Million Man Summit Beyond Chavis: Ironic that Baltimore event also must overcome association with one man.

June 23, 1996

NO MATTER HOW successful the Million Man March was in the minds of many people, for others it will forever be tainted as the brainchild of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. That is unfortunate, but it is not a tragedy. The march lived up to its promise. Hundreds of thousands of African-American males left the event last October as reborn men, determined to return to their communities and make them better places to live. Millions of other men and women, black, white, brown, yellow, who did not attend the event, were inspired by the camaraderie and purposefulness of those who did.

Attempting to keep alive the spirit of the march, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke got together with community and business leaders to plan a conference they hope will attract up to 50,000 people to talk about improving life in this majority-black city. The event, called "Baltimore's Men of the March: A Day of Commitment," will take place June 29 at Hopkins Plaza and the Baltimore Arena. Ironically, like the march itself, the summit is threatened to be overshadowed by the participation of one man -- disgraced former NAACP Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.

Mr. Chavis was fired in 1994 after the NAACP discovered he had secretly promised to use its funds to pay off a former aide who accused him of sexual harassment. Earlier this month, a Washington jury absolved the NAACP of any responsibility for the $332,400 debt incurred by Mr. Chavis. The incident should have cost him all credibility in the civil rights community. Yet he endures. He will be one of three keynote speakers at the Baltimore summit.

As if to explain, Mr. Schmoke said Mr. Chavis is still a Baltimore-area resident. He also said the event won't be about any prominent personality, it will be about promoting volunteerism and inspiring plain folks to rescue neighborhoods falling victim to despair. That work must be done. If it is the mission of the summit, the entire city should pray for its success. But doing so will be difficult for those who would prefer that Mr. Chavis -- whose topic, of all things, is "accountability" -- was not involved.

Pub Date: 06/23/96

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