Maya Wilborn, of Williamsport, no longer is fazed by being the only Black woman in the room. Born and raised in this predominantly white city, she didn’t think about this difference between herself and her white peers until middle school.
“As a child, I was kind of confused as to why I looked different from other people,” Wilborn said. “I really wasn’t given a straight answer by my parents—they just (said), ‘This is the way God made you.’”
Wilborn, 23, graduated from Lock Haven University with a degree in social work in 2019. She has always been passionate about helping disadvantaged people—particularly children. Growing up, she admired how hard her autistic brother’s caseworker worked to get him the resources that he needed, and wanted to do the same thing for someone else someday.
Though Wilborn still needs a master’s degree to practice therapy, for now, she is a postpartum doula and private nanny. She takes the latter job especially seriously because she understands the powerful nature of early childhood influences.
In today’s volatile political and social climate, Wilborn finds herself contemplating complex questions such as: What does it mean to raise young Williamsport residents in our country’s changing cultural landscape? Is our city doing the best it can to promote racial diversity and inclusion?
According to Wilborn, the answer is not yet. While she loves her hometown, she is quick to point out the racism she has experienced here, both subtle and overt. Shopping in local retail stores, Wilborn believes she has been followed through the aisles by employees who seemed to think she may steal something.
Williamsport’s general lack of black professionals also is unsettling, she said.
“I had my first Black doctor three months ago,” Wilborn said. “My entire life, I went without having a Black doctor! As far as having a Black teacher, I was in sixth grade. So that’s telling–there is (little) representation in that professional community (here).”
Wilborn, an avid singer and actress, also finds some of the choices made in the local arts scene to be problematic. While she enjoys performing and considers the Community Theatre League to be a second home, she is sometimes hesitant to audition for certain productions because she feels there are few roles for Black women. In July 2019, CTL put on West Side Story, a classic musical that examines the tensions between whites and Puerto Ricans in 1950s NYC. Wilborn, who wanted to participate in her last eligible year for the annual Summer Youth Intensive, auditioned and was cast as a Puerto Rican character.
“I personally didn’t feel all that comfortable doing (that) because I’m Black,” Wilborn admitted. “But they had all sorts of people who didn’t look white playing those roles. . . I feel like we should try more to cater the shows we do to the casts that we have, instead of trying to seek out people for the shows that we don’t.”
That said, Wilborn is quick to praise the people of Williamsport for their active response to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain. While attending local protests, she has observed the community come together in an entirely new way–specifically, the city’s young people.
“At that age, even as a Black person, I did not have that amount of insight,” Wilborn said. “So I’m just so incredibly proud whenever I see these young people going out of their way to do this.”
Most recently, Wilborn observed and live-streamed the National Socialist Movement protest at Brandon Park from her house on Elizabeth Street. She and her roommate watched silently as the small group of armed Neo-Nazis, who came to Williamsport from Potter County, hurled profanities, screaming the N-word and F-word at no one in particular. Though the sight was chilling, Wilborn felt encouraged by the hate-group’s lack of numbers.
“I know there are a lot of people in secret who probably hold these ideals, but the fact that they don’t feel bold enough to protest. . . I think they are a dying breed of people,” Wilbord said.
In order to continue the fight against racism on a local level, Wilborn believes the people of Williamsport must be willing to listen to one another–even when it’s not something they necessarily want to hear.
“I wish people would listen openly without being defensive,” Wilborn said. “Because when people get angry or upset, nine times out of 10 it has nothing to do with you. It’s more so how they’ve been treated, and how their experiences are. So my anger, my frustration, or my sadness—it’s not at you. It’s the situation.”