MLK event empowers York: 'I just want to see a better day for all of our kids'

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

What is life's most persistent and urgent question?

Jamiel Alexander, the president of the York Branch of the NAACP, asked that of a crowd Monday morning.


Standing in front of the crowd gathered to honor Martin Luther King Jr. at the YMCA TechRev Center, he strode purposefully across the room before asking it again. When the crowd again didn't answer, he filled the silence: "What are you doing for others?"

Jamiel Alexander, the president of the York Branch of the NAACP, speaks to a crowd during the "I Have a Dream Conference" on Monday, Jan. 13, 2023. Tina Locurto photo.

Alexander, who lost his father 10 days ago, came out despite his grief to support the inaugural "I Have a Dream Conference" to reiterate King's message of community service. He wouldn't miss the chance to support his friend Tavon Parker, who worked to put the event together in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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Parker, who was born and raised in York City all his life, grew up knowing Crispus Attucks as the only place to be on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Now in a position to give back to the community, Parker put together his own event. The conference was hosted by Parker's nonprofit, The Advantage Program, an organization dedicated to helping York City boys succeed in life.

An attendee claps along to music during the "I Have a Dream Conference" on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. Tina Locurto photo.

As attendees munched on breakfast sandwiches in the morning, pianist Kenyon Portee filled the TechRev Center with delicate melodies.

"I've been given the job to deliver some of the songs that are monumental in Black history," Portee said. "I'm going to present a song originally written by James Weldon Johnson for a presentation and celebration for Abraham Lincoln's birthday — we know it as the 'Negro National Anthem.'"

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Though copies of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" were not provided, that didn't stop many older attendees from closing their eyes, swaying to the music and singing along.

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All different types of art made its way centerstage during the Monday celebration. While Temple Guard students brought the energy, a poem by Jerald Proctor Sr. established a more serious tone.

"I'm so mad I feel like crying. Truth of the reality is, our kids are dying," Proctor recited from his poem. "I want to teach you the best way I know how to let you know your life has value — because we lack education and that ain't cool — because they'll build another jail before they build another school."

Proctor is a hall monitor and volleyball coach in the York City School District, so providing children with an education is personal for him.

"The passion comes from the things I see," Proctor said. "You see crime, you see poverty. You see good kids in school, you see good grades. You see so many different aspects of life living in the city."

Pianist Kenyon Portee sings "Lift Every Voice and Sing" during the "I Have A Dream Conference" on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. Tina Locurto photo.

The line in his poem that speaks to him the most is the verse dealing with incarceration.

"We have a lot of good kids in our community; some are just a little bit misguided and some of them are just on the fence," he said. "So that's the audience that I'm trying to reach. And I just want to see a better day for all of our kids."

Parker, a 2013 William Penn Senior High School graduate, was accepted to Millersville University on a basketball scholarship. His grades slipped, however, and he was forced to drop out after losing his scholarship.

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He returned to York City, fell into the "wrong crowd" and began selling drugs — later going to jail for 14 months from 2017 to 2018, Parker said.

He is now a motivational speaker, business owner and founder of The Advantage Program nonprofit.

Parker said he's doing exactly what he knew he was always going to do: providing children with a better chance. He can't do it alone, he said, which is why collaborating and involving the entire community is key.

"It motivates me and inspires me. It kind of gets me going and gives me butterflies," Parker said. "The Advantage Program can't save York. But together, I firmly believe if everybody does a little bit, nobody has to do a lot."