York County’s biggest challenge? Overcome our inferiority complex

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You heard it. Maybe you said it.

Cops spend most of their time in donut stores. Or nobody goes downtown York anymore, with all the crime there.

Or York County is the capital of Pennsyltucky.

Hyperbolic, reflex and damaging things like that.

I would like to add a few to this collection of easy sayings.

What do you say about this? It’s good to get some national recognition for the good that is going on in York County rather than the bad news we always get.

Or a localized version of that. We hear stories about the bad things that young people and young men get involved in, but we don’t hear about those who do positive things every day.

In York County we say things like this. They just roll with our tongues or our fingers. But as in our derision of our hard-working cops, our burgeoning downtown, or our complex county, most of the time we don’t reflect on their veracity.

I have long believed that York County has a self-esteem issue that creates fertile ground for hypersensitivity to how we are viewed outside our borders.

Maybe it comes from the confusion in our sense of belonging stemming from our geography as a border county that lies to the north but touches the long Mason-Dixon border with the south. An old adage has it that our ancestors worked the soil of the North while speaking German with a southern accent.

Or maybe we’re the first county in Pennsylvania west of the vast Susquehanna, so we didn’t have the polite and educational support that proximity to Philadelphia offers, say, Lancaster County. Our harbor was gravelly Baltimore rather than urban Philadelphia.

Plus, we don’t have that renowned identity maker that Hershey (chocolate), Harrisburg (state capital), Lancaster (Amish), and Gettysburg (Civil War) enjoy.

So we’re groping around with a litany of slogans and labels that never stick and never stick: Muscletown, First Capital, and Factory Tour Capital, among others.

A consultant hired to explore the York brand and York County about three years ago found something particularly interesting in his research.

The consultant produced a report comparing what Yorkers think about the city versus what outsiders are saying. Insiders shrink from perceived crime issues, dilapidated properties and weak public services.

At least three accomplished individuals with ties to York County have been - or will be - featured in exhibits at Smithsonian Museums since 2009. Earl Shaffer, originally from York County, was one of them.  Shaffer is one of an endless list of York County residents whose accomplishments have reached the state, regional or national scene.  The Smithsonian says of Shaffer, “Earl Shaffer was the first person to walk the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in one continuous hike.  Shaffer had no expert advice, no footsteps to follow, or even guides to help him.  At the time, experts believed that a hike the entire trail was impossible.

Those living outside the region were almost unanimously positive about the City of York, noting its growth potential, historic strengths and future.

It’s good research that confirms what I’m saying about our community inferiority complex: People outside of York like us better than ourselves.

So when we do The New York Times for an act, we are absorbing the self-validation. When the national media picks up on a failure, we blame ourselves.

Some in York County recently welcomed the Smithsonian’s acquisition of a collection of camera artwork from pioneer black photographer Glenalvin Goodridge, whose photographic prowess is a well-known story in York County.

All the fanfare got a friend to say to me, “External validation is the bane of York County. ”

Gain the trust of the community

What we need is a deeper sense of community identity and collective inner strength.

So what are we going to do?

Some of us like to tell stories of how a cab driver in Houston or elsewhere said about York: Oh, wasn’t that where you had a racist mayor who got arrested?

Instead of backing down in our seats, we could answer: Yes, we embrace the work that we need to do in this area, but did you know that the creative energy of York County has produced a multi-platinum rock band with an international audience? and an artist whose pop art is compared to Andy Warhol’s?

And we produced the NFL Hall of Fame here. And the winners of the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize.

And the co-creator of Pinterest.

And that’s just over the past 30 years, and we’re not counting the past creation of York Barbell, York air conditioners, York Peppermint Patties, and the reinvention of Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

And did you know we made a presence in the Smithsonian for the accomplishments of Appalachian Trail hiker Earl Shaffer, Special Olympian Loretta Claiborne and now Glenalvin Goodridge?

And back to this story of prejudice: Did you know that other communities see York County as a model of engagement between police chiefs and black leaders?

The residents of York County are no different in having natures that remember evil at the expense of good. This is why crime TV series are so popular. We say we love positive news, but as a rule we don’t read it. We just love conflict.

We need to understand this about ourselves and pay more attention to a wider range of good things that are happening in the community.

As we tackle our inferiority complex in York County, we should especially benefit from the constant flow of our accomplished people who regularly make the news on the regional, state and international stages. Over the past two years, I’ve rounded up these headliners to give context to those keeping lists of those regrettable times when York County stumbled and made national news.

Here’s just a small sample of York Counties’ accomplishments in 2020-21: Special Olympian Loretta Claiborne and forensic pediatrician Leslie Strickler took home Woman of the Century honors in Pennsylvania and New Mexico, respectively. Trinity Thomas scored perfection in gymnastics. Washington Winona Images was highlighted in a roundup of black artists in Pennsylvania. The Lebanese cemetery in North York received a site visit from Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman. Sal Galdamez of York XL has appeared on the national “Strong Towns” podcast.

Spring Grove alone has produced at least four national headliners: Caputo Brothers has been featured on the History Channel, actor Samuel McKoy-Johnson has appeared in a major supporting role on a Hulu series, Eli Brooks has played in the University of Michigan basketball and swimmer Hali Flickinger won a bronze medal at the Olympics.

For many more examples of accomplished people with York ties, search for “playing big” in the Retro York Facebook group.

It is likely that some of these accomplishments are new to many York County residents, although they were reported by the York Daily Record and its flagship website, ydr.com. Then the YDR Retro York and Fixing York Facebook groups, with a combined total of around 40,000 members, allowed residents to discuss these achievements.

In 2009, the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery unveiled this painting of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and a group of Special Olympians.  Those pictured include Loretta Claiborne of York County, fourth from left.  Claiborne is a national figure of the Special Olympics.  Shriver has been engaged for years with children with developmental disabilities.

This is where the therapeutic help lies in York County’s identity crisis. Let’s use the courageous story of Samuel McKoy-Johnson, who successfully navigates the world of Hollywood even with a difficult disease: Brittle Bone Disease. Why aren’t big business and civic groups working together to share the successes of McKoy-Johnson and the like on their social media networks? This would increase the number of eyeballs by the thousands on this good news. This just doesn’t happen much today in our siled community.

Fulfillment is coming. We fail to promote it. We do not consume it. But we always complain as a community that we fail to honor our own talents and shrink when bad news is broadcast nationwide.

All of this does not mean, of course, that we should overlook the fact that our communities have work to do. As a telling example, amid apparent prosperity, the county-wide poverty rate has fallen from 5.6% to 7.3% since 1970.

Learn from Hampden

An interesting example of a community accepting and trusting in its identity is found in Baltimore.

The Hampden district of this city is an old town of mills which, without embarrassment, plays on its grain. He has an Honfest to discuss this expression of affection heard around Bawlmer.

Hampden has a garish “Miracle on 34th Street” Christmas decorating show, in which residents give their all. And they keep those lights on until mid-January or later.

Yes, Hampden proves that working-class row-house communities can reinvent themselves and gain attention.

Before the pandemic, the Golden West Cafe in Hampden offered a treat that came with the check. Each guest received a York Peppermint Patty.

This gesture in Hampden, a neighborhood labeled as “retro cool,” can be used to discuss the York County identity issue.

When it comes to fresh mint in York, every restaurant should hand out this York brand peppermint candy and explain that it was created here.

Today, if many York residents were to receive this peppermint after a meal, we would probably complain that it is no longer made here.

We will hasten to add that he now comes from Mexico, nothing less.

There is still this problem of self-confidence. We just have to be better than that.

Jim McClure is the retired editor of the York Daily Record and is the author or co-author of eight books on the history of York County. Contact him at [email protected]


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