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Many Voices Create Change: CAARSEA Second Anniversary

Our community came together on Sunday, June 12th to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the Colonial Area Anti-Racism and Social Equity Alliance (CAARSEA). The event’s theme was “Stand Up, Speak Out: Engaging in Conversation, Creativity, and Community” and aimed to celebrate CAARSEA’s accomplishments this past year and inspire the community to vote and continue our engagement and work in the community.

Lou Ann Merkle, CAARSEA Board Member and Events Co-Chair said,

“During this election year, CAARSEA recognizes the urgency of voter education and community building. We come together to do our part to ensure the violent insurrection on January 6th never happens again. It is vital that candidates who participated in efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 elections do not win seats to govern in PA. We were honored to have PA State Senator Vincent Hughes, Montgomery County Commissioner Ken Lawrence, and PA House Candidate Greg Scott as they answered CAARSEA’s call to courageously advocate for policies we support. These policies include:

  • Protecting mail-in voting in PA

  • Expanding voting access

  • Common Sense gun legislation

  • Accountability for PA state legislators and government leaders who contributed to the events of January 6th.”

CAARSEA was formed on June 1, 2020 with the desire to ensure our Black neighbors are safe, valued, and respected. With over 1,000 group members, several committees have been formed to engage more pointedly in the community. CAARSEA members and leaders have provided on-going opportunities for community learning including an educational series on racial disparities in homeownership, elections and voting, anti-racism education, and creating constructive conversations with family and friends. The group has also participated in monthly homeless outreach events in Norristown to provide meals, tents, clothing, and toiletries to our neighbors experiencing homelessness.

We have engaged in school board meetings and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee meetings, and provided support to students in the Colonial School District with issues related to racism and social justice with our youth in the schools and community environments.

CAARSEA is proud of the relationship we have built and continue to grow with the Plymouth, Conshohocken, and Whitemarsh Police Departments. Our work with them has included two town halls and one other being planned. Two CAARSEA members recently graduated from the Plymouth Police Citizens Academy.

Our group manned tables at both the Plymouth and Whitemarsh Township days and the recent Juneteenth festival in Germantown. While CAARSEA is proud of its direct service to the community, we are equally proud of the behind the scenes organization efforts. From website creation and social media engagement, to the hard-working fundraising team and achievement of our official non-profit 501c4 status, to the on-going selling and promotion of merchandise such as Black Lives Matter lawn signs and CAARSEA car magnets.

“In two short years, CAARSEA has made a name for itself in the Colonial and surrounding areas. Our board has a strong desire to keep connecting with more and more neighbors, while solidifying ourselves as advocates on all issues of equity. We truly believe that freedom is only achieved when ALL people are free. This includes matters of race, socio-economic status, education, reproductive rights, and voting to name a few. One huge takeaway from this year’s event is that we need to turn our passion into ACTION. We urge CAARSEA community members to learn more about our subcommittees and join! We need your passion, spirit and activism to stay the course.”

- Bridget Gill, CAARSEA Co-Chair

Vendors such as Lovely Eatz, Belle Designs, and Mr. Tasty ice cream truck offered

refreshments and goods to our attendees throughout the event. Folks were encouraged to participate in our raffle, which offered items such as restaurant and retail gift cards and free

fitness classes, which were generously donated by local, small businesses. Younger children played with one another around the pavilion and were encouraged to draw and create their own bookmark to take home. Photographs of CAARSEA’s involvement over the past year hung around the pavilion for attendees to view and discuss with one another. Kristin from Our Yoga Home provided a brief meditation to begin our event, which encouraged listeners to gather and ground themselves.

State Senator Vincent Hughes gave our first speech of the day. Senator Hughes gave insight into working the halls of Harrisburg and the importance of smaller elections to ensure each politician has the support from other like-minded elected officials to get things done.

He emphasized the importance of having groups like CAARSEA, speaking out against injustice, and engaging with one another after tragedy. Often he has seen that when people are angry enough, it can force change, and this work is what allows victories to occur.

Listeners felt both empowered to work towards progress in their own neighborhoods and hopeful that their work would lead to greater nationwide change.

Our Montgomery County Commissioner and 20-year resident of Plymouth Meeting, Ken Lawrence, gave an inspiring speech that encouraged all listeners to reflect on areas of inequity around food accessibility. He shared his experience with the food stamp challenge: for one week he allotted himself $4.50 per day for personal food expenses.

In addition to nutrition deficits, he recalled experiencing distress when his dog pulled his last remaining pieces of bread for the week off of the kitchen counter. Mr. Lawrence discussed important considerations of food insecurity and how it impacts educational equity. For example, in areas where a large number of students relied on free school breakfast and lunches, school districts struggled to fully focus on the transition to virtual learning during the pandemic as the priority became how do we feed our children? Commissioner Lawrence gave insight to the feedback he often receives from the public, which is frequent criticism and folks disapproving of the direction he is taking. While it is empowering to speak out against policies you disagree with, he encouraged listeners to share their voices in support of their efforts as often as possible.

Greg Scott is the democratic nominee for PA Representative in District 54 comprising Plymouth, Conshohocken, and East Norriton.

In his speech, he shared the story of how he developed a passion for advocacy, including his own family’s experience with inaccessible healthcare and wrongful convictions of crime.

These experiences propelled him to run and win the magisterial district judge seat in Norristown, making him the first Black judge in Montgomery County. His focus has largely been in areas of inequity including ensuring access to quality legal representation and addressing landlord/tenant issues to assist those experiencing housing and rent insecurity.

Students of Plymouth Whitemarsh High School shared their experiences in the Black Cultural Awareness Club which is one of the five culture and gender clubs at PWHS. The club seeks to spread awareness about Black culture, eradicate stereotypes, increase awareness of issues affecting the Black community, and inspire a sense of community among members.

The club has held many successful fundraising and awareness-creating events, such as a district wide Unity walk, fashion show, story-time with younger students to expose them to more diverse characters, and a local Juneteenth celebration. With a high population of white students and teachers in the district, members of the Black Cultural Awareness Club speakers noted a feeling of home when connecting with this club. They shared their on-going goal to improve diversity among the teaching staff in Colonial School District. Attendees were treated to a step performance by members of the BCA. Stepping is a dynamic, high energy, synchronized dance that blends popular culture and African choreography. In stepping, the body is used to create sounds using voice, clapping, and stomping. It is the continued source of communication between enslaved or oppressed people, and is modernly used in sororities and fraternities to show pride or unity within their group.

"A notable example is in South Africa and the gumboot dance. Workers in the mines wore wellington boots called gumboots. Workers were not allowed to talk while working. The boots may be embellished with bells, so that they ring as the dancers stamp on the ground. This sound would be a code to say something to another person a short distance away." - Sonia Pinkney, CAARSEA Secretary and Board Member

Members of the Intersectional Feminism Club, another one of the 5 culture and gender clubs at PWHS, shared their experience with obtaining education equity for female-identifying students. They detailed their journey of obtaining free menstrual products in the school bathrooms, to reduce the number of students missing class to wait in the nurse’s office for those products. On-going goals include addressing dress code inequity, as the current rules appear to regulate only female-presenting students and do so inconsistently. The club has faced some adversity from the administration, but have persevered and are hopeful in keeping up with their advocacy efforts this coming school year.

CAARSEA had planned to set aside time for small group engagement, encouraging attendees to join small group discussions with our sub-committees. While our time was cut short, CAARSEA hopes to pull this opportunity together with smaller group gatherings throughout the year to encourage community connectedness and on-going discussion.

All of our speakers bravely and courageously took the microphone to share about their personal experiences and encourage attendees to use their voice. Collectively they gave us the reminder that effort is not singular. A community will mobilize easily after a tragedy, but long term change requires many little steps and many (seemingly) little voices. From the conversations we have with our neighbors, the support we show publically for these causes, and the circle we fill in on our ballot: Your voice can be heard in many ways. Speak out!

We encourage you to join us in whatever way possible to stand up, speak out, and help make our community one that is free of racism and an equitable place for all.

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