RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A couple of weeks ago, some residents of Coudersport, Pa., got some strange packages delivered to their homes with flyers inside them from the Ku Klux Klan. Coudersport is a small town of about 2,500 people in the northern part of Pennsylvania. Jaimi Hajzus grew up there. And she lives a couple of hours away now, but she got all kinds of concerned messages from friends about these packages.
So she teamed up with Coudersport resident Joe Leschner who started a Facebook group to gather information and help fight the KKK's presence in that town. Jaimi Hajzus joins us now from Franklin, Pa.
Welcome to the program.
JAIMI HAJZUS: Hi.
MARTIN: So what did the fliers say specifically?
HAJZUS: It said something like, are you concerned about what's going on in town? - and something like, you can sleep tonight because the KKK is watching.
MARTIN: So it was some kind of recruitment tool?
HAJZUS: I think so. I don't think that they were trying to make people feel safer.
MARTIN: Is there a history of Klan activity in that town or in that area?
HAJZUS: Unfortunately, yes. There's a little bit of history there. When I was growing up in Coudersport in the 1990s, a man named Augusts Christ lived there and was active in the white supremacy movement. He would often harass anti-racist church leaders, neighbors and community members. We saw more activity through the 1990s, where people from out of town were coming in town to gather for these white supremacist events. August Christ then moved out of Potter County around 1999. You know, we had kind of 16 - 15, 16 years of peace and quiet in Coudersport. And then - and now this.
MARTIN: So how did residents respond when they got these things?
HAJZUS: People are upset. This isn't the sort of thing that we, as a small town, want to be known for. It is primarily white town, and we would like to be known for hunting and fishing. And we have an ice mine and other touristy-type attractions. And I think we've worked really hard to overcome this negative press (laughter). So it's disheartening to have it come back.
MARTIN: You said it's a predominantly white town. Are there African-Americans or other minority families who live there? And have you reached out to them to understand how they're processing this?
HAJZUS: There are some. And actually, Joe Leschner took up the cause because he realized that members of his own family were feeling scared and threatened. Joe's wife is from Jamaica. And she felt scared, and he didn't like that at all.
MARTIN: The Facebook group that you guys have started is called Twin Tiers for Racial Equality. How are you using the space, and what's your goal?
HAJZUS: We want to send a message that this hateful rhetoric is not welcome in our town. But also, we're trying to start a movement about saying things out loud to other white people. So white people need to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk in terms of how we behave towards our black and brown friends and neighbors, beginning with the words that we use and how we behave in our daily lives with other white people and including how we vote.
A big part of our campaign is this hashtag, #sayitoutloud, which means that we confront racism in real time right away when we see it or hear it. So one of our most important jobs as white allies is to confront our white friends and families when they are being racist.
MARTIN: There have been reports of similar packages, like the ones that were delivered to the residents of Coudersport, these things showing up at people's houses across the country. Are you hearing from a lot of people outside Pennsylvania who found your Facebook group?
HAJZUS: Yes, actually. We started hearing from people in Kansas and in other places, mostly sort of intensely rural small towns where there might be literally one or two people. But they've decided to take up this cause and try and threaten and harass their friends and neighbors.
MARTIN: Jaimi, have you gotten any threats as a result of this work?
HAJZUS: No. The thing that I experience the most, honestly, in this kind of activism, in this kind of work, is silence. This is why I really need for our white people to start talking and need them to start speaking up. You know, they'll tell me that it's a political issue. It's not a political issue. The rhetoric that's being flung around right now is unacceptable, and that needs to be said loudly.
MARTIN: Jaimi Hajzus is co-founder of a Facebook group out of Pennsylvania called Twin Tiers for Racial Equality.
Jaimi, thanks so much for talking with us.
HAJZUS: Thank you.
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