Program attracts African family new to racism

KIDS HEAR KING'S MESSAGE

January 17, 1993|By Karin Remesch | Karin Remesch,Contributing Writer

Clara Lema is black. But neither she nor her children had ever experienced racism -- at least not until they came to the United States from East Africa about a year ago.

Yesterday she took her children, Lewis, 8, and Yvonne 5, to the Joppa library to participate in a program honoring the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While her children drew pictures and cut out signs for a "peace flag," Mrs. Lema explained why it's important for Lewis and Yvonne to learn more about the slain civil rights leader who would have turned 64 Friday.

"My children don't understand racism," she said. "I want them to learn how Dr. King fought for the rights of the black and how his ideas are applied to today's society."

Mrs. Lema, 34, her 44-year-old husband, and their two children came to this country from Tanzania so Mr. Lema, a medical technician, could participate in a work and education program at the University of Maryland. They plan to stay in the United States six years before they return home.

Having lived in a country where blacks are the majority, Mrs. Lema said, it can be tough adjusting to suddenly being a minority. Though she hasn't experienced prejudice from friends and neighbors, she has come face-to-face with subtle racism.

"Especially in the malls," Mrs. Lema said. "As a black, you are being watched in stores, like you are getting ready to steal something."

She said she has seen white women entering a store greeted with smiles and asked how they could be helped, while black women were ignored.

Nearby, her son, Lewis, worked on his drawing -- a picture of Dr.

King the boy colored with great concentration, being careful not to cross the lines.

Preoccupied with his work -- which was to become part of the peace flag hanging in the library hallway -- he had little time to talk. But he took a break to explain what he has learned about Dr. King: "He tried to bring peace to the world and bring people together."

About 34 children and parents attended the first hour of yesterday's four-hour program.

The children came to add their artwork to the peace flag and to reinforce what they had learned in school about Dr. King, said Mary Triandafilou, the children's librarian and organizer of the event.

Scott Bishop, 9, attended the program with his Cub Scout troop. While busy cutting out a peace sign, he said, Dr. King "was really a special man, he was real cool, and he won a peace award."

Jeffrey Freeland, 9, and his 10-year old cousin, Randy Whitaker, also were concentrating on an addition to the peace pennant. "He wanted black people and white people to be equal," Jeffrey said.

Randy's father, Harold Whitaker Sr., brought the boys to the program because he wanted them to learn about black history.

"There's been improvement, but there's still a lot of work to be done."

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