A dozen years ago in Williamsport Pennsylvania, the downtown area was languishing. With barely any foot traffic, store fronts were empty and For Lease signs were everywhere. The downtown was on the verge of becoming a ghost town.
But a group of citizens, community leaders, merchants and elected officials embarked on a downtown improvement campaign which included a First Friday celebration of the arts and artisans. Artists were encouraged to sell their wares on the sidewalks of the main drag, Fourth Street. Eventually, the crowds from neighboring communities came to the urban center of Williamsport. First Fridays became a successful effort to revive center city.
Khalil Baines, his family and Krystal Richardson of the Peace in the Port organization intends to duplicate that success by establishing a First Saturday event in the downtown business district. But, his idea has a twist. He wants to memorialize the victims of violence and to promote peaceful living in Williamsport… i.e. Peace in the Port.
Baines sent out a statement regarding the first First Saturday of 2018: “Peace in the Port is all about community, we’re tired of seeing more negativity than positiv in our hometown and feel we can change this and want change together. With peace and love for diversity and a common goal- to treat one another as you would like to be treated. On May 5th we want City officials , Police, Firefighters, neighbors , friends, workers , farmers , students, youth\ elders and everyone from Williamsport come together to network connections. To talk about goals we can make and communicate with one another. Come up with a plan of action on what we want to see within our city. So if you believe we can do this please join us May 5th and be apart of something big Peace in your hometown The Port God Bless”
African-American Perspective Newsletter publisher, Richard James, has been keeping track of the gun violence in Williamsport, a small city of roughly 29,000 people. He supports Mr. Baines’ Peace in the Port’s objectives. Visit the Peace in the Port movement Facebook page.
The other form of violence is illegal drug addiction and the Heroin/Opioid epidemic. The Lycoming County Coroner announced that there were 38 overdose deaths in 2017. (Statement from the Lycoming County Coroner’s Office, December 2017: “So far this year we have investigated 38 drug deaths here in Lycoming County for 2017 and 98 deaths in the past 3 years. Over 4,880 addicted persons died in PA in 2016 and the numbers will be much higher in 2017. We need to continue to push the addicted towards treatment and continue prevention efforts to save lives.
Have a Merry Christmas and Safe Happy New Year!!”
Gun violence and opioid overdoses are destroying the lives of our young people. Mr. Baines and his Peace in the Port crew wants to change that. Come out and enjoy First Saturday.
“Litter is hard to see, we have become desensitized to its presence.” By posting the numerous photos, James hoped to dislodge the social blindness from the public’s daily life experience. “I had to raise the awareness.” James said.
But, sharing photos of fast food containers, cigarette butts, plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, old tires, beer cans and plastic bags was not enough. Action was needed.
Richard James created a film of him picking up litter on the River Walk in Williamsport and he showed it to the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership, an organization dedicated to restoring community connections to the Susquehanna River. That got the ball rolling.
He also notified Williamsport City Council of his plans to promote a city-wide cleanup during the week just prior to Earth Day – April 15 through to April 22, 2018. Here is the transcript of his presentation at a City Council meeting on March 29, 2018:
Hello, Good evening. My name is Richard James, I live at 610 West Fourth Street.
I am starting a… organizing event to clean up Williamsport. A couple of days ago, I was on the River Walk and I was walking and I saw a lot of trash. And so, I decided to pick it up. Then a week later I came back and… the section near the Maynard Street Bridge… it was filled with litter again. So that’s when I recognized that just one person… is futile. We are going to need the whole city to engage in this effort. Earth Day is coming up in April. It is going to be on a Sunday. And the Newberry people will be holding their annual cleanup on Saturday the 21st. So, then that’s when I got the bright idea that we make this city-wide and have the whole city engaged! Twenty-nine thousand people picking up litter! I know that is a bit ambitious but it can be done. I mean except for those folks that are physically unable. And we can get a jump on all this litter.
I have been documenting it for the last couple of days and posting it on Facebook. And you won’t believe the amount of trash that is out there. Especially if you are in a car it is hard to see. If you are walking it is a little bit easier, like you’re on the ground and you start to see the bottles, the trash, the cigarette butts, all kinds of stuff. You would not believe it.
I am asking for a community wide, community based effort and I am inviting everybody in this room to come out and pick up some litter. I decided it would be great to have it as a week long event. And it would be designed for individuals and groups and businesses to pick their best times, a convenient time for them to do the work. So from April 15th to the 22nd we are asking people to come out and clean up their yards, clean up their blocks, clean up their neighborhoods from one end of the city to the other.
I am working with the Newberry people, I also talked with the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership and we are negotiating on how we are going to clean up the River Walk and I have talked to the Adult Probation Office. Maybe we can get some people that serve their community service to help in that regard.
And so, at this point, this is just a FYI and I hope to be talking to some members of City Council in the next couple of weeks, public safety, and some other issues to round it out. Thank you.
If you wish to join Mr. James and his friends in the city wide cleanup, he offers a few guidelines:
It looks like litter comes from 3 primary sources. People droppings, unsecure truck loads, and improper trash handling. People tossing trash from their cars is a big problem. Governments quite frankly can’t keep up. Lycoming County and the state wants to keep track of the amount of litter collected.
Carry two bags with you; one for biodegradable material and one for recyclables. (Biodegradable is any thing organic. Tree leaves, etc. Recyclables are cardboard, paper, plastics.)
Be safe. Pay attention to the traffic at all times. Don’t risk your life trying to reach a piece of litter. Be sure to wear work gloves or garden gloves.
You might need a rake and a shovel, but in most cases, the litter just needs to be picked up.
Avoid trespassing. Pick up litter that is clearly in public spaces. (this is a good opportunity to get to know your neighbors! Say hello.)
Take a photo of your work and your team! Post the photos to social media using the hashtag #WilliamsportCleanUp
Have some fun. Enjoy the day. Meet new people. Be sure to tell your friends. We want this effort to grow into a movement of civic responsibility. We’re already making plans for next year’s Earth Day week!
Here’s a message from Corey Ellison of Susquehanna Greenway Partnership Richard James regarding his promotion of the event, “… ask for them to track their # of volunteers, # of hours they participated in the cleanup, how far/# of blocks or miles they cleaned up, and if possible to weigh their collected litter. To weigh the litter, a simple bathroom scale with plastic wrap over it would work. This would help us to show a collective impact of the whole week, and would help to set benchmarks to support a larger effort next year. They are welcome to send that information to SGP for processing.”