Mfume draws crowd to NAACP banquet, calls for cooperation National president lauds Anne Arundel leaders

November 15, 1998|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Attracting the largest crowd in the 24-year history of the Anne Arundel County NAACP awards banquet, Kweisi Mfume, the organization's national president, urged African-Americans Friday night to band together with other minorities to continue the fight against discrimination.

Mfume, speaking at the Freedom Fund Awards banquet at La Fontaine Bleu in Glen Burnie, also encouraged people to put aside their differences without losing their ethnic identity and history.

"People call us a melting pot, but we never have been," Mfume said. "What we really represent is a quilt of different colors, different textures, all held together by a common thread."

In an interview, Mfume also praised Anne Arundel Superintendent Carol S. Parham for meeting with African-American community leaders to find ways to boost grades and decrease suspension rates among black students.

He said Parham's efforts echoed the focus of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People this year on educating young African-Americans.

"I'm glad that this meeting took place," Mfume said. "Anything that is designated to focus on public education is very, very important to this organization."

Parham, the county's first African-American superintendent, met with leaders, including local NAACP branch President Gerald Stansbury, Thursday night to discuss academic performance and discipline issues and encourage them to work with students.

Gloria Turner, spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County branch, said the awards banquet usually attracts about 400 people, but the appearance of Mfume, who gave up his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives to lead the NAACP, drew 650. It was his first appearance for the Anne Arundel chapter, whose Freedom Fund awards recognize community service.

Mfume said he was glad to be speaking in Anne Arundel, particularly after six days of appearances around the country.

Anne Arundel NAACP leaders "say they're glad that I'm here, but what they don't know is that I'm just as excited to be here," he said. "This is my back yard; I grew up not far from here. This is my home."

A festive and responsive crowd cried out "Amen" and "That's right" throughout his hourlong speech, in which he also offered a tribute to County Executive-elect Janet S. Owens.

Turning to Owens, who upset incumbent Republican John G. Gary nearly two weeks ago, Mfume said, "You are in fact a miracle."

"I was with Jesse 'The Body' Ventura in Minnesota a few days ago, and he said, 'How'd that lady make out down there in that county down by the water?' " Mfume added. "I said, 'She did all right.' "

Mfume then detailed the NAACP's national efforts, including the Million Youth Movement, a gathering of about 5,000 people in Atlanta on Labor Day, and discussed his arrest Oct. 5 on the Supreme Court steps while protesting the small number of minority law clerks working at the court. He also railed against Washington state's Initiative 200, an anti-affirmative action referendum that was passed Nov. 3.

"People say, 'Look at you. You're doing OK. You don't need that anymore,' " Mfume said of affirmative action. "They argue that [discrimination] is an article of our past. Referring to discrimination as an article of the past does not take into account the realities of the present."

Mfume mentioned such examples as Chevy Chase Bank's $11 million settlement in 1994 of a lawsuit charging that the bank refused to serve minority neighborhoods and the 1996 case in which Texaco Inc. paid $115 million to 1,500 current and former black workers who sued after top executives were caught on tape belittling blacks.

"There's no sign now that says 'Colored drinking fountain,' " Mfume said. "There's no sign in a movie theater saying 'Colored seating only.' But we're finding our young people graduating from college and going to work, where the subtle kind of discrimination treatment is there, and they are dismayed because they thought that we had gotten beyond it."

Mfume closed by urging members to band together with other minorities to fight discrimination.

"Let [future generations] note that when our time came, we did not waver," Mfume added. "We met the challenges of our time, and we did it as a community of people by focusing not so much on our differences but on our similarities."

Davida Ford, 26, who left the banquet after the crowd gave Mfume a long standing ovation, said she was inspired by the speech.

"It was encouraging because we're still struggling, we're still fighting," said Ford, a Glen Burnie car inspector.

"And it's real," added her mother, Renee Spears, 41, of Arnold. "It's real."

Pub Date: 11/15/98

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