Reverse Redlining

I often hear Allentown expats emphatically say that our city has changed. By hearing this repeatedly and carefully examining the context in which those words are uttered, I have found that this is a racist and classist code pointing to the increased number of Spanish speaking people and the increased visibility of people who are economically fragile who now occupy the city in which many ‘decent white middle class people’ have chosen to no longer live. Saying that Allentown has changed is an attempt to preserve white middle class privilege.

When things change, we often feel compelled to selfishly judge the circumstances according to our own values, beliefs, and needs. Why can’t we just observe, learn, absorb, and embrace rather than judge and distance ourselves?

I have many fond memories of center city Allentown. My grandmother owned Zipf’s candy and gift shop on Hamilton Mall. One summer, I stayed over at her house and we rode the bus to work together. It was the first time I felt really grown up. I loved to help out in the store and to be downtown amidst all of the interesting people. My sister had her first apartment in that building and I had fun visiting her and her boyfriend (then husband, now ex-husband) there. When I graduated from high school, I went downtown and opened my first checking and savings accounts at one of the banks at center square. It was the second time that I felt really grown up. Going downtown was always exciting to me, and it still is. While I no longer spend a significant amount of time downtown, I do like to go there often, usually to visit Symphony Hall or the Allentown Art Museum. Each visit leads me to recall many fond childhood memories and creates new ones.

I, too, am an Allentown expat. I left involuntarily while a high school student in 1991 and, while I did attend Allentown Business School and worked in several locations throughout the city, I have not lived there since. I am planning to move back as soon as I am financially able to.

Many people who would like to live in Allentown are warned not to buy a home there particularly because of the high rate of crime and the perception of the public school system. This is exactly why I need to move back home. Rather than excluding myself from the blessed pain of life, I plan to become an active citizen and to find ways to share what I hope to become a contagious sense of pride in our community. I could never wish for my child to have something relatively better than another mother’s child. I would rather intentionally bring people together so that we can work for the future of our community than further exclude and divide people based on arbitrary demographics.

Yes, Allentown has changed, and thank goodness so have I.

Changemaker Chat – Kevin Easterling

Kevin Easterling is a native of the Lehigh Valley. As executive director of the Martin Luther & Coretta Scott King Memorial Project of the Lehigh Valley Inc., he coordinated the construction of the only memorial in the world dedicated to Dr. King and his wife Coretta Scott King

How did you first become interested in social change?

Well, as a Black man and descendant of American Slaves, born and living in America, (Specifically the Lehigh Valley) my life experiences (and love of true history) has made it most important that I be engaged in what is now termed social change. If I had to pick a defining point however, I would say the first time I knew I was classified as different was when I moved to Allentown in the mid 70’s…the Allentown School District at that time still had the integrated busing system and I was required to (because I was Black and I lived in a certain neighborhood) attend an all white elementary school across town. It was part of the school integration laws in those days. My experiences back then as a child ingrained in me that things needed to be different.  I couldn’t put my finger on it back then but I knew something had to change.

How do you define social justice?

The abolition of American Chattel Slavery and South African Apartheid, the American Freedom Movement / Civil Rights Movement, pretty much defines the need for and definition of social justice for me. The need to change laws, institutions and economic inequalities that make a certain social, ethnic or economic class of people unequal or second class citizens to other human beings.

What has been your most exciting experience as an activist?

I’ve never considered myself an activist…it seems like when you’re engaged as a Black man, people (or the Press) often label you as an activist. I’ve pretty much somewhere down the line gained a self-empowering attitude for much of my life. Life in itself is exciting when I’m engaged. In my life time though, I had the experience of observing several major world and local changes that were exciting to me…a few that stick out are the fall of Apartheid in South Africa, (Nelson Mandela becoming president), Obama becoming the first Black president. While I wasn’t directly involved in these two events they were very exciting to me.

(Note: This raises an interesting point…what is an activist? What is activism? This is a great conversation starter for local communities! – Editor)

What is the most interesting project in which you are currently involved?

There are several, but if I had to pick one I would have to say the work I’m doing now as the executive director for the Martin Luther & Coretta Scott King Memorial Project of the Lehigh Valley.

What is your vision for a better world?

People have been so conditioned by the rich and powerful that they have settled for injustice because they don’t feel like they can make the world different. The capacity for moral outrage is in much deficit all over the world. A better world will come when all of man-kind understands how we are all connected. There is enough fruit and wealth for everyone on this planet… senseless war and greed has crippled this planet. Remove these two things and things could be a lot better for the world.

What are your plans for the future?

Not sure yet.