Festival hopes to have lasting impact

The Rise Above Festival, held Saturday in Brandon Park at the center of Williamsport, was one day of gathering around music, food, games, and testimony.

Many who performed, attended or organized for Saturday’s event hope that this one day of fellowship will inspire some people to lead lives that “rise above” the perceived reasons for fear in daily life here.

“We want to inspire people to rise above,” said Bianca Hooper, one of the event’s organizers. “Whether it’s shootings, drugs, racism – people say, ‘oh just white people are racist,’ but every

one can be racist, what I see on YouTube – whatever it is people are facing. Stereotypes, too. There’s a stereotype that everyone who comes here from Philadelphia is negative. A lot of volunteers we have are from Philly, and they’re not negative.”

“We want to lift our voice up against negative activity in the city,” said Vaughn Wilson, who has organized this day for four years now. A former Pennsylvania College of Technology student who lives in State College, Wilson has helped organize a cookout and movie nights throughout the summer.

Nine members from the Penn State chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, a traditionally black fraternity with a focus on service, made the trip to Williamsport to show off their stepping skills and tell of the travels that got them to college.

Kyle Paolucci grew up in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago.

“The South Side of Chicago may not be the safest place on Earth,” he said. “I wanted to get out of there and do my parents proud.”

Most of the fraternity brothers echoed the expectation that, in their families, it was “never an option to not go to college.”

“This brotherhood is about inspiring young people, to encourage achievement,” said Jeremy Jordan. “We’re trying to be a staple to promote positive action, to inspire the African-American community to grow. Stepping is a traditional culture thing in all-black organizations, one of the ways to express our talent.”

Volunteer Emily Gale lives on High Street, and hopes that events like Rise Above – which she said has grown every year – are only the beginning of people “making their voice heard.”

“A lot that goes on that people don’t know of,” she said. “We need someone from Second Street, to be the voice of Second Street, to make a difference, to actually be heard. Stuff like this gives people hope, but people are going to go back to what was going on. Every year more and more people raise their voice.”

Gale says that raising a child now “doesn’t just take one family, it takes a whole community,” and that there’s only one requirement for people who would mentor the next generation:

“It can’t be people who want personal gain from it. These kids have people come in and out of their lives. We need people who are committed and want to be there, not for any kind of glory. Motivate one person, and they’ll motivate another person.”

Up on stage, Walter McClinton, of Christ Community Worship Center, was exhorting the crowd to action: “Don’t leave this place the same way that you came. This is not a show.”

Mayor Gabriel J. Campana delivered a short address before a moment of silence held “against violent activities:”

“There’s good behavior and there’s bad behavior,” Campana said. “There’s good behavior and there’s sin. The enemy is working overtime. The enemy is working in shootings. The enemy is working in drugs. We won’t tolerate that behavior in Williamsport. I don’t care if I get in trouble. I’m going to use my First Amendment rights, and say the individual who’s going to help us the most is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”