York County coalition aims to tackle systemic racism, improve police diversity
York County's Confronting Racism Coalition, formed last May, announces a number of first-year action goals. Lindsay C. VanAsdalan, The York Dispatch
A fledgling York County coalition focused on breaking down systemic racial barriers shared goals Wednesday, including increasing racial diversity in local police departments.
The Confronting Racism Coalition was born last May after racially motivated incidents in York County spurred about 150 individuals interested in lasting change to gather for an initial meeting.
"In 2017, York was profiled on the front page of the Boston Globe with a two-part series about racism," said YWCA York president and CEO Jean Treuthart. Among recent incidents were anti-Semitic flyers on cars, threats spray-painted on a family's garage and white students shouting "white power" at black peers, she said.
At a news conference Wednesday, May 8, the coalition presented goals in five categories: education, economic equality, inclusive leadership, racial bias and welcoming community.
About 45 people — 30 of them coalition members — attended the event, including York City Mayor Michael Helfrich, York County Commissioners Doug Hoke and Susan Byrnes, and York County Economic Alliance President and CEO Kevin Schreiber.
Among the group's goals is increasing diversity in police departments by initiating a campaign or outreach program to bring in more minority applicants, said coalition member, artist and community activist Ophelia Chambliss.
She said the coalition has already spoken with York City Police Chief Troy Bankert and plans to reach out to more local departments.
"First we have to assess to find out what are the numbers before we can start saying, well we'd like to see those numbers increase by 20% or 15%," she said. Next, they will figure out what the deterrents are and how best to make potential applicants aware.
Other goals include assessing school demographics to help determine needs, increasing the number of local minority businesses and organizing a community response network, according to a news release.
Chambliss said there's a disparity in how bad residents perceive racism in the county to be and how bad it actually is, so raising awareness is a strong focus of the coalition.
"Typically when someone is not affected by it, they're not aware of it," she said.
Local organizations, civic leaders, elected officials, diversity coordinators, community volunteers, law enforcement, educators, faith leaders, philanthropists and citizens were represented at the initial meeting, according to a news release.
Since then, about 60 members of the coalition have met consistently each month, and members hope it will grow.
"We’re really excited that there is this volunteer-led community group," Treuthart said. "I think everyone is aware that we have some work to do in our community."
The York County Community Foundation stepped in to provide initial administrative support to the group — and help jump-start efforts financially — before a partnership with YWCA York and the York Jewish Community Center was formed.
Together, those groups work together at the IDEAS Center, which stands for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Social Change, in York City's Cherry Lane.
Treuthart said the YWCA has seen a significant increase in its educational training seminars over the last year, including local organizations and school districts, thanks in part to working together with the JCC, which held similar events.
She said she's been able to work with students, principals and school board members multiple times within the last year in about six school districts that came forward with the intention of digging deep and working toward racial justice.
York City school board member Lisa Kennedy said she's been a part of the coalition from the beginning.
"It's not a sprint, it's a marathon," she said. "It's about building relationships and building trust. ... We're really focused on learning about each other and our experiences."
The next coalition meeting is 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday, May 30, at the York JCC, 2000 Hollywood Drive, and the group hopes to hire a consultant for structural organization within the next week or so, Chambliss said.