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Mid-Atlantic Region

Mid-Atlantic Regional Office

200 2nd & Chestnut Street
Suite 208
Philadelphia, PA 19106

T: 215.597.2344
F: 215.597.9148

A U.S. map image of the Mid-Atlantic Region: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, District of Columbia, Maryland, and Delaware. A target icon indicates the location of the CRS Regional Office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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Mid-Atlantic Region Case Highlights

In January 2020, CRS facilitated a School-Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (School-SPIRIT) program at a high school in in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, to address concerns of bias-based incidents related to race at the school.

The Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General and an additional government official requested CRS services after an incident at the high school in February 2019, when a video circulated on social media of a white school police officer punching and pulling the hair of a Black female student. Two students were allegedly involved in a fight when the school police officer intervened. At least four students were expelled following the incident. Community members held a protest at the school during a school board meeting, calling for the officer to be fired for the way he restrained the student. District officials and parents in the area also reported concerns about racial slurs used by white students and racial tensions between Black and white students in the school. In November 2019, CRS convened school and government officials to plan a School-SPIRIT program. On the morning of the program, CRS trained 10 individuals from state and federal agencies as facilitators. The two-hour facilitation training provided volunteer facilitators with an overview of the program and relevant facilitation training topics, including the program logistics and goals, facilitator roles, and active listening techniques.

A diverse group of approximately 80 student leaders from grades nine through 12 participated in the SPIRIT program. In small breakout groups, student leaders identified inequitable security procedure enforcement as their top concern, including a lack of training for security staff. In addition, many students felt that school policies and procedures were disparately enforced against Black and Latino students. Working together, reorganized into small groups, the students developed potential solutions to address the issues, such as cultural and diversity training for security staff and updates to school policies to address procedures considered to be unfair.

At the conclusion of the program, participants created a SPIRIT council composed of a diverse group of student volunteers to implement some of the solutions developed during the program. The school principal and SPIRIT council members agreed to create an action plan to address the student-raised concerns.

In the aftermath of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in October 2018, federal and law enforcement officials, community leaders, and faith leaders in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, asked CRS to provide continued services to help calm tensions and address the community’s fears. A group of federal agencies in the greater Pittsburgh area had identified a need to respond to hate crimes and learn how to prevent future hate crimes from occurring. CRS led the interagency initiative to increase the federal agencies’ capacity to prevent and respond to hate crimes in Pittsburgh by forming a working group comprised of local federal employees.

The working group expanded from six to more than 25 members, including representatives from seven federal agencies, the city of Pittsburgh, and a local university. The working group met frequently to discuss how to leverage existing community resources to prevent and respond to hate crimes and how to increase the members’ understanding of hate crimes and capacity to respond to them.

The group planned and coordinated a daylong event on October 30, 2019, at Carnegie Mellon University, designed to facilitate conversations about hate crimes and hate crimes prevention among students, faith leaders, educators, and community advocates. CRS provided facilitation training to approximately 20 volunteers, including EEOC officers, educators, nonprofit leaders, faith-based leaders, and social workers, who led “World Café” dialogues during the event.

The “Forum on Hate Crimes, Hate vs. Understanding: Start the Conversation” was also part of the university’s celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ) history month. The first panel included speakers from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and Carnegie Mellon University Police. Participants learned how to address and prevent hate crimes and workplace violence and discrimination, as well as how to work with LGBTQ communities and emerging community groups, including the city’s growing Burmese, Chinese, and Korean communities. After the morning panel, two national LGBTQ advocates spoke about the 10th anniversary of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA) of 2009. One expert included Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard. She described her efforts to ensure passage of the HCPA, and the Matthew Shepard Foundation’s accomplishments in ensuring safety, visibility, and inclusiveness of the LGBTQ community since the enactment of the HCPA. An afternoon panel, “Preventing Hate Crimes and Law Enforcement” featured the Charlottesville, Virginia, chief of police, a Carnegie Mellon alumna. Finally, participants engaged in structured conversation on addressing issues that lead to hate crimes in afternoon “World Café” dialogues.

In March 2020, CRS facilitated a Protecting Places of Worship (PPOW) forum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to address local religious communities’ concerns regarding a national increase in religiously motivated hate crimes. Many Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh communities across the United States experienced fear after recent anti-Semitic events, including the October 2018 Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the Chabad-Lubavitch of Poway synagogue shooting outside San Diego, California, in April 2019.

In the fall of 2019, based on a long-standing relationship with CRS, government officials contacted CRS to request a PPOW forum. CRS worked with the community to form an interfaith planning group that included local Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faith leaders and advocates as well as government leaders, including officials from the commission and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (USAO-MDPA). CRS convened meetings of the planning group in January and February 2020 to help coordinate the forum, which also included representatives from the local community and education. Leaders of local religious organizations and members of the community in the working group were interested in learning more about creating a safe and secure environment for faith-based communities, information on how to report hate and bias incidents, and resources to help faith-based communities before and after hate and bias incidents.

Approximately 80 people attended the forum, which was hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg and held at the Jewish Community Center in Harrisburg. Panelists included representatives of Harrisburg’s Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, and Latino communities, and government agencies, including the USAO-MDPA, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security Office of Infrastructure Protection, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, Pennsylvania State Police, and Harrisburg Police Department.

Panelists shared information about religion-based hate crimes, federal and state hate crimes laws, and how to conduct threat assessments and protect places of worship from bias incidents and hate crimes. The forum also fostered networking and community outreach and provided resources to participants, such as examples of security plans and community responses.

CRS piloted the newly developed Facilitating Meetings Around Community Conflict (FMACC) training program in February 2020 for Loudoun County, Virginia, community leaders. Through FMACC, CRS teaches community leaders the fundamentals of successfully facilitating meetings where community tension requires difficult conversations, including tools, helpful tips, and resources to prepare for, conduct, and follow up after the meetings.

In the fall of 2019, the Loudoun County branch of the NAACP requested CRS services to address community concerns about perceived racial bias in history classes in local schools and procedures for selection to attend the Academies of Loudoun, a public Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)-focused high school, as well as incidents of Ku Klux Klan flyers anonymously distributed in communities in the county. Community members expressed concerns about the language used in public school textbooks and the perceived racial undertones of the curriculum’s interpretation of historical events. At the same time, reports circulated of the Ku Klux Klan’s active pursuit of members in some parts of the country. Given the broad range of community needs, in consultation with CRS, the Loudoun County NAACP branch requested that CRS conduct the FMACC training for a group of county community leaders to help build capacity across local organizations to address these concerns.

CRS conducted the program for 16 participants, including local religious leaders, educators, and community leaders. The training program uses skill-building exercises and scenarios to help participants practice the skills needed to successfully facilitate dialogues and encourage positive change in their community. The training also provides the opportunity for these leaders to share their knowledge related to facilitating groups, managing conflict, and exercising community leadership and discusses how they can collaborate in their communities to address sources of conflict and tension.

All participants agreed that the training was valuable and provided additional tools for tackling issues of conflict in their communities. CRS is currently modifying the program so it can be conducted virtually, as well as in person, beginning in early Fiscal Year 2022.

In January 2020, CRS facilitated a School-Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (School-SPIRIT) program at a high school in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania to address tensions from alleged racially motivated bullying and subsequent racial conflict at the school. CRS previously facilitated a School-SPIRIT at the high school in 2017 to address similar concerns of alleged harassment and discrimination due to race.

In October 2019, CRS responded to a request from the high school principal after the parents of several Black students filed a complaint with a state agency about the reported use of racial slurs against Black and South Asian students and subsequent racial tension at the school. Members of the Mechanicsburg Black community perceived the slurs as bias-based incidents. Additionally, Black parents raised concerns during several school board meetings regarding bullying of Black students at the high school. CVHS officials also cited numerous incidents of white students using racial slurs against Black students.

Earlier, in the spring of 2019, the school district had formed an inclusion committee that identified the School-SPIRIT program as a critical step to help address the racial tensions in the district’s schools.

CRS convened school district and government officials from the school district and the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General to form a group to develop the program. The planning group consisted of SPIRIT council members from the 2017 School-SPIRIT, as well as vice principals and school counselors.

In January 2020, more than 60 students participated in the CRS-facilitated program. Students who had participated in the 2017 School-SPIRIT not only co-facilitated the sessions with adult volunteers, but also added their own perspectives and experiences to the conversations. Hearing the student leaders’ concerns helped their peers feel more at ease raising issues. The students identified their top concerns as the use of stereotypes and slurs on the basis of race, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity; a lack of response from the staff and administrators to the use of stereotypes and slurs; a lack of diversity among staff; and a lack of cultural understanding among the school’s staff.

In the program’s afternoon session, students identified possible solutions to the concerns they had raised, including changes to school procedures to better address bias incidents and encouraging all members of the school community to become active observers and report incidents to the school. At the end of the discussion, participants selected representatives to a SPIRIT council committed to implementing some of the proposed solutions. The council met several times before the COVID-19 pandemic began and plans to resume its work when it is safe to do so.

During the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, local school district officials contacted CRS to address a perceived rise in gang activity and associated racial tensions between Latino and African American students at a middle school in Riverdale, Maryland.

Following an initial CRS assessment and consultation, school administrators requested that CRS conduct a School-Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (School-SPIRIT) program at the middle school. School district leaders formed a planning group, comprised of administrators and the Student Government Association, to organize the program and identify potential participants.

Nearly 60 students gathered on October 24, 2018, for the daylong program, during which they worked together in small groups to identify areas of concerns and potential solutions to address them. Concerns voiced by the students included a culture of disrespect, gang violence, bullying, and a lack of space. School officials formed a SPIRIT Council, which met to discuss the identified solutions and explore their implementation.

In fall 2018, administrators at a local high school contacted CRS as racial conflict resurfaced in the school and community due to two high-profile incidents. The first incident involved allegations of racial epithets directed toward student athletes by a football coach. The second incident involved social media posts by students depicting pumpkins carved with a swastika and the letters “KKK.”

The previous school year, CRS had facilitated a School-Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (School-SPIRIT) program for 10th and 11th grade students to address original concerns regarding racial tensions. Following the fall 2018 incidents, administrators requested that CRS return to facilitate another School-SPIRIT program for the current 9th and 10th grade students. Administrators hoped the program would further address conflicts between African American and white students and address concerns regarding the recent bias-based incidents.

In October 2019, CRS trained seven external facilitators from a local university and a state government commission to conduct the School-SPIRIT program and deliver it to approximately 50 student participants.

At the conclusion of the program, the students identified core concerns about perceived racial bias in the school’s policies, code of conduct, and curriculum; the need for mental health awareness; and lack of support for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ) students as well as more explicit homophobia.

The school’s two SPIRIT Councils merged and continue to meet regularly to address the challenges and solutions identified by both groups. In March 2019, school administrators hosted the first SPIRIT Summit, a daylong event which brought together the high school’s SPIRIT Council with members of SPIRIT Councils from three other Pennsylvania high schools. The program featured a keynote from the First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (USAO-EDPA), workshops for the students, and opportunities for students to engage with representatives of state agencies. The high school’s SPIRIT Council plans to continue hosting the event annually.

After protesters left Charlottesville, Virginia, following the August 11-12, 2017 Unite the Right Rally, tensions in the city remained high. The protest highlighted conflicts in the city around race relations, police-community relations, and distrust between the community and city leaders.

After deploying to Charlottesville to monitor tensions during the rally, CRS remained in the city to address these issues and support city and community leaders in their efforts to reduce racial tensions, repair race relations, and re-establish the city's reputation as a unified and welcoming community.

CRS's initial crisis response and assessment indicated the need to hear from the community to help resolve the city's conflicts. At a public meeting later in August 2017, the first since the rally, more than 400 community members came to speak about their concerns in response to the conflict. CRS helped the city incorporate these concerns into the ongoing recovery strategy.

Based on CRS's recommendations, the city formed the “Community Leadership Council” composed of key city leaders and members of Charlottesville's diverse community. Within days, the planning group met for the first time with representatives from city agencies, the police and fire departments, and community members representing multiple races and religions, as well as the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ) communities, to strengthen bonds in the city through outreach and collaboration.

From late 2017 to early 2018, CRS continued working in Charlottesville and provided ongoing facilitation for the Community Leadership Council, including helping the group establish decision-making processes and drafting the council’s vision and mission statements. Additionally, CRS facilitated the group's regular meetings to ensure that the community remained on a successful re-building path.

The Community Leadership Council remains active in Charlottesville and continues its collaborative work to strengthen the community.

In June 2018, an online video showed a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, police officer deploying a stun gun on an unarmed African American man who appeared to be complying with police instructions. The perceived use of excessive force by the police officer elevated racial tensions in the community.

In July 2018, CRS worked with a local civil rights group to convene a meeting with community leaders, civil rights representatives, and faith leaders to provide input to the city on current police-community relations. CRS then facilitated a meeting with city and law enforcement officials and local civil rights leaders to discuss how to address the community’s concerns. These meetings prompted city officials and community leaders to form a planning team to address racial tension in the city and work to improve police-community relations.

From July through August 2018, CRS helped facilitate several meetings of the planning team, which led to the creation of a formal action plan. The plan included forming a working group composed of subject matter experts to craft policy regarding use of force by officers. As a step toward improving police-community relations, the planning team committed to holding a community event to solicit public input, facilitated by CRS-trained community members.

Through CRS’s efforts, the city of Lancaster established a framework for peacefully addressing racial tensions in the city while empowering community members to take an active role in improving their relationship with local law enforcement.


Updated August 14, 2023