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The new State College branch of the NAACP looks to give more voice to people of color

by on September 04, 2020 6:56 AM

A Juneteenth celebration was held June 19 in the Borough of State College, commemorating the emancipation of the last remaining enslaved African Americans in 1865. While these celebrations are common elsewhere in the country, this was the first such event in State College.

The ceremony, put together by the newly formed State College branch of the NAACP and held at Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza, was well-attended, with crowds watching from the decks of the Fraser Street parking garage and spilling out into the street as people socially distanced. Music, prayers, poetry, and speeches stirred and inspired the diverse crowd during a time when protests against racial injustice were overshadowing the COVID-19 pandemic in the consciousness of the nation.

“Right now, the African-American community is hurting," Lorraine Jones, president of the State College NAACP, said prior to the event. "We need something positive happening to reflect on and give us hope. Juneteenth is a very timely reminder of our heritage and great strength; like our ancestors, we must trust the struggle and know joy comes in the morning.”

Reflecting on the event, Jones says the celebration was bittersweet.

“It was hard to kind of celebrate in the mist of knowing that while we have made progress, there is so much that still needs to be done,” says Jones. “Knowing that we are in the mist of George Floyd, and in the midst of Osaze Osagie being shot and killed, it was bittersweet. It was great that we are able to say, ‘Hey, we are an important part of the community.’ And making sure that we are recognizing these holidays that are meaningful to us.”

The State College branch of the NAACP officially was formed in January after Jones, along with a group of community members including co-treasurers Jennifer Black and Kimisse King, worked to add a chapter here.

“One of our goals is to make sure people of color and those that are normally silenced have a space in the community where they feel like their voices are being heard, and their needs in the community are being met,” says Jones.

“When we started looking at what we wanted the State College NAACP to look like, one of the components we wanted for it was not only social justice, but also an educational [component], as well as a space for people of color, in light of some of the inequities that were happening in the community,” she adds.

For Black, the concerns for people of color in the community – such as inequities in school districts and elsewhere, concerns about national leadership, and racial bias on the police force – that led to the formation of the State College branch are some of the same issues that brought about the need for the NAACP when it was founded back in 1909.

“Ironically, the very same circumstances that contributed to the formation of the NAACP more than 100 years ago are exactly what spurred us to come together here in State College,” says Black.

“We looked around and said, ‘What can we do here in central Pennsylvania?’ We are a small town with a big university, we are connected to other places in Pennsylvania, and we thought that a national organization of the renown of the NAACP would be a good thing to start in State College,” she adds.

There was a chapter of the NAACP in State College in the 1970s, and there has long been a Penn State chapter. With the transient nature of the town, some people who initiated past efforts may have moved on, but there have long been people working for change, Black says.

“There has been lots of organizing in State College in different ways; this is just the most recent wave of Black organizing in State College,” she says.

“What we are seeing is that people of color really want this space to have their voices heard,” says Jones. “To have a space where people of color are given the forefront, I think it is time for that.”

Jones says the NAACP has always been a multiracial organization formed by “Black people’s visions and voices and efforts and energies.”

Leaders of the local branch say that other chapters across the state and nation can help provide knowledge, resources, and connections.

The Juneteenth celebration was one example of the educational efforts the group hopes to share with the community. The branch has also worked with the 3/20 Coalition in its efforts to find justice concerning the death of Osagie.

“It is nice to join with other groups and be able to add our voice and our weight to their efforts, and we are all gearing up where we can jump in on some other campaigns,” says Black. “It is nice to have an organization with some national merit to be able to join these local campaigns and progressive groups in State College and sort of change the order of things.”

Looking ahead, the upcoming election is a priority for the branch.

“We want to make sure that people, especially people who have been oppressed, understand the importance of getting leadership that would work on issues that directly relate to the issues we are dealing with locally, statewide, and nationally,” says Jones.

The branch holds a virtual meeting on the third Thursday of each month at 6 p.m., King says. Those interested in joining can reach out at [email protected] and follow the group on social media.


Vincent Corso is a staff writer for Town&Gown and The Centre County Gazette.


Vincent Corso is writer for Town&Gown and the Centre County Gazette.
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