Gary expected to endorse racial understanding project 'Better late than never,' says backer of discussions

July 24, 1998|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

County Executive John G. Gary today is expected to endorse a regional project to promote racial understanding, more than a year after his counterparts in Howard and Harford counties and the mayor of Baltimore signed on in support of the project.

The project, "A Call to Community -- An Honest Conversation About Race, Reconciliation, and Responsibility," is a series of discussions run by Interfaith Action for Racial Justice Inc., a coalition of Baltimore-area clergy and lay people.

In each county and the city, groups of 12 to 15 people agree to meet for six sessions to talk about how race and racism affect education, transportation, economic growth and other issues, said John Springer, executive director of Interfaith.

After meeting in the groups, participants commit to "action plans" such as lobbying for or against legislation, serving as a renter or homebuyer "tester" to ensure fair treatment in housing, or promising to speak out against racial discrimination.

"Mr. Gary's participation with the other elected officials that are on board says that we do have the entire region on board to work on race," Springer said. "Better late than never."

Gary said he wasn't ready to sign on after meeting with Springer and others spearheading the program in spring 1997 because he didn't know who they were.

"I didn't want to make a commitment to them until I knew they RTC were reputable and dependable," he said. So he waited for comments from the county human relations officer and from Anne Arundel Community College officials, who attended study circles, he said.

"I feel confident now that they are legitimate."

The executives in Howard and Harford counties, along with Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, agreed to endorse the project before its beginning in March 1997. Since then, Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, seven mayors in Carroll County and one Carroll County commissioner also have signed on as Interfaith attempts to talk to all elected officials in the region.

The study circles have already met in Anne Arundel County with the support of more than a dozen organizations such as Glen Burnie United Methodist Church, the YWCA of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis.

Springer and Interfaith supporters, including Carl O. Snowden, a former Annapolis alderman, met with Gary again this year.

"I advised him that it would be in his best interest to do this," Snowden said. That this is an election year "didn't hurt," he said. Two Democrats and one Republican are vying to unseat Gary.

Gerald Stansbury, president of the Anne Arundel County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is to join Gary in signing on to the program.

By endorsing the project, Gary agrees to "commend" it to constituents and participate in the project, as he is able, according to the agreement he is expected to sign today.

"The elected officials need it as much as ordinary people do," Springer said.

Members of the Anne Arundel group have proposed holding a retrospective of the 1963 civil rights March on Washington next month, with marchers from Anne Arundel County, to mark the 35th anniversary of the event, Snowden said.

They also have proposed naming the traffic circle under construction at West Street and Taylor Avenue in Annapolis Unity Circle to symbolize unity in the community, he said.

Pub Date: 7/24/98

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