Ehrlich to speak at awards event honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

More than 1,200 expected to attend annual dinner

Anne Arundel

January 15, 2004|By Sarah Lesher | Sarah Lesher,SUN STAFF

In 1989, about 300 people crowded into Buddy's Crabs and Ribs in downtown Annapolis for the county's first Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Dinner. The event quickly outgrew the crab house, and within a few years it was too large for any Annapolis hotel.

Today, more than 1,200 people are expected to gather at La Fontaine Bleu in Glen Burnie for what organizers say is the largest regional celebration on King's actual birthday, today. And this year's keynote speaker will be Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the first time a sitting governor has addressed the dinner.

"The dinner is a constant reminder that the struggle for racial justice is ongoing," said event founder Carl O. Snowden, a former Annapolis alderman, now an aide to Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owen.

Less than a year before the first awards dinner, Clayton Greene Jr. was appointed to Anne Arundel District Court as the county's first African-American judge. Last week Greene was appointed to the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.

Since 1989, African-Americans have served as Annapolis chief of police and as Anne Arundel County school superintendent. There are three black aldermen on the nine-member Annapolis city council. All are measures of what Snowden views as progress by the city's black community.

Today's event is intended to honor King by paying tribute to people of all races whose words and deeds help advance his goal of racial equality.

The first keynote speaker was then-U.S. Rep. Parren J. Mitchell, the first black member of Congress from Maryland, said Snowden.

Other speakers have included the Rev. Joseph Lowry, who worked with King; Julian Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Baltimore Democrat who is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Among this year's award recipients is Midgett S. Parker Jr., a partner in law firm Linowes and Blocher, LLP, Annapolis. Among his contributions has been to find corporate sponsors to allow young people to attend the dinner.

"Two to four corporate sponsors sit at tables with the youths," Parker said. "This gives [them] the opportunity to meet with and network with potential future employers."

Parker noted that this year marks the first award of the Chesapeake Bay Trust Honorable Arthur Dorman Scholarship, designed to help develop young people's awareness of environmental issues.

The recipient, Katherine Marie Cruz, is a senior at Mount Hebron High School in Howard County. In 2002 she was elected president of Students for Environmental Action, which oversees recycling at the school and is raising funds to buy Brazilian rain forest land.

Rodney C. Warren, an Anne Arundel County Circuit judge, also is being honored. Among his contributions has been involvement with the Board of Trustees of Anne Arundel's Court Appointed Special Advocate.

"CASA comes to court and speaks for abused and neglected children" when their interests may be in conflict with those of their parents or the Department of Social Services, Warren said. He also has been a judge at the Maryland State High School Mock Trial competition.

Another award recipient, commercial construction attorney Dirk Haire, once was the only white basketball player on his team in his high school in southern Indiana. Now an Annapolis resident, he and his wife realized they didn't have many African-American colleagues.

"We just said, `We're missing something,' " Haire said. "I didn't know anyone so I just called Carl Snowden and asked `Could I come?' " Haire started working with the King dinner committee and built personal relationships with underprivileged Annapolis youths who needed mentors.

Other honorees at the dinner will include Cynthia D. Brooks, Yolande Dickerson, Anne Mills-Bowie, Willie Kendricks, Robert Eades and John A. Hurson.

Entertainment will be provided by The Cotton Blossom Singers from the Piney Woods School near Jackson, Miss. The school was founded in 1906 to provide quality secondary school education for African-American children who were struggling in their social environment. The 40-member choir began in 1921 and has played all over the United States and around the world, raising money for the school.

Although the reception is sold out, $35 seats for the dinner will be available at the door. For information, call 410-267-7723.

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