EDITORIAL: Minority voices make themselves heard

York Dispatch

Thirty-nine percent of York City residents are white. Almost 31 percent are Latino. Twenty-seven percent are African-American.

So when speaking about minorities in York City, the thing to realize is, there's no real racial majority within this five square miles of land.

Which makes it puzzling that no one thought to put a question out to the nonwhite community before writing up a contract on economic development in the city.

On Tuesday, June 5, the York City Council was supposed to vote on a contract that would shift economic development responsibilities from a city department to the York County Economic Alliance, a countywide nongovernmental agency tasked with driving economic growth.

Local attorney and York NAACP Chapter President Sandra Thompson speaks as hundreds gather for the March For Our Lives rally to end gun violence in York City, Saturday, March 24, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

At the last minute, the contract was pulled from the council's agenda, and Mayor Michael Helfrich said the city will put together a committee to get the community and the government on the same page.

The contract would have given the YCEA $12,500 per month through the end of the year to spearhead business development within the city.

More:Minorities' concerns scuttle York City plan to outsource economic development

There's no doubt that the city needs help. York City's acting director of economic and community development, Shilvosky Buffaloe, and one other city employee are the only ones working to drive more business into the city, while the YCEA has 24 more employees ready to step up to the plate. Under the contract, Buffaloe would shift his focus to neighborhood development while the YCEA would bring in two more full-time employees and 24 more support staff focus on businesses.

But shifting that responsibility to a majority-white, county organization didn't go over well with the nonwhite residents who together form a majority of the population of the city.

The contract was seen as an attempt to bring gentrification to York City, bringing in higher-income, upper- and middle-class residents who would change the culture of the city while displacing lower-income residents.

Former York City poet laureate Christine Lincoln questioned the intentions of Kevin Schreiber, president of the YCEA.

Christine Lincoln, York City's poet laureate, poses near her home. After moving from Manchester Township, she discovered the not-so-rosy side of the White Rose city and has become an advocate for tenants' rights. Hear Lincoln's thoughts on the city's housing crisis at www.yorkdispatch.com.

"Schreiber's vision is investor-based," she said during the meeting. "It does not hold at its core those who are people of color or those who are disenfranchised, because investor confidence doesn't consider these groups. This is a case of gentrification versus real revitalization."

York NAACP President Sandra Thompson pointed out that the YCEA isn't accountable to the people who live in the city.

"This is minimizing black and brown voices and taking away their power," Thompson said. "York City is the only real voice of black and brown people in the county as a whole."

It seems that the idea was well-intentioned but not very well thought through. 

York City does need economic help, and bringing in the help of a much larger staff with knowledge of York seems like it could be a solution to the economic problems of the city, where the median family income is only $30,068 and 36 percent of the residents are living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

But at the same time, the administration needs to recognize that the 43,859 York City residents are more than just numbers. There are communities and cultures. There are problems and concerns. There are thriving small businesses that are mainstays of their neighborhoods and businesses that close after a few months.

York City needs to bring all of that together and find solutions that work for its current residents as well as bring in new businesses and residents.

The people of York City will be paying close attention to how the issue develops, Thompson said at the meeting.

"We'll continue to listen, read and watch to make sure the people's voices are being heard and their authority is not being wrongfully circumvented," she said. 

Hear, hear.