EDITORIAL: Honor late leaders by emulating them

York Dispatch Editorial Board
Family, friends and community members gather to remember civic leader Raymond "Ray" Crenshaw during a Celebration of Life service at Bishop Small Memorial AME Zion Church in York City, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Most of us simply occupy our communities. A select few, however, elevate them.

Clair Sexton and Ray Crenshaw fell into the latter category.      

Sexton died Dec. 3 at age 79. Crenshaw drew his last breath on Dec. 9 at age 86. The two losses, coming less than a week apart, are a double blow for York and the surrounding community.

Between them, Crenshaw and Sexton left few local lives untouched.

Sexton shook off a troubled early adulthood, emerging from a jail stint in 1979 to become a mentor and example for York’s youth. He focused especially on young people facing challenges, volunteering at the Crispus Attucks Community Center and assisting victims of substance abuse and those battling HIV as a counselor for the city’s Community Progress Council.

Crispus Attucks CEO Bobby Simpson called Sexton “a super role model,” who could connect with troubled youths because he spoke from hard-earned experience.

More:'God was his author': Community bids farewell to Ray Crenshaw

More:Community and youth advocate Clair Sexton, aka Ahmad Seifullah, dies at 79

More:Ray Crenshaw: Civil-rights pioneer, elder statesman, beloved mentor dead at 86

“Young people need to learn that there’s a price to pay if you don’t straighten up,” Simpson told the Dispatch’s Logan Hullinger. “There’s still good role models like Clair in the street helping young people now, and they need to listen.”

Sexton — after converting to Islam he also went by the name Ahmad Seifullah — extended his outreach well beyond the city’s limits, working in the education department of the Trenton State Prison in Trenton, New Jersey. But he was always closest to those close to home. He taught black history at William Penn Senior High School and served as president of the York NAACP, where, according to York NAACP Chapter President Sandra Thompson, “he impacted the youth of many generations.”

Crenshaw, too, was an impactful figure over the years.

A former City Council member who, like Sexton, had a long and influential relationship with the Crispus Attucks center, Crenshaw was a lifelong champion of equality and social justice.

“His goal was to make life in every capacity better for his community,” the NAACP’s Thompson told York Dispatch reporter Liz Evans Scolforo. “From living to employment to economic advantages to political government. ... He took up the mantle.”

Among the organizations that benefited from Crenshaw’s time and talent were not only the NAACP, but the Small Memorial AME Zion Church and York County Community Against Racism.

The onetime mayoral candidate stayed active in politics, at one time heading up York County’s Democratic party.

Crenshaw’s quiet example and longtime influence were such that, in 2016, the city created the “Ray Crenshaw Neighborhood Awards.”

“He only wanted to do right by humankind,” said former York Mayor Kim Bracey, whose administration was behind the award. “It didn’t matter what the person looked like or their background.”

Sexton, a living example of the power to rebound from incarceration, and Crenshaw, a trailblazer for local African-Americans seeking political means to solve social challenges, were community pillars. It seems almost unfair to lose two such admirable and influential figures so close together.

And yet, they left us strong examples for moving forward.

We must strive to emulate not only their devotion to community, but their quiet dedication, their sustained selflessness, the way they led more by deed than by word.

York is a better, stronger community for having been home to Clair Sexton and Ray Crenshaw. We can honor their memories in no better way than by following their examples to make the community better and stronger still.