Lancaster has a unique identity, perhaps best known as the home of our Plain communities and their distinctive culture and traditions.
This sometimes overshadows our collective heritage that is just as unique — as a community that strives to love our neighbors as ourselves, as exhibited in our identity as “America’s refugee capital” and the home of one of our country’s earliest champions of equality and inclusion: Thaddeus Stevens, the abolitionist who represented Lancaster in Congress in the mid-1800s.
In last Sunday’s Perspective section, YWCA Lancaster CEO Stacie Blake posited that Lancaster has a unique role in our country’s journey toward racial equity because of Stevens’ leadership. She wrote, “With courage and conviction, in the spirit of Thaddeus Stevens, Lancaster could lead the way forward” in confronting the unresolved issues of racial justice.
I couldn’t agree more.
I often think of Lancaster as a laboratory city. We’re small enough to try big things and make real change, and we’re big enough to matter.
In city government, we share lessons and experiences with our sister cities in the region. We are networked with cities around the world with whom we’ve shared and gained best practices in sound government.
And in a moment when our country is as divided as any time in recent memory, I deeply believe that cities like Lancaster have an opportunity to show what we’re really made of, even in the face of enormous challenges like COVID-19 and the ongoing struggle for racial equity across our country.
Racial inequities underpin the very fabric of our nation and require deliberate commitment and action to dismantle. Action is needed, and we each need to ask what is in our power to do.
I want to share what the team of public servants is doing on this front in City of Lancaster government for one explicit purpose: to advance a conversation about what each of us can do to build a stronger and more equitable Lancaster.
You can see a full list of the commitments we’ve made and a brief progress report on the city’s web page (cityoflancasterpa.com).
Our biggest areas of opportunity are within our own policies, practices and resource allocations. I’ll highlight just a few.
In policies, we’re reviewing all police policies in advance of making them all publicly available as part of accreditation. We’re revising policies around recruitment and hiring to reduce barriers to creating a more diverse workforce across all city departments. We’re analyzing options to prioritize equity in redevelopment and tax abatement policy.
In practices, we’re pushing all 2021 projects through the city’s public participation website, Engage Lancaster, to enable more transparency and engagement opportunities for residents and community members. We’re advancing language access to make city services more accessible to residents who speak languages other than English.
In resource allocations, we’re funding social workers in housing and policing to provide more preventative services. We’re analyzing options to redirect loan funds toward the most equitable impact. The list goes on.
And that’s the point. We each have to keep checking our lists and adding to them. This work is going to require deliberate commitments by governments, organizations, businesses, individuals — all of us. And it’s going to take more risk-taking, story sharing, transparency about our successes and failures, and encouragement to step up and ask what is in your hands to make a difference.
I invite you — in the private sector, nonprofit sector, elected officials, faith leaders, neighbors — to share what you’re committed to do in your sphere of influence to confront the issues of racial justice. Let’s show the world who we are. Write a letter to the editor, do an Instagram Live, deliver a sermon or a speech, or tag your thoughts on social media as #whowearelancaster.
After all, what better place is there than a laboratory to try and learn new things, test hypotheses, and even fail and try again? And what better place than Lancaster, where the work of Thaddeus Stevens remains unfinished?
Danene Sorace, a Democrat, has been mayor of the City of Lancaster since January 2018.