Student Divine Lipscomb Seeks To Amplify Voices Through Borough Council Bid

Penn State student Divine Lipscomb is far from your typical State College Borough Council candidate.

Lipscomb, 38, is a formerly incarcerated husband and father. He began studying at Penn State in 2017 and is just weeks away from graduating with a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation and human services.

Now, he hopes to turn his attention toward local politics to create positive change in a community he’s come to love.

“I’ve been a resident of Centre County for 12 years. I’m not just a student,” Lipscomb said. “A lot of people hear ‘student’ and get nervous. I saw an opposing candidate actually say, ‘Well, students don’t have a great success rate [running for office].’ But I’m much more than that.”

Notably, a student hasn’t held a borough council seat since 1973, although many have launched campaigns over the past few decades. Lipscomb said shaking that “student stigma” has been a consistent hurdle leading up to May’s primary elections.

While building his campaign, Lipscomb said he’s pulled from all aspects of his life so far, including his time in the justice system, his experiences as a business owner, and his private life as a father.

“I can relate to any side of the community. I’m not just siloed to that 1%, narrow frame,” Lipscomb said. “Everyone’s included. We all live here together, town and gown alike.”

Entering Penn State as a formerly incarcerated student, Lipscomb said his top priority was to help fellow students who may find themselves in those same shoes. He’s helped build on those intentions by working alongside Penn State’s Restorative Justice Initiative to support and advocate for current and formerly incarcerated students.

“When I got here, I came in with some frame of mind that my whole goal was to help formerly incarcerated students, period,” Lipscomb said. “I didn’t have access to certain things. I didn’t have a support group. You need a network, and without that support, you’re destined to fail. You can’t do anything in this world alone.”

Lipscomb also said he often grappled with poverty as a young adult — something many Penn State students face while balancing their studies and jobs atop tuition bills and rent.

“I hear the narrative of, ‘Oh, the poverty rate is high because students are here.’ How is that a justification?” Lipscomb said. “We’re saying it’s OK to temporarily be in poverty for four of five years? While they’re here, why not support them and our economy together. That college town dynamic is never going to change.”

A number of Lipscomb’s policies stem from his work with the 3/20 Coalition, a local advocacy group formed following the police killing of borough resident Osaze Osagie in March 2019. The coalition held dozens of protests, rallies, and education events over the past year to advocate for police reform and seek justice for victims.

In fact, Lipscomb said his idea to run for office came as he addressed a crowd during a State College protest over the summer.

“I remember making a statement on the mic when I was reading the demands for 3/20. And after I finished reading them, I thought, ‘If you don’t want to listen to us, maybe I’ll run for office myself,'” Lipscomb said.

Lipscomb addresses a crowd at the Allen Street Gates on Tuesday, April 13. Community members gathered alongside the 3/20 Coalition to protest the police killing of 20-year-old Black man Daunte Wright.

That initial spark of interest led Lipscomb to seek guidance from other advocacy groups in the state and county, including Pennsylvania United. Through leadership seminars and fellowship programs, Lipscomb said he finally felt prepared to run and formally announced his borough council bid in December.

His campaign largely focuses on three tiers: economic, environmental, and racial justice. Platform tidbits, including procuring liveable wages, revolutionizing crumbling infrastructure, and turning borough policing on its head, are bold. But that’s not stopping Lipscomb from setting a high bar.

“Why not think big and bold?” Lipscomb asked.

If elected, he’d also hope to see the borough reallocate funds for its police, heavily invest in sustainability initiatives, and support residents who might be struggling to put food on the table.

At the end of the day, though, Lipscomb’s campaign boils down to amplifying voices that aren’t being heard. He said, if elected, he’ll work to ensure the borough council is one step closer toward legitimately representing the community it seeks to serve.

“Students have a voice. Do not think because you are transient that your voice and your impact in this community cannot move mountains,” Lipscomb said. “Ultimately, this isn’t about me and what I want to do in the borough. It’s about what the borough needs me to do for them.”

Lipscomb will face six fellow Democrats during May 18’s primary election.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email ([email protected]) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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