York community gathers to discuss unity, honor King
York City Mayor Kim Bracey and Lincoln Charter School teamed up for the fifth year in a row to host MLK America's Sunday Supper on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Each year, the entire York community is invited to attend the supper and discuss a different topic around a dinner table with others. This year the topic was "Where do we go from here." The idea, Lincoln Principal Leonard Hart explained, is to get people talking about unity between different cultures and how that unity can be fostered in York City and beyond.
"We don't want just black history, we want all cultural history," Hart explained.
Each year the school opens its gym to 350 to 400 people, sometimes more, and this year was no different. Before too long, nearly every seat in the house was filled and people began introducing themselves to others who sat at their table.
According to Anne Clark, community outreach director for the school, not only is this event one of the largest in the area, it's one of the largest Martin Luther King Jr. dinners in the country.
No one is turned away, Hart said, even if they run out of seats. They are always sure to have extra food, which came from Popeyes and Arby's this year.
Tough conversations: Edquina Washington, director of community relations for Bracey's office and a key organizer of the event, said the goal is to get people to have tough conversations in a safe place: right around the dinner table.
Real change comes from the event, too. Last year's dinner topic had to do with ending homelessness. From those discussions came the Covenant House to York City, which serves runaway, homeless, trafficked and at-risk youth in the county.
It's this real change that draws community members such as Ginny Smeltzer, a York City resident and a self-described community activist who has attended the last three dinners.
"I think every year has an impact because community leaders attend," Smeltzer said.
Some of the community leaders in attendance this year included state Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City, several York City Council members and Kevin Schreiber, president of the York County Economic Alliance.
Kevin Ward, another York City resident, attended because his two grandsons, LeBron James Brown, 9, and Maurice Brown Jr., 6, are students at the charter school and were excited about the event. He was excited to have those tough conversations with his two grandkids, and he started having the discussions even before the event.
"I hope everyone leaves with a full heart and an understanding of what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. went through for us to be where we are today," Ward said.
LeBron said he enjoys having those conversations with his grandfather, and he likes that Lincoln Charter School teaches kids like him kindness. He said the school had been talking a lot about King lately.
"He went to the president and said white and black people should be together," LeBron said, which he added was very important.
Taking action: Bracey began the evening by addressing the crowd before dinner was served. She thanked the many partners who made the dinner possible, which included the York City School District, the LCBC Church, the York Jewish Community Center and the Black Ministers Association of York County.
She said she hopes the dinner proves that York City is a welcoming community to everyone and that action comes from the evening. She pointed to King as an example.
"He rolled up his sleeves and was not afraid to get involved," she said.
After a short speech from Paul Atkinson, the campus pastor at LCBC York Campus, dinner was served by charter school students, who politely asked each individual whether they would like Popeyes or Arby's.
Following dinner came presentations and speakers. The feature presentation was titled "Color Blind or Color Brave" and was given by Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments. Hobson also presented at the 2014 TED conference.
Shaniece Wilson, a William Penn senior, took the time to perform a poem she wrote for the occasion afterward. Wilson is an 18-year-old who loves to write and share her poetry on Facebook. When she was approached about performing spoken poetry at the event, she eagerly agreed.
Wilson wrote about unity and what she observes in her own community. She spoke about the obligations of people in the community who hope to set an example for others.
"I want to leave people thinking about what they can do for their community," she said.