'Breaking the silence': MLK Day event spotlights Central York book ban protesters

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

A time to break silence.

That's what Martin Luther King Jr. declared in 1967 at Riverside Church in Manhattan as a call to protest racism and the Vietnam War. 

Fifty-five years later, York County students are finding the words to break their own silence. 

Four students who protested Central York School District's ban on resources created by people of color last fall will be featured in a panel during Crispus Attucks York's annual MLK Day of Service celebration on Monday.

Panther Anti-Racist Student Union organizer Edha Gupta speaks at rally outside the Central York School District Administration offices before a school board meeting there Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. The rally was in opposition to a banned resource list instituted by the district, which demonstrators say targets minority authors. District officials added formal discussion of the ban to Monday's agenda. Gupta is a Central York High School senior. Bill Kalina photo

"I hope that we will continue to learn and to grow as a group through being able to have such meaningful conversations," said Renee Ellis, one of the student activists. "I want to continue to bring the lessons that we will learn into our community to make Central, as a whole, better."

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This kind of conversation, Ellis said, can go far in striving and pushing for change. 

“We really want to show the value of the youth voice, because there's not enough of that in the community right now," said Jacquie Martino-Miller, CEO of Crispus Attucks. "We hear from other people, but the youth need to speak out on what they see."

Jacquie Martino-Miller hugs MLK Vision Award recipient Kyle Hawkins after presenting it to him at the 38th Annual MLK Day of Service event at the Crispus Attucks gymnasium Monday, January 20, 2020. Volunteers staffed about a dozen city locations after the breakfast that was served. Bill Kalina photo

In addition to the morning panel, several individuals will be honored with the "Living the Dream" award, including the four Central York students and a Crispus Attucks Charter School graduate.

The Crispus Attucks faculty tasked with choosing candidates felt compelled to include the Central York students, according to Mike Jefferson, director of employment and training at Crispus Attucks. 

“We're a minority-led organization, and when you start banning the voice of marginalized people — you're robbing people," Jefferson said of the resource ban. "We’re high on that at Crispus Attucks. So when we came up with the theme, the first group that came to my mind was this group."

In addition to Ellis, the students receiving awards — all members of the Panther Anti-Racist Union — are Edha Gupta, Christina Ellis and Olivia Pituch.

Central High School senior Edha Gupta holds a sign while posing for a photo outside the Central York School District Administration offices before a school board meeting there Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. The rally was in opposition to a banned resource list instituted by the district, which demonstrators say targets minority authors. Gupta organized student protests at the school the week prior to the meeting. Bill Kalina photo

Christina Ellis, the vice president of the Panther Anti-Racist Union, said she is looking forward to being part of a discussion surrounding diversity education — especially in the wake of George Floyd's death two years ago. 

"I also hope to shed light about the facts of discrimination within this nation and within our nation's classrooms," she added via email.

Members of the Panther Anti-Racist Student Union prepare to speak at rally outside the Central York School District Administration offices before a school board meeting there Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. The rally was in opposition to a banned resource list instituted by the district, which demonstrators say targets minority authors. District officials added formal discussion of the ban to Monday's agenda. Bill Kalina photo

In addition to the four Central students, 2019 Crispus Attucks graduate Luis Duran will  be receiving the "Living the Dream" award. 

When Duran first came into the Crispus Attucks program at 10 years old, he had a "challenged childhood," according to Jonathan Ayers, a case manager with Crispus Attucks who nominated Duran for the award. 

After graduating from the high school program, Duran received his barbers license and scored a job working at a high-profile shop in Philadelphia. 

While Duran works with many celebrity clients — he is passionate about giving back to his community through free haircuts for both children and adults.

Luis Duran (Right) gives a haircut. Duran is one of five recipients of this year's "Living the Dream" award presented by Crispus Attucks Charter School on the annual MLK Day of Service.

"He's one of the kids looking back that you could have counted out," Ayers said. "But he persevered and conquered all the things that could have been roadblocks in his life.

Though Duran moved out of York County, he never forgot about the people at Crispus Attucks — visiting often to speak with students and providing haircuts free of charge. 

"He's such an incredible young man," Ayers said. "We're very proud of him." 

The panel will be hosted via Zoom at 9:45 a.m. Monday. Interested individuals can join the discussion virtually through the meeting ID of 4782709729. The event will also be available via livestream on Facebook.

Due to COVID-19, Crispus Attucks once again decided to focus on virtual events. However, there will still be some opportunities for gathering in person.

The free breakfast — typically a time for individuals to meet, gather and eat at the community center— will be hosted instead in a "grab and go" fashion from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. at 605 S. Duke St. 

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at  @tina_locurto. Please consider subscribing to support local journalism.