Regina Russel

Robert Inglis/The Daily Item

Regina Russell

Regina Russell, 69, needed a change. She grew up and was raised in Harlem, the South Bronx, and Queens, N.Y., after which she moved to Washington, D.C. "In the District, I was involved in local politics and the and truth is, by 2006 I was burned out."

So she moved to Sunbury to be near her two granddaughters.

In the beginning, she found the area welcoming. When her friends would drive to the Valley to visit, they would tell Russell how beautiful the area was, followed by, "but where are the black people?" they'd ask.

"This never bothered me," Russell said. "I was comfortable here."

The more diversified Sunbury has become, the less discrimination she has seen.

"Some people have wanted to know me because I was the first black person they had ever gotten to know," she said.

But at meetings she attended, she found people rude to her.

"At first I did not identify it as racism," she said. " I looked at it as I was a newcomer. And when I attended meetings, I did not know who the players were and they wanted to put me in my place. But a couple of years later I was at a meeting and it was as though the realization fell out of the sky and hit me on the head. The officials at meetings were not very kind to me. I remember one time I shouted out, 'I am not a buffoon' and they'd tell their jokes and the audience would laugh at me."

She has been fearful at times.

Cigarette butts were left in front of her house, and a dead cat. She says one day a police officer came to her home and threatened her — this was during the time she was having difficulties with a neighbor. "If a police officer threatens you," she said, "then what chance does a single black woman have in Sunbury?

"If anyone thought they were going to chase me away," she said, "then they were thinking of the wrong person."

Russell has learned that when someone says "bad things about me, I let it go right through me."

Her strength comes from her experiences in New York City and D.C. "I integrated a high school in Queens, NY.," she recalled. "I am glad to pass the baton to this new generation, and those in the Black Lives Matter movement. It's their time."

She has been upset by some of the racist drawings and statements posted around the city a few years ago. "But they were taken away," she said. "I think things are getting better. I have always tried to be a good citizen. To make things better for people."

And yet, Russell has thought about packing up and leaving Sunbury.

"This is not a place where I want to grow old and die," she said.

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