Diversity's at top of the menu at picnic Ethnic groups eat together at Unity Picnic in Druid Hill.

August 26, 1991|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Evening Sun Staff

More than 70 people helped to stir and add spice to America's bubbling melting pot yesterday afternoon in Druid Hill Park.

Families of blacks, whites, Asians, American Indians and other ethnicities from the area attended Baltimore's first "Unity Picnic" to celebrate the region's ethnic diversity near the city's parks and recreation headquarters.

They brought at least 40 ethnic foods ranging from birangi, an Indian vegetable fried rice, to kimbak, a Korean dish with seaweed, rice and vegetables.

Forks, spoons and chopsticks were kept busy. So were the bees that buzzed around the delectable foods on the wooden tables and paper plates.

"I think it's the most exciting thing since the Berlin Wall and events in the Soviet Union," said Lane Berk, 63, a Lutherville farmer who brought edible flowers and sun-cooked applesauce. "It's the same message."

The message was to bridge the gap between different people by allowing them an opportunity to share food and socialize, said Ken Strong, 41, an organizer and chief of the community services division for the city state's attorney's office.

The picnic was an outgrowth of last year's Mayor's Summit on Racial Relations. The summit was convened following racially motivated incidents last summer in which a black man was stabbed to death by whites in Remington, and another black man was chased by whites into the path of a pickup truck in Highlandtown.

"We've certainly had enough [racial tension] in Baltimore," Strong said.

The Baltimore City Community Relations Commission, the Citizens Planning and Housing Association and several ethnic organizations co-sponsored the picnic.

Mentioning the racial violence last week in a Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood between blacks and Orthodox Hasidic Jews, Strong said that whenever such events occur people tend to label them as isolated. "But we need to face up to the fact that there are racial tensions in our society."

Yesterday's three-hour picnic was symbolic, Strong said. About 30 years ago, he said, blacks and whites were arrested for playing tennis together on the nearby courts.

"I thought because of that this would be a good place to bring everybody together," Strong said.

During the picnic, children kicked soccer balls in the delightful weather, while adults learned about the diverse culinary creations -- and one another.

Berk, the Lutherville farmer of Russian, Hungarian, Scottish and French descent, asked people to guess what was in her sun-cooked applesauce, an American Indian food. People suggested nutmeg and cinnamon.

"Nothing," she said. "It's cooked in the sun. It's never seen the stove."

Kap Park, 33, dressed in a hanbok, a traditional Korean outfit worn for celebrations, sampled an edible marigold on top of a tomato. "It's a real flower," Park said. "This is something I never tried before."

After one bite, Park said, "It's all right."

Dr. Babu Rao and his wife, Sheila, both American Indians, said they enjoyed the foods and the chance to meet other people.

"I think it's a beautiful idea to get together," said Dr. Rao, 60, a family physician. "We are all the same."

"When we meet each other, we can understand each other," said Rully Abidin, 51, an Indonesian-American insurance salesman.

Even the young realized the picnic's importance. Sarasvati Walker, 13, who is black, and a freshman at the School for the Arts, said, "It's nice to see a lot of different people coming together."

John B. Ferron, director of the city's Community Relations Commission, said the picnic could lead to a bigger venue on race relations.

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