Fighting racism in Carroll Conference explores ways to battle bias

April 18, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

Diana Steppling and her family were on their way to a baseball game in Hampstead two summers ago when they ran into the first Ku Klux Klansman Diana had ever seen, passing out Klan literature near the ball park.

"It broke my heart," she said, and made her wonder why she had brought her family to Carroll County.

"I've had to do a lot of explaining to my children since I've been here."

Ms. Steppling said she and her husband explained to their sons that the man must have had something very bad happen to him, if he had to make himself feel better by making other people feel bad.

She told the story at a Racism and Equality conference -- sponsored by Carroll Citizens for Racial Equality, a county group formed to combat racism -- yesterday morning at St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Westminster.

Many people at the conference wore plaid ribbons symbolizing unity, as they heard speakers tell of the pain racism causes. Then, in small discussion groups, they groped for ways to fight racism in education, in religious groups, in health and human services programs.

In a group discussion of how individuals can fight racism, the owner of a small auto-restoration business asked the others what he could do, as a businessman, to send a clear message against racism.

Another group member told him, "Let your actions speak."

If a businessman treats everyone with respect, he said, word spreads that people of all races are welcome.

Someone else asked how to respond if you witness a store clerk showing disrespect for a minority, perhaps by slamming the person's change on the counter instead of placing it in the person's hand.

A group member suggested that simply making a point of chatting with the offended customer, in front of the clerk, would send a message that the customer is a human being who deserves more respect.

Don Danneman of Sykesville, who is Jewish, said he had confronted a business associate who, unaware that he was a Jew, came to him at his Laurel business and tried to recruit him into the KKK.

Mr. Danneman told the man, "I'm one of these guys you want to kill."

"I think we need to stop all the jokes" that are racist, sexist or otherwise abusive, he said.

The keynote speaker, the Rev. Rosemary Maxey, pastor of Mount Tabor United Church of Christ in Westminster, told the gathering that Carroll residents don't like to think racism is a problem in the county.

But Ms. Maxey, an American Indian, said she has heard the epithets and has seen children harassed be cause of their race.

Once, she said, she heard some children yelling racial abuse at some other children. Some older women told the hurt children to ignore their tormentors, "demonstrating their ignorance.

"I believe it's time to quit ignoring them," Ms. Maxey said. "We people of color need to be direct with white people."

Loving one's enemy, she said, means telling the enemy that racism hurts and asking him to fight it.

Later, a group of students from Bowling Brook Boys' Home performed several skits demonstrating the senselessness of racism.

And students from Friendship Valley Elementary School talked about their sister-school arrangement with Lockerman-Bundy Elementary School in Baltimore.

Through a reading program, the Friendship Valley students earned books for the Baltimore school. In exchange, the Baltimore students shared performances of drama, music and poetry on African-American history.

Friendship Valley Elementary student Shannon Manger, 10, said, They helped us understand more that blacks are just as important as us in our history."

At the end of the conference, coordinator Tom Hurst challenged the audience members to write down one concrete thing they could do by Memorial Day to fight racism, and then do it.

After the conference, Velva Cooper of Westminster said she doubts it's possible to change a racist's mind-set. People have to change themselves, she said.

Ms. Cooper said she would favor taking other action, such as encouraging black friends not to fear moving to a rural area such as Carroll County. "We can't continue to segregate ourselves," she said. "We always do that."

Beverly Nokes, who grew up in Carroll and attended the conference from her home in Gaithersburg, said, "I believe that groups like this can make a small difference."

If one person is challenged enough to change, the effort is not wasted, she said.

Ms. Steppling said she would share information from the conference with her church. She said the event helped her, partly because it makes her feel better about living in Carroll County to know that some residents are fighting racism.

"I don't want the hatred to overtake my children," she said. "Then, I would think I really failed as a parent."

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