|Sarah Muir and her son celebrate a MLK Day event in Titusville. (Photo by Ashleigh English)|
Most of the 5,601 residents of Titusville are white, and they voted heavily Republican in every major race on the ballot in 2016. And though the town's African-American residents rarely experience violence, some say they saw an uptick in verbal harassment, bullying and racial profiling in the weeks leading up to Election Day in 2016.
It can be easy not to take such microaggressions seriously, but then something happened that caused Titusville's leaders to sit up and take notice. In October, African-American college student Tyra Hollinger was buying snacks at a gas station "when she and her friends were confronted by the driver of a pickup truck who proudly displayed a Confederate flag in his rear window," Jon Jeter reports for Mint Press News. Later, she and her friends told local cafe owner Sarah Muir about the incident.
Muir was appalled, and told her husband Brent. Brent was able to figure out who drove the truck and called the town's police chief, Harold Minch. Minch realized that the truck belonged to the son of one of the town's most respected families and called the young man in to his office to "read him the riot act".
"We want our college students to feel comfortable and to enjoy their college years," said the 55-year old Minch, who describes himself as a lifelong Republican, albeit one experiencing a crisis of faith in the Trump era. "I sure as heck enjoyed mine and a lot of us are committed to letting our African-American students know that we’ve got their back."
Brent Muir told Jeter that he was just "fed up" and that he and other locals have taken it upon themselves to deal with the surge in aggression they've seen over the past year.
The Stand Up Together project kicked off with the town's first-ever Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in January 2017, and has been going strong ever since. "On Friday nights, the town drunk and his drinking buddies teach young, dreadlocked black men from Philadelphia and Cleveland to roast marshmallows and hot dogs over a campfire, and tell tall tales," Jeter reports. "Young black women babysit the Muirs' adopted Puerto Rican daughter almost every weekend, braiding her hair and eating so much free food that university administrators call to inquire if they’ve lost their meal card. When a customer photographed a “N—– Job Application” posted on the bulletin board of the only hardware store in town, the university stopped doing business with the store."
No one is under the illusion that racism is a thing of the past, but the project has produced results. Local college student Briana Davis told Jeter, "I just know that as a woman of color, I feel welcomed and free here."