The tourism bureau has also been working to translate its messages into other languages – such as Spanish – that will be distributed at some of its visitor centers, like one at the Harley-Davidson factory in Springettsbury Township.

Before recent incidents of racial friction, York College had been working to develop a yearlong lecture series, titled, “York’s Hidden Figures,” which will celebrate the contributions of communities of color as well as other underserved populations.

“We developed this series realizing that we need to give voice to those that are unheard and sight to those that are unseen,” said DelliCarpini.

Broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien will kick off the series on Sept. 7 at York College’s Waldner Performing Arts Center.

DelliCarpini said there will be additional mistakes made along the way toward achieving a more culturally sensitive and welcoming county. But he sees an opportunity for improvement.

York Young Professionals, for its part, is bringing in a diversity expert to speak to its members.

“We will continue to promote acceptance and fight tolerance and indignation that’s stifling the progress that York is making, not only because it looks bad, because it is bad,” Nugent said.