by Dave Schankweiler, Democrat for Mayor of Harrisburg
Remarks released Sunday, April 25, 2021
The other night during the debate, I was asked whether I believe there is systemic racism in Harrisburg. I immediately started talking about solutions—what I saw as the breakdown of communication between City Hall and its citizens. I never answered the question and missed the opportunity to share my heart on racial inequality and barriers to opportunity—high walls that have kept too many black and brown families from earning their chance to move ahead. Many of you have called or texted or stopped me on the street to give me the opportunity to finish my answer.
Thank you. For the rest of you, here’s my complete answer:
Of course, systemic racism exists in Harrisburg. It’s woven generationally into private and public institutions, and it’s created a system of locked doors for so many residents.
You see it in hiring disparities for new police officers and firefighters. Our force doesn’t always look like the neighborhoods they serve. The mayor led us to believe that no one has applied, but respectfully, I don’t think we’ve really tried. Harrisburg hasn’t put out the welcome sign for black and brown women and men in uniform.
You see it in the non-participation of qualified minority contractors for city projects.
You see it in neighborhoods where road repairs, streetlights, trash and blight—services paid for by residents on those streets—are ignored. You know where their priorities are—just take a drive. Systemic racism isn’t just a college theory or a buzzword.
You see, we founded Harrisburg University to tear down the wall that exists for too many black and brown students. Today, with 7,000 students, 63% are black and brown. That’s amazing. But it’s not enough. While we work and wait for the Harrisburg School District to recover, we must act with urgency to give parents more options. Losing a generation to street violence and failing schools isn’t an option.
I’ve proposed the Mayor’s Council on Affordable Housing and Home Ownership to create a realistic path to achieving the dignity and pride that comes with home ownership.
I’ve called for a permanent Office of Minority Entrepreneurship and Small Business Growth to give every good idea a fighting chance to become a reality. This city is brimming with entrepreneurial talent in the black and brown communities—and I’ve met many of them.
And I’ve called for a mayor’s cabinet that represents all the people who live in the 22 neighborhoods that make up Harrisburg, and police and fire departments that make hiring black and brown talent an urgent priority.
I’ve outlined a plan that, if enacted, will take a sledgehammer to racist systems. We do it by simply opening the door and saying: this is your city. Be part of it. Help to lead it. Not in four years, but now.
Thank you for allowing me to offer a perspective that I failed to fully communicate on Debate night. If you have more questions, my cell number and email are on the screen. I’ll meet with you in person or call. I want to hear from you.
Let’s make this a city that works for everyone. Let’s end systemic racism wherever we find it. Not by pointing fingers and assigning blame, but by taking responsibility for the city we love.
Thank you for listening.