In the book “The Story of Kennett” Bob George and I had an inspiring interview with the previous Mayor, Leon Spencer in April 2016. Here is an excerpt of what he said:
“I guess I always tried to give a higher level message and take the higher road. It is what I had been taught at home and in my faith community. I was ordained an elder in the Presbyterian church and learned how important it is to “keep the faith” as life poses us with challenges. I also hold the fundamental belief that there is good in all people, and that although I may dislike a person’s behavior, I am always called to love that person. Respect is the key value that I try to hold at all times.
Thankfully, I really haven’t been subjected to prejudice during my lifetime. I grew up in a neighborhood that was mostly white, and I didn’t think anything of it. I was encouraged and supported at school to develop my musical and leadership talents even though I was a minority. The local black community showed the greatest prejudice towards me, asking me why I talked “like the white kids,” or “acted like them.” My response was consistent. “I live in a big world, and I want to experience the beauty of it all!” The only time that I can say that I experienced myself as “colored” (which is the name they called us back then), was on Sunday morning when I attended New Garden UAME Church on East Linden Street, Kennett Square, which was attended only by black community members, and when I went to the black barber on State Street.
Kennett Square schools were integrated in 1956 when I entered Mary D. Lang which was showcased in a Maryland newspaper as one of the first integrated schools in the area. This course of action was thanks to Superintendent W. Earl Ruppert and the school board.
As mayor of Kennett Square, I had very little authority because I had no fiscal responsibility. My primary role was to oversee the police department. During the early 2000s, I saw an ongoing decline in the number of juvenile delinquents, and I attribute this to a strong police force who worked with the kids and the many after-school programs that were taking place, such as: the YMCA, Study Buddies, After-The-Bell, The Garage Community and Youth Center, efforts from the school district and more. Kids are basically good, and, when they have an opportunity to do good things, they stay that way!
I am not a micro-manager, but when I was overseeing the Kennett police department, I made the effort to spend one-on-one time with each police officer. I rode the beat to gain a personal experience of their job and the situations that they encountered. I wanted them to know that I sincerely respected their role in the community.
In 2010, Matt Fetick approached me and said he would like to run for mayor of Kennett Square, but he would only run if I was stepping down. I personally don’t like life-long politicians in one stint, so I decided that it was a good time for me to step down. I might add that Matt Fetick is doing a great job and is a great listener. I took one year off from a civic role, then ran for Kennett borough council, with a win in November 2011 and completed my four-year term in December 2015; serving two years as president of council. We are a borough of 6,500 residents, comprised of 60% Latino, 29% Caucasian, 5% African American, and the rest categorized as “other.” The government officials that we have in place are solid, genuinely good people who are committed to the community and are not over-paid. Borough Manager Joe Scalise, who was appointed from within Kennett, is an outstanding example of the above qualities. He has been working for the borough since he was 19 years old, which exhibits a real commitment to the town.
As I reflect on some of the issues that the borough currently faces, I come up with these items:
• People want to move to Kennett Square; it is now the place to live. Can the infrastructure endure the growth?
• As we continue to evolve and change, can we respect the longtime residents of Kennett Square?
• How do we deal with the affordability of rental and homeowner properties? And, I would say, we are not an over-taxed town.
We added a junior council person on council as an honorary member. As he graduates, my hope is that we continue to bring another youth on board in this civic role, not only for the youth’s sake, but also for the health of the community.
Some of the most essential elements that will continue to keep Kennett progressing are:
• Safety First. I want to feel comfortable with the thought that anyone can jog any time of day or night around the town and feel safe.
• The town must be user-friendly by offering places to park, places to shop and affordable places to live.
• We need to be known for our respectfulness. Let’s be known as “The Golden Rule Community!”
As you probably can see, I think Kennett Square is a pretty wonderful community. A group of key leaders meet every Thursday early in the morning to pray together for the community. This united group understands that there is a God that is overseeing the “Uncommon Results.” This is certainly one of our underlying strengths, along with the hosts of community members, who rise up to meet a need, which has happened with the development of the many youth programs. Family Promise is the most recent example of addressing the need to help homeless families. Yes, we are a community that works together!”