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'Time for introspection and action': Supporters rally for former Easton Area Community Center associate director

Brian Myszkowski
Former Easton Area Community Center associate director Lisa Campbell speaks out on being fired in January from the center during a rally held on Wednesday, Feb. 21.

EASTON, Pa. — Standing at the corner of 9th and Washington streets in the West Ward, Lisa Campbell could not contain the tears as she spoke of what she experienced during her time at the Easton Area Community Center.

Campbell spoke of a board of directors, particularly President Kathryn Presto, who micromanaged and undermined her efforts to the point where she was unable to properly conduct her job.

She spoke of a board disconnected from the very people they were intended to serve, who showed little to no interest in facilitating an atmosphere of camaraderie and community.

"I'm hoping that I can give courage to someone out there who may be in a similar situation and has been suffering in silence for far too long. And this has been going on for a while now in this country."
Former Easton Area Community Center Associate Director Lisa Campbell

In January 2024, Campbell was fired from her position as the associate director of the community center, forced out of a job she adored.

About a dozen individuals packed the corner just across the street from the community center — family, friends, and residents of Easton who had seen firsthand the work Campbell invested in the community.

Community solidarity

Joshua Robinson, president of Easton’s NAACP, opened the event by telling those in attendance, “We stand behind Lisa Campbell, we're not going to take this lightly, and we're going to stand behind her 100%.”

Harold Levy, who Campbell is currently working with to pursue action against the community center, laid out a timeline of discrepancies that ended in Campbell’s departure.

“Today we announce we are filing a federal civil rights complaint against an institution that has failed to uphold these principles. And that is the Easton Area Community Center. This complaint is not merely about legalities. It's about the lives of real people. People who deserve dignity, respect and equal treatment under the law, specifically for Miss Lisa Campbell,” Levy said.

“Miss Campbell is alleging a hostile work environment discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination among other improper and unfair treatments, but board president Miss Kathy Presto, Miss Presto’s termination action was supported by the board.”

According to Levy, the complaint is an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Title IX issue due to elements of racism and sexism. He expects the potential for a mediation session within the coming months if the community center agrees.

Levy said that Presto’s interference in day-to-day operations led to at least two other directors leaving the facility before Campbell’s arrival.

Heralding her experience and education, Levy noted Campbell held a bachelor’s degree in science and music, a Master of Arts degree, and three teaching certifications. Presto, on the other hand, “is a former pharmaceutical marketing person with no formal education in social work, or in K through 12 educational qualifications.”

Managerial Frictions

After being hired in April 2022 as a program manager, Campbell was allegedly informed shortly thereafter that she would be taking on the responsibilities of an executive director, with all the added responsibility, but without a pay increase.

Issues and “microaggressions” mounted from there on out.

During her time at the center, Campbell questioned Presto as to why a picture of George Floyd had been removed from display, with Presto allegedly stating the picture was inappropriate for students to see.

Furthermore, Levy noted Campbell had raised concerns about increasing the center’s summer camp fee, with Levy alleging Presto responded by saying “They can afford it because I’ve seen their expensive clothes, shoes and cars they drive, so these families could afford the increase.”

Additional questions about representation on the board — which, according to Campbell and Levy, did not reflect the community — were only addressed once Campbell called attention to the matter.

Levy added that Presto and the board went ahead and removed children with special needs from the center’s programs last year, leaving Campbell “shocked and offended.”

The issues boiled over in late August, when Campbell filed a hostile work environment complaint after Presto allegedly chastised her for how she had been scheduling daily responsibilities in the community center.

“Board member Joan Kicska met with Miss Campbell to hear her complaint of a hostile work environment without doing a full and complete investigation. Let me say that again: Without doing a full and complete investigation, Miss Kicska telling Miss Campbell the board found her claim to be unsubstantiated. Miss Kicska did not interview any staff members, students or parents who were witnesses to the outrageous behavior by Miss Presto,” Levy said.

Brian Myszkowski
Lisa Campbell alleges she was unjustly terminated from the Easton Area Community Center after being subjected to racism, sexism, and micromanaging by board members.

Campbell was given an unsatisfactory performance evaluation in November 2023, which she objected to and refused to sign. The next month, she was informed she would be put on a performance improvement plan, though even after a winter break, in January 2024, Campbell had still not received the plan.

On January 10, Presto, accompanied by some members of the board, informed Campbell she was terminated.

“And so this is not a battle against the community center. It's a battle for fairness and justice and the right of African American women to come to work and not be subjected to institutionalized racism. Let me be clear, we stand with those who have been marginalized, silenced and harmed. We stand against discrimination in all its forms,” Levy said.

Hilmeyda Cruceta, an Easton parent whose family had six children participate in the community center, has removed all of them since Campbell’s departure.

“If Lisa’s not there, we’re not going back there, because that place is a mess. My family has been going to that center for over ten years, and the only time I saw something was getting done, was when Lisa started,” Cruceta said.

Empathy, compassion, support and unity

Taking to the podium, Campbell thanked her family and community for the support they had offered, noting “Community is where we find empathy, compassion, support and unity.”

“When this community hurts, is hungry, is feeling hopeless, is feeling invisible, a lack of resources and access to services is limited. The response should be immediate and not delayed. As a team, the staff and I had the honor of working, and we were committed to being aligned with our response to provide from a place of love. Love was the language we used and spoke to the families and children with that came in the center,” Campbell said.

Addressing the challenges she faced in the most basic of tasks — knowing who to engage with on certain matters, for example — fell on deaf ears, she said.

Despite losing her cherished position helping the community, Campbell said she hoped the day’s conference would bring attention to the struggles of those in leadership positions who still face marginalization and a lack of support.

“My story, hopefully, will serve as a powerful example, a testimony that will illuminate the discrepancies between workplaces that claim to uphold diversity, equity and inclusion policies, like the one on the website for the center, and the stark reality experienced by those within the BIPOC community. I'm hoping that I can give courage to someone out there who may be in a similar situation and has been suffering in silence for far too long. And this has been going on for a while now in this country,” she said.

Pastor Phillip Davis of the Greater Shiloh Church of Easton commended Campbell for her extensive work building programs at the center which connected with the extended community, including those focused on programming, coding and homework assistance.

Davis raised questions about the function of the board and about high turnover, suggesting the source of the problem needed to be addressed before any further progress could be made.

“It's time for introspection and action to ensure that we do not find ourselves in this situation, again, a year or two down the road. Let us stand united in support of our dear sister Lisa, whose courage was on display today and has been for her time working there. And let's advocate for change for justice, and for a future where dedicated professionals like Lisa can thrive without facing undue obstacles.”

Campbell stressed that she still wants to do all she can for Easton and looks forward to the potential introduction of a new community center soon — one where she can build up the services and support the area so desperately needs.

“I've been in prayer about this. And I'm like, ‘Lord, this area needs other community centers. It needs another community center,’” she said.

Calls to the Easton Area Community Center were not immediately returned. This article will be updated if and when the center or the board offers comment.