Focusing beyond black and white

January 16, 2001|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Roslyn McCallister Brock was having a hard time getting the 25 young people before her to open up about the real message of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life - until she started moving kids from table to table.

She reseated a white girl at an all-black table and left an American Indian girl sitting with two African-American girls and a boy. She moved one African-American boy with close-cropped hair next to one whose hair stood up, across from another whose hair was in braids.

"Do they look alike?" Brock, a national board member of the NAACP, asked the group, pointing to those three boys.

"No," the young people chorused.

"Are they dressed alike?"

"No."

"Do you think they think alike?"

"No."

Brock had made her point about the celebration and recognition of difference - concepts that go way beyond mere black and white. "This is what our society is struggling with," she said.

Their discussion followed the 26th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast yesterday, the longest-running event in the area to remember the civil rights leader.

A 26-year tradition

The breakfast, which drew more than 1,000 people to Martin's West in Woodlawn, was started in 1976 by a group of parents called the Mohawk Mothers Club whose children went to YMCA camps. The group, now called the King's Landing Women's Service Club, has continued to hold the breakfast, along with the YMCA of Central Maryland.

A big part of the event's mission is to educate young people who, in times that seem to have changed, often have hazy ideas about what King accomplished.

Brock, a program officer at the W. K. Kellogg Foundation who is coming to Maryland to work for Bon Secours Baltimore Health System, was the breakfast's keynote speaker.

Noting alleged irregularities in the recent presidential election, in which thousands of minority residents in Florida complained they had been removed from the rolls or otherwise prevented from voting, Brock used the occasion to challenge adults and children alike to stop thinking that racial problems in America have been solved.

"Race matters in this country, and the pendulum of justice is swiftly moving back for far too many vulnerable people in this nation," she told the group, which included politicians such as Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes and Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

The breakfast also featured an essay contest for high school students to write about King's legacy. This year's winner was Eduard Gordon, a 16-year-old junior at Pikesville High School, who wrote that "thanks to [King's] tireless efforts and tenacity in pursuing his dreams, people now admire diversity rather than resent it."

At the discussion with Brock afterward, the young people - mostly middle school pupils participating in a YMCA afterschool program around the city - talked about times they had been treated differently and how to handle such incidents.

Treated differently

Nathan Green, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Dunbar Middle School, spoke of a store near his home run by a family of Korean descent, whose owners always seemed suspicious of him despite the fact that he had known them since childhood. "They think you're gonna rob them," he said sadly.

Brock encouraged Nathan to talk to the owner outside the store about his feelings. Then she went around the room listing all of the religions and ethnic groups of the pupils there - describing them as one big pie cut into slices.

"What Dr. King wanted," she said, "was to make sure that everybody got a piece."

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