By Cindy Sanchez
(LANCASTER, Pa.) Over the past year, Lancaster has seen several grassroots organizations grow and fight with one common goal: bringing an end to the unjust system targeting communities of color. Inspired by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the local community saw that Lancaster County was no different from other cities across the country reckoning with racism and knew that change needed to happen.
John Maina and Nicole Vasquez founded a group called the Collective Resistance Acting in Solidarity for Humanity (C.R.A.S.H.) in May 2020. The group wanted to grow into a non-profit organization in Lancaster and help the community find alternatives to the criminal justice system.
"We were an umbrella organization that tried to connect and network people within Lancaster," said Maina.
Last February, C.R.A.S.H evolved into the Central Pennsylvania Equity Project with the same goal of providing the community with programs and services that offer different solutions to the criminal justice system, inequality and social injustice.
The Central Pennsylvania Equity Project currently has three major projects in the works. The first project is a grassroots community education initiative that has the goal of empowering people to get involved. The project will also have a central focus on housing justice and its effect on the Lancaster community.
The second project is the Lancaster County Partner Project, which involves partnering up with various institutions, non-profit organizations and churches to train and assist people in receiving pardons and expungements on their records to get licenses or jobs. This project, created by Secretary of Pardons Brandon Flood and Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, is a major effort to help local community members benefit from the streamlined system.
The third project is the fight to end cash bail. The group sees cash bail as the criminalization of people with low income. Cash bail is not a matter of public safety but rather an economic issue that impacts taxpaying residents as well as those with charges.
"What is unfortunate is a lot of people will lobby as a cash bail makes the country safer," said Maina. "But I would always challenge that notion and say, ‘Hey, I committed one offense, and another person committed that same offense, but I can make the bail, and that person couldn't... is Lancaster County, more safe, with the person who could afford their bail.’"
Through community involvement and consistent advocating on social media, the Central Pennsylvania Equity Project is growing into a valuable resource for communities of color in Lancaster County. The organization encourages Black and brown folks in Lancaster to take advantage of Commissioner Craig Lehman's proposal for community input on how the city and county should implement the $105 million in COVID-19 federal government aid.
"Our biggest goal is to change the political and economic infrastructure of Central Pennsylvania," said Maina. "We are here, ready to assist and gather more people to sit down at that table so that Black and brown people and their voices are heard."
For more information on the Central Pennsylvania Equity Project, visit their website.