College student speaks of King's legacy

Million Man March orator addresses NAACP crowd

January 16, 2003|By Luke Tracy | Luke Tracy,SUN STAFF

Ayinde Jean-Baptiste, who gained notice at age 12 for his speech at the Million Man March in Washington, spoke last night on the continuing legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Anne Arundel County NAACP's 15th annual awards dinner in Linthicum.

"Truth isn't always easy or beautiful to hear," Jean-Baptiste told a crowd of about 1,200 before elaborating on continuing problems across the United States and the world.

He said King advocated more than just tolerance. In keeping with King's legacy, he encouraged people to think globally, including speaking out for the rights of Palestinians and urging caution in dealing with Iraq.

"We know that the war on poverty became a war on the poor," he said. "We know the war on drugs became the war on the drug-addicted. We need to make sure the war on terrorism does not become a war on the terrorized."

Jean-Baptiste, a 20-year-old student at Northwestern University near Chicago, began speaking publicly at age 4 when he recited King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech at his church.

It was his two-minute speech at the Million Man March in 1995 that brought him national recognition and led to Jean-Baptiste being compared with the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson as an orator. In that speech, Jean-Baptiste challenged the audience of mostly black men to set a better example for youths.

Last night, he continued to stress the importance of people his age and younger.

"Young people," he said, "I really don't understand after all we went through how it's not cool to be smart."

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