King banquet speakers call black youth to action

NAACP official urges next generation to step forward

January 16, 2000|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

African-Americans need a new generation of freedom fighters to continue the struggle against discrimination, the Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant told an audience of about 500 politicians, civic leaders and local residents who attended the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 12th Annual Awards Dinner held in Annapolis yesterday.

Bryant, NAACP national youth director, called for a "passing of the torch" from the generation represented by the well-dressed and slightly graying crowd at the dinner to today's young people, saying the generation needs to understand that racism is still alive.

"One of the things that happened is this generation has become the beneficiary of another generation's fight," he said in an interview before the dinner. "They were able to celebrate, but their parents didn't pass on the sacrifice. But when we hear comments like those from Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker, we are reminded of the racism that still exists."

Rocker's remarks on New York City, foreigners and AIDS caused a storm of controversy this month.

As Bryant addressed the crowd at the Radisson Hotel, he called attention to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's effort to enforce economic sanctions against South Carolina in an effort to persuade lawmakers to remove the Confederate flag from its state capitol dome and within its House and Senate chambers.

At least 15 national groups have joined the boycott, promising to keep their conventions out of the state, and Bryant urged local residents to refrain from holding their family reunions there and from vacationing in Hilton Head.

He said the dozens of NAACP organizers who were sent there to help with Monday's planned march on the state capitol flew into North Carolina and drove more than an hour to their meeting place. They all stayed on college campuses instead of in hotels, he said.

"We don't want any money coming into South Carolina," he said.

Among those attending last night's dinner were Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, Annapolis Mayor Dean L. Johnson, County Council members and state legislators.

As if anticipating Bryant's comments later last night, Owens told the crowd in opening remarks that she had once heard a 21-year-old summarize King as "a minister, he was loud and he fought for social justice."

She said the 21-year-old "was totally unaware of [King's] fight for justice and opportunity. It was so strange to me to hear that that was ancient history. The need to fight for opportunity and justice is still real. We've still got a long way to go."

The King dinner is an annual event honoring the slain Baptist minister and civil rights leader who would have been 71 yesterday.

The event, sponsored this year by the Anne Arundel chapters of the NAACP and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, the Joint Services Black Heritage Committee, Hospice of the Chesapeake, the Robinwood Planning Action Committee and the Maryland Classified Employees Association, routinely honors local leaders who are fighting for fair treatment of minorities in their communities.

Bishop Larry Lee Thomas Sr., president of the United Black Clergy of Anne Arundel County, received the Morris H. Blum Humanitarian Award for his work in uniting local clergy and addressing social issues such as welfare reform.

The award is named for the founder of WANN-AM radio in Annapolis. Blum led the way in Maryland broadcasting in hiring African-Americans in executive positions, according to dinner chairman Carl O. Snowden.

Other awards presented last night were the King Drum Major Awards, recognizing efforts toward racial equality, and the King Dream Keepers Award for commitment to civil liberties and human rights.

Those chosen for the Drum Major honor were Mary Esther Trotter, a resident of Robinwood and a caregiver who has been a surrogate parent to hundreds of children; Patricia Butler Caldwell, a member of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women; Vaughn T. Phillips, minority business enterprise coordinator for the city of Annapolis; Dennis Connolly, vice president and development director for Mills Corp.; and Neva Stansbury, an active member of the Anne Arundel NAACP chapter.

Special recognition also was given to the 20-member Joint Services group, a Fort Meade-based nonprofit group made up of military personnel that provides scholarships for county students. Founded in 1993, it is the first organization to receive the Drum Major Award.

American Civil Liberties Union lawyers Dwight H. Sullivan, Susan Goering and Deborah A. Jeon received the Dream Keepers Award for their commitment to human rights.

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