They have a dream

Parade: City eighth-graders will continue Martin Luther King's legacy by carrying '60s-type protest signs with 2001 issues in a parade.

January 12, 2001|By Jamie Manfuso | Jamie Manfuso,SUN STAFF

When the city's first parade commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday winds through West Baltimore on Monday, a group of nearly 50 eighth-graders will be waving protest placards.

By toting signs reminiscent of 1960s protests, the pupils from William H. Lemmel Middle School say they hope to honor the memory of the assassinated civil rights leader.

But their messages, scrawled on posterboard in Crayola markers, reflect issues that they see today - police harassment, underfunded schools and the need for recreation centers.

"We're carrying on King's legacy by doing this," said Charday Hall, one of the students.

Social studies teacher Eleanor Nichols came up with the idea for the protest signs as a way to keep King's ideas relevant today.

"These are issues that they feel really impact on their lives," Nichols said.

The problems noted by the children show how the struggle for equality has become more complex, less clear-cut.

Hall is protesting the graffiti-riddled, out-of-date textbooks that are handed down to Lemmel from Baltimore County schools.

Tabatha Kelly wants more teachers in city schools to reduce class sizes.

Scott Lawrence points to police harassment as his greatest concern. As an example, he said, he recently was riding his new bicycle, a Christmas present, when a police officer tried to push him off it. "He thought I stole it," he said.

Some pupils want more funding for African-American scholarships. For others, racial profiling tops the list.

"A lot of the injustices today are not as overt as they were in the past," Nichols said. "Now these things need to be elevated to a policy level and need to be enforced on this level. You can say `freedom and justice for all,' but you need the mechanism to ensure that some of these things are carried out."

Nichols, who marched in support of efforts to make King's birthday a national holiday, encourages her pupils to attack community problems on a local level, beginning with their classroom.

Earlier this school year, four of the windows in her classroom were broken out, a problem teachers had complained about in the past, but to no avail.

Nichols challenged her students to come up with a plan. So the children and their parents burned up the phone lines contacting school and city officials until the windows were replaced.

"I really try to show them that there is a way to have their problems and issues addressed," Nichols said.

The budding activists will be marching alongside seasoned reformers, including Baltimoreans honored as "living legends" for their contributions to the civil rights movement.

Among them will be the Rev. Sidney Daniels, the Rev. Marion Bascom and the Rev. Chester Wickwire. They were among the activists arrested in July 1963 for protesting segregated facilities at Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Woodlawn. Gwynn Oak was desegregated on Aug. 28, 1964, one year after King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington.

Dr. Levi Watkins, a "living legend" and a cardiac surgeon at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is the grand marshal.

Katie O'Malley, wife of Mayor Martin O'Malley, came up with the idea for a citywide celebration of King's birthday last year.

Mrs. O'Malley and Marlaa Reid, media director of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in West Baltimore, are honorary co-chairs of the parade.

Churches, choral groups, marching bands and equestrian units also will participate. Organizers attempted to get diverse representation from city groups. An Irish choral group, a Korean traditional drum unit, the Hispanic Democratic Club, Italian-American organizations, and gay and lesbian groups are lined up.

The parade, expected to last about 2 1/2 hours, is scheduled to begin at noon at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Eutaw Street. Several downtown streets will be closed between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

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