News of the NAACP turns students into believers BALTIMORE COUNTY

April 16, 1993|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer

A month ago, Pam Hidalgo's students at Woodlawn Middle School, most of whom are black, knew little about the NAACP.

Yesterday, they were clamoring to follow her into the civil rights organization and to start a youth council at their school.

They had been transformed by reading newspaper accounts of the organization's selection of an executive director and by a presentation from Betty Boone-Capehart, a leader in NAACP youth affairs, and two of her nieces, Jamie and Chanda Smith.

The 40 boys and girls sat attentively as Jamie and Chanda told them why the 82-year-old organization is relevant, not only for black progress but for cooperation between races.

"Lead or leave," said Jamie, 13, a student at John Paul Regional Catholic School. "If you complain and do nothing, things will not get any better. We are tomorrow's leaders, and if we don't lead we're not going anywhere."

Interest in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People arose in Ms. Hidalgo's class during the organization's search for someone to succeed the Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks. Ms. Hidalgo, who is white, used The Sun as a text for her students to follow the process.

To her dismay, most of the students were unfamiliar with the NAACP's history or its objectives. However, as the selection process continued, her students grew curious and excited, said the 46-year-old reading specialist.

Lucille Bergman, Woodlawn's principal and an NAACP life member, said she was initially surprised by the students' lack of exposure to the group. However, she said, because of changes in recent decades, young people haven't experienced the legalized discrimination that prompted the founding of organizations like the NAACP.

In a straw vote, the students supported the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., who was chosen last week as director. Several said they wanted to follow the example of Dr. Chavis, who joined the organization at age 12.

Andre Dowdy and Kristi Levy, sixth-graders, telephoned the NAACP's national headquarters in Baltimore to get more information about the group. Andre also invited Mrs. Boone-Capehart to tell the class about the organization.

Yesterday, Mrs. Boone-Capehart and her two nieces did just that.

Mrs. Boone-Capehart said the NAACP's youth and college divisions began in Baltimore. The city is the only place that has more than one council -- it has six "and they are all working well," she said.

"We're definitely on the map," she said, relating how the local councils were invited to mount an exhibit about the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, a Baltimore native, at the national convention in Nashville, Tenn.

"If you get involved, you'll get a lot of leadership training and do a lot of networking for the future," she said. "Someone has to carry the torch for the NAACP, from youth to college to the big world."

Young people can involve themselves in issues, Mrs. Boone-Capehart said. NAACP youth council members testified at City Hall in Baltimore about an Afrocentric curriculum and held a forum to discuss gun control.

Although Jamie and Chanda, 16, spoke only briefly about social activities, they said there are plenty of opportunities for socializing interspersed with the serious work in the local councils and at NAACP conventions through the national level.

When Mrs. Boone-Capehart concluded her remarks, she presented Ms. Hidalgo with her membership. Students embraced their teacher and asked how they, too, can join.

Mrs. Boone-Capehart said she would help the class form a youth council at Woodlawn Middle School. Organizing can start at any time, but the national office must approve a charter before the council could be an official affiliate.

She also invited the class to make an exhibit for the May 11 Freedom Day celebration at Enon Baptist Church, Edmondson Avenue and Schroeder Street in Baltimore. The event commemorates the end of public school segregation.

Chyrle Tolson, whose daughter, Lauren, 12, was in the class, was the only parent who attended yesterday. She said many parents are working and cannot visit the school during the day. She also said an NAACP youth council would be good for the youngsters and would be something she'd like to be involved in.

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