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York teacher forces a Star Wars awakening

Plus, your fall foliage forecast.

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Tanisha Thomas

September 8, 2023
Inside this edition: Leaf peeping, party crasher, Golden Bachelor, naming contest, official jawn, and from York to a galaxy far, far away.
🏆 SMART SCORE? Did you stay on top of Pennsylvania news this week? Prove it with the latest Great PA News Quiz: Medicaid cuts, new state agency, and very Philly jobs.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

The spotted lanternfly is one in a group of sap-feeding insects called what?

A. Plant-hoppers
B. Plant-eaters
C. Plant-sitters
D. Plant-destroyers

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)

Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» One forecast worth readingPeak fall foliage is weeks away in Pennsylvania, according to this interactive map from SmokyMountains.com. But a drought could mute the effect.

» One clip worth seeing: Video that claims to show a man calmly ejecting a wild bear from a party in Lake Harmony has gone viral. The man, named Mike, per shouting bystanders, took a claw to the hip.

» One show worth watching: Susan Noles, a Delco resident and the ex-wife of former Phillies pitcher Dickie Noles, will vie for Gerry Turner’s heart on Golden Bachlelor, a spinoff that gives older singles a chance at love.

» One name worth choosingThe final four names for the newest female Steller’s sea eagle at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh are in, and you can help choose the winner by donating $5 or more. 

» One word worth knowing: "Jawn” is among the new words being added to Dictionary.com. Some Philadelphians have thoughts.

The top stories published by Spotlight PA this week.
» Your guide to Pa.'s Supreme Court election
» Your guide to Commonwealth, Superior Court elections
» Pennsylvania removes email database of public employees
» The fight to unseal lobbyist messages to lawmakers
» Push to change Pa.'s 2024 primary date has critics

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Jackson posing with Stars War memorabilia, including full-size cutouts of the cast.
Patricia Jackson and friends. (Courtesy of Dawn J. Sagert / The York Dispatch)

Patricia Jackson believes you should see yourself in the content you consume, and she made that belief reality for legions of Black Stars Wars fans when she landed a dream project — writing for the franchise. 

Jackson, a Central York School District teacher by day, was tapped to write a chapter for an anthology commemorating the 40th anniversary of Return of the Jedi. For the book, From a Certain Point of View: Return of the Jedi, Jackson and 39 other writers were tasked with rewatching the film and then recreating a scene through the lens of a supporting character. 

Jackson has a deep love for the Imperials, saying she would serve for Darth Vader if placed in the cinematic universe, so naturally she chose the scout trooper who knocked Luke Skywalker off his bike during the chase scene in Endor. 

To add her own twist to the character, she made him Black. The subtle change quickly became controversial. 

“The challenge was when I got pushback from Lucasfilm about him being Black and him working harder because he was Black because it suggests racism,” Jackson said. “They didn’t want me to show that, which was disappointing because that’s real.”

The response only upped her conviction. 

“Stories should be about realism as much as possible even when they’re the most fantastical. Racism is an ugly thing, but you shouldn’t just take racism out of stories just because you’re trying to make your neighborhood [or fictional galaxy] look better,” she said.

The story was published, but Jackson said the move may have cost her another opportunity to work with Star Wars, and she's OK with that.

“I know I did the right thing for myself and for children,” she added.

At Central York High School, where she teaches English and creative writing, Jackson learned that one of her students, a young Black man, was also a Star Wars fan. To get him to come to class more, she let him read a draft of her story.

“He came over to my desk and said ‘Miss, is this character really Black?’ I said yes,” Jackson recalled. “He replied, ‘Miss, I am going to hug you.’ I will never forget that moment.”

Jackson was at the forefront of pushback against her district’s book ban that drew national headlines and was later reversed, per FOX43.

“I grew up watching white characters all my life. I never put characters who looked like me in my own stories. It was not until my early 20s that I started experimenting in Star Wars. I was too afraid to say they were Black. I said they were dark-skinned or deeply tanned. It was not until my 50s that I became unapologetic about putting Black characters in my stories and making stories about Black people.” 

Her latest Star Wars project is not the last time Jackson will be writing. She hopes to find the time to create her own all-Black fantasy world.

“The story is about a foster kid who grows up to work at a renaissance fair as a Black knight. He finds out he is the last descendant of a line of ancient warriors from another world. He gets sucked into that world and is trying to make his way and figure out who he is and where he belongs in the structure in the story,” Jackson said. “I am super excited.”

Her advice to aspiring writers?

“Tell the story from your heart. Interject yourself in the story,” she said. “See yourself and don’t be ashamed of it.”

Tanisha Thomas, newsletter writer / reporter

Our favorite quote about Pennsylvania — or from a Pennsylvanian — this week.

“Our hair is beautiful. … Our hair has power. Our hair has history.”

Anthony Jones, chief diversity officer at Slippery Rock University, talking about the history of Black hair and the natural hair movement

Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.
Sunglasses on a sunflower, via @lora_explores. Have a photo you want to share with the whole state? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
A closeup of a sunflower wearing sunglasses.
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

The answer is "A," plant-hoppers.

Julie Urban, a research associate professor of entomology at Penn State, writes in a piece for MSNBC that the spotted lanternfly is certainly spreading but has so far "not lived up to their apocalyptic hype."

Thanks for reading PA Local. We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? 

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