Officials bypass area event discussing racial problems Commissioners' vote against joining effort sparks some criticism

March 20, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Even as Carroll County's Human Relations Commission strives for racial harmony locally, county officials are ignoring a metrowide effort to end racism.

"Call to Community: An Honest Conversation about Race, Reconciliation and Responsibility" opened Tuesday in Baltimore without an official representative from Carroll. Baltimore City and Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties endorsed the program.

The County Commissioners voted 2-to-1 against participating in the event, which hopes to remedy Baltimore's increasing economic and social isolation through study circles, meeting dTC throughout the metropolitan area in the next five years.

"This is a regional program to bring people into conversation and race reconciliation," said the Rev. Marjorie Decker, associate pastor of Westminster United Methodist Church.

But County Commissioner Richard T. Yates said he finds no reason for Carroll to participate.

"If Baltimore City dies, it dies," he said. "Maybe we will dig it up and make farmland out of it."

Call to Community would draw the county into the city's problems and has nothing to offer Carroll, the commissioner said.

"Why should we bail Baltimore out or be drawn into its problems?" Yates said. "We have no race relations problems here. Why instigate them?"

Virginia Harrison, chairwoman of the county Human Relations Commission, tried to persuade officials that racism exists in Carroll by recounting her experiences.

In a recent meeting with the County Commissioners, Harrison, who is African-American, related many incidents, but "they did not take it to heart," she said.

Racial problems exist in Carroll, although in a subtle form, she said. Last week, when she changed lanes on a county road, a driver hurled a racial slur at her.

"There are no great incidents day to day," Harrison said. "But, trust me, there are horror stories."

Harrison plans to continue her efforts to involve local government in Call to Community. Helping the city will benefit Carroll, she said.

"My neighbor's problem is mine," she said. "You watch the traffic into Baltimore every morning and you tell me if all those people lose their jobs in the city, it won't affect Carroll County."

Carroll is not insulated from Baltimore, said Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, who was outvoted on participating in the regional event. The city's strengths and problems touch many aspects of life in Carroll, Brown said.

"We can address those issues or leave a sad legacy for ourselves and our children," he said. "We will never solve our differences or overcome our mistrust, if we turn our backs on an opportunity to talk, share and understand."

The Human Relations Commission marked its fifth anniversary Monday with gospel hymns and a call for unity from Ira Zepp, Western Maryland College professor emeritus of philosophy and religion. Zepp also stressed the county's relation to the city.

"Our hearts are still racially challenged," he said. "Why is racism still the No. 1 original sin in this county and the No. 1 socially transmitted disease?"

Perhaps people can find inspiration in the example of a Westminster choir, which received the commission's 1997 human relations award, Zepp said.

Union Street Gospel Jubileers, a choir of mixed ages, races and backgrounds, performs weekly at a 130-year-old African-American church and travels throughout the state. In December, the choir was invited to Austria, where it was the only choir of traditional gospel at the International Advent Festival in Vienna.

The choir has "created its own style, interpreting the gospel tradition in a way that transcends all barriers," said Jackie Thomas, a commission member who presented the award. "Music is the catalyst for making a community out of a group of strangers."

The singers performed several hymns for about 75 people gathered at New Windsor Conference Center on Monday.

"We can take this choir on the road," said Zepp, who accompanied the singers to Vienna. "What is said and done here is portable."

Director Eric Byrd said the choir takes its cues from scripture.

"The Bible says, 'Be ye ever ready' and that is what we try to do," Byrd said. "You never know whose lives you will touch."

Pub Date: 3/20/97

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