While she was a student at Manheim Central School District, Taylor Enterline was called racial slurs, teased about her hair, told to sit at the back of the bus and to pick cotton.
It wasn’t until years later that Enterline, now a 20-year-old rising junior at West Chester University, fully understood how her experience with racism affected her.
“I’ve been experiencing racism my whole life, and I was told, ‘Oh, it’s just a joke,’ ” said Enterline, who graduated in 2018.
In Manheim, people let racism slide, Enterline said, but it’s time for that to end. And that starts with the people in charge.
Enterline was among nearly a dozen Manheim Central graduates, students and parents who met with district Superintendent Peter J. Aiken, school resource officer Adam Webb and borough Mayor Scot Funk this week to discuss ways to eliminate racism at the district, which is 84% white.
“We really need to address this and make (Manheim) a place where (racism) is not OK,” Enterline said.
The group, which met in-person at the school district offices, touched on topics like diversity training, Black literature, white fragility and bullying during the two-and-a-half-hour meeting.
A ‘rich discussion’
Aiken called it a “rich discussion” that he hopes can continue.
“I was not aware of these experiences, and that’s why it was good for me to sit down and talk with them,” Aiken said.
First steps, he said, may include employee training that goes beyond “professional development for an hour and there’s no lasting change,” guest speakers, a diversified offering of class literature and a general commitment to seek understanding within the community.
“We constantly preach a growth mindset here at Manheim Central, and this is an opportunity to grow,” Aiken said.
‘Not born racist’
Funk, Manheim’s mayor, organized the meeting. Funk said he appreciated students and parents speaking out about what they’ve experienced, which he called “brave and courageous.”
“I think there is racism, and I think a lot of people don’t realize,” he said, adding that many white people don’t understand the statements or actions they make are offensive.
Adults are often stuck in their ways, Funk said, so the work must start early.
“You’re not born racist. You’re taught that,” he said. “I feel that we really need to get to the young age, elementary school, middle school.”
Optimistic for change
The meeting happened Tuesday. The next day, dozens of Black Lives Matter advocates, including Enterline, marched peacefully through Manheim while a handful of counterprotesters, at least one openly carrying a weapon, looked on.
Jacian Pabón, who graduated from La Academia Partnership Charter School this year but attended Manheim Central through 10th grade, was another Black Lives Matter protester. He answered questions via text Thursday, because he lost his voice from chanting the day before.
“My experience at manheim was anxiety ridden, mentally and physically painful, and emotionally draining,” Pabón, 17, said in a text.
Pabón said he was called racial slurs and stereotyped, harassed because of his hair and called “every other Hispanic name in the book, Julio, or Juan, or Jorge, or Carlos, or Miguel,” because some teachers wouldn’t memorize his name.
In 2018, LNP | LancasterOnline reported 100% of Manheim Central teachers were white in the 2016-17 school year, according to Pennsylvania Department of Education data.
One way the school district could improve race relations is by conducting diversity training, he said.
In the end, Pabón said he was grateful for the meeting and optimistic about the future.
“They are listening and intend to continue this process of growth and awareness with the community of manheim,” he said.