FACING UP TO RACE
A community conversation on race relations challenged people to share their differences and hopes for the future at a Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. event in the Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Bush Campus Center Monday night.
The event, which brought out about 40 people, was designed to foster open and honest discussion about people’s experience with race and living in the Williamsport community.
Talking about race can be a challenge, said Vanessa Hunter, social and economic empowerment director at the Williamsport YWCA, who helped facilitate the event.
“Sometimes, it’s like the elephant in the room,” she said.
But, she instructed participants, “there’s no right; there’s no wrong. It’s about community and it’s about dialogue.”
As participants broke into groups of four at tables, one of the questions posed to them was what they appreciated about being part of the Williamsport community.
Facilitator Susan Mathias, the YWCA’s Wise Options director, related the question to King’s quote of: “All life is interrelated. Somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
“When you make a friend, you make a family,” said the Rev. Gwen Bernstine, United Churches of Lycoming County executive director.
She said that, in her experience, she has been able to meet people of different cultures and race through reaching out to friends.
Redecka Appiah-Padi, who lives in Lewisburg but works at Penn State University’s Williamsport continuing education center, said she appreciates what she sees as more diversity here.
City resident Wayne Fausnaught agreed with her.
“The real world isn’t a small, segregated area,” he said.
Participants were asked at the end of the program what “stones of hope” they see for the community, based on King’s quote from his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“This is our hope … With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope … With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to stand up for freedom together,” King said.
Jamal Nesmith, of Williamsport, said he thinks youth need to take advantage of after-school and community programs available to them.
“There’s a slew of help, but some people aren’t reaching out,” he said.
John Kiernan, director of the city campus of Newport Business Institute, said he has seen many signs of community collaboration through murals, downtown revitalization and First Fridays.