Bucks County Changemakers Interview with the NAACP’s Karen Downer 

Karen talks about her work with the Bucks County NAACP to dismantle racism and disrupt inequality to create a society where all people can truly be free.

If you look on the website for the Bucks County Chapter of the NAACP, you will see a headline that lets you know that they are “Fighting for Civil Rights Together.” They take a solid stand for equality in all aspects of human existence, including the ways in which rights are extended and excluded based on the societally created category of race. Their focus is also to do away with hatred and bigotry and their devastating effects. No small mission, but one that Karen Downer has wholeheartedly taken on as a passion and purpose.

What are the most pressing issues that the NAACP addresses?

Voting rights is the top issue for the NAACP. Disenfranchised voters are most often people of color and persons working many hours to make ends meet. They need voting to be easy, accessible, and convenient. Our vote is our voice and our right. We will be working this year to reach low frequency voters to get them to cast a mail-in or in-person ballot.

Education ranks up there with voting rights. We believe every student deserves a top-notch education no matter what their zip code. The NAACP was a part of Pennsylvania’s schools underfunding lawsuit which was won last year. Bucks County residents may not realize this, but at least six school districts in this county are significantly underfunded causing our taxpayers to try to make up the shortfall. The judge ruled that the extreme underfunding of poorer districts violated the state’s constitutional right of these students to a great education. In addition, too many of Bucks County schools are: 

Banning books on subjects including LGBTQ+, people of color, race, and fact-based history. 

Having extreme punishment and disciplinary policies that too often result in the arrest of the Black student even if the child has never been in trouble, or extended suspensions. 

Inadequately trained teachers and administrators who are ill equipped to handle or discuss racial issues in a fair and balanced way.       

We are looking at ways to create policies and interventions to sustain and equip parents, families and communities to better support their kids’ needs in school.

Race and justice are our third most pressing issues. Black men are five times more likely to be stopped without cause by the police than a white person and 65% of Black people “feel” targeted. The financial impact and mental and emotional trauma cannot be measured. As you may know, we recently released a report on “Race and Policing in Bucks County.” Some of our findings include: 

Black people are disproportionately subjected to traffic stops and use of force. 

Arrests of Black persons are disproportionately high. 

Complaints against police are a tightly held secret. 

Black Americans are not appropriately represented in the police department.

It’s difficult to access policing data.

What prompted you to get involved and what role do you play?

I am the Branch President and I have been involved with the NAACP Bucks County Branch for many years. When I retired as a Regional Vice President of a large bank, I became more active with the organization. I am dedicated to our agenda, which is to dismantle racism and disrupt inequality to create a society where all people can truly be free. Our work includes civic engagement, systemically building racial equity, and supporting policies and institutions that prioritize the urgent needs of Black people, who are most impacted by race-based discrimination. Using advocacy and litigation, our commitment is to secure civil rights for everyone. We are proud of much of the work that we do, which includes:

Discrimination Complaint we filed against the Pennridge School District with the US DOJ Civil Rights Division and the US Dept of Education Office of Civil Rights. It is based on Pennridge School District’s chronic failure to take reasonable and necessary measures to address persistent and severe bullying and harassment of LGBTQ+ and students of color which has resulted in a hostile environment for those students. 

The Race and Policing in Bucks County Report, which is a summary of our three-year project of working with the Police Chiefs of Bucks County gathering publicly accessible data which is detailed in the report. The report can be found on our website,

Conducting an annual Scholarship Program for High School graduates of color. 

Producing Anti-racism workshops/discussions/training.

State Rep Candidate Survey  

I’ve heard the saying that it isn’t important just to refrain from being racist, but to be anti-racist. How does that sit with you?

I would have to agree. To refrain from being racist is passive. This could be the person who laughs at a racist joke even though they find it offensive, because they don’t want to be rude or confrontational. Or they won’t say anything when a child is bullied for being Black. The ant-racist is proactive. They are the true ally. They will speak up if someone is being mistreated because of their color. They are true friends. We have had Ally Workshops to help people find the words to speak. Sometimes we are silent because we don’t know what to say.

If you could create the world anew, what changes would there be?

I would not want to create the world anew; I believe we would come back to this same space. I would love to see the day when America lives up to “We hold these truths to be self-evident….”

What are your biggest fears about the state of the world?

The possibility of a loss of our democracy and the potential for a world war.

Please talk about Project 2025.

The Project 2025 plan has been discussed out loud and quite clearly. Trump has said that if elected, he will turn our country into authoritarianism. Some people may think “that’s okay, I don’t mind if someone tells me what I must think and what to do, controlling all aspects of me and my family’s lives.” There are rights granted by our Constitution which could be taken away like banning books we like or the permanent ban on making personal healthcare decisions. Do we really want to become Russia or China? Is that the kind of country we want to live in?

 I love our country, our Constitution and our democracy and I believe in “the shining city on a hill.” You should go back and read Ronald Reagan’s final speech as he talks about what it means to be an American, how we stand for freedom, how America is respected in the world and looked to for leadership. He tells a short story of a little boat that arrived here from Indochina crammed with refugees who, on their arrival, yelled “Hello, American sailor – Hello, Freedom Man. What we have may be messy sometimes, but everyone wants to come here, to have what we have because we are so special. This “Project 2025” (the Presidential Transition Project) will destroy all of that.

The Project was created by the Heritage Foundation. It consists of policy proposals that would reshape the executive branch of the federal government. They will replace all federal civil service employees, give the president absolute, unquestionable power, dismantle the FBI, slash the DOJ budget, give the president full control of the DOJ, invoke the Insurrection Act on day one to deploy the military for domestic law enforcement to attack us if we protest. A few other concerning changes:

deconstruct or break our federal government,

fire all government employees, 

recruiting partisan, at-will personnel, 

online training of new personnel, 

make the abortion pill unavailable, 

create records and personal details about women’s pregnancies and abortions, tracking women’s pregnancies and cycles (controlling women’s lives)

instill precepts of Christian nationalism into government or public life, 

mass deportation of immigrants placing them along with the homeless in internment camps.  

If anyone has not read the details of Project 2025, I respectfully urge you to do so. I also recommend you read Time Magazine’s latest article interview “If He Wins.” 

How does the ‘Great Replacement Theory’ impact the political landscape?

The Great Replacement Conspiracy Theory is rooted in white nationalism. The idea is that the white population is being culturally and demographically displaced by racial minorities who are taking over the country. As conservatives who were committed to reducing the federal government and cutting the deficit, became extreme, they increased their focus on curtailing immigration on the southern border. They began to converge on our open borders and to feel that the government should protect their values and cultures from the influx of immigrants. They suggest these immigrants are savages committing rapes and other violent crimes even though data proves otherwise. Unfortunately, their hostility and rhetoric are often embraced by those in office, in media, and running for office and has led to violence and even mass murder. 

How can we get voters to understand that Trump’s words are not hyperbole but a real threat to the entire planet?

We are non-partisan so this is not a question that I feel I can answer for anyone. To respond in general, I do believe Maya Angelou’s words: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” In my previous life in banking, when I needed to hire anyone, I focused on what they actually accomplished, not what they said. This is how we should hire our next executive or legislator. Ask yourself “what did they do for me? How did my family, friends, community, and I benefit from what they did or have done? What are their words and what are their actions? Past performance is indicative of future performance. Vote for your own best interest.

How can we address people who say that they don’t want to get involved or that everyone has the right to express their opinion politically?

I do agree that everyone has the right to express their own opinion. Especially in today’s environment where we are in our silos and people are afraid to express their opinion or new ideas if they think it is out of step with others in “their group.” We do need grace and respect when we step into the political arena. Rather than responding to a political comment with your opinion, I suggest responding to their comment by asking questions (what, where, why, when, how) to try to gain understanding. If they are loud and argumentative just step out of the conversation. Politics should never become a physical sport. I continue to believe we need a two-party system to keep us more centered to avoid results that are too far left or too far right. This means we must look for common ground through conversations. 

Are there events coming up that you want people to know about?

Some of our upcoming events:

Annual Scholarship Program 2024 is in process. (Currently)

We are planning a Know Your Rights – School Discipline Workshop (May)

State Representative Candidate Forum (to introduce the candidates (September)

Legislative Breakfast – Policing Recommendation Discussion (TBD)

Upcoming events can be found on our website:

 How can readers get involved with the organization?

We are always looking for new members. If you would like to join us, please go to our website to sign-up. Annual membership dues are $32. We also welcome donations to support the fight for justice in our community. Donations can also be made through our website.  

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Edie Weinstein

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, journalist, interfaith minister, speaker and author. She is the co-founder of Bucks County Kind.

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