Equal rights group honors musician for diversity, harmony

Common Ground on Hill founder to receive award

March 19, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County Human Relations Commission will honor a musician who has worked to build diversity and harmony through the arts at its 12th annual awards dinner Monday.

Because he is the honoree, Walter M. Michael II will not provide the musical accompaniment for the dinner at the New Windsor Conference Center. It's the first time in memory that Michael won't supply the music.

"Walt has done music for us and been very supportive of us for many years," said Virginia Harrison, commission chairwoman. "He also reaches a lot of people and creates diversity through his music."

But his skill on the hammered dulcimer and his inspiring gospel harmonies were not the only reasons that Michael won the recognition.

The commission, a nonprofit organization, seeks to promote harmony and understanding among the residents of Carroll County, Harrison said. Michael, 57, strives for the same goals with Common Ground on the Hill, a music and arts festival he founded at McDaniel College in Westminster 10 years ago.

The festival brings together hundreds of students and performers in an effort to bridge the gaps between cultures, races and religions. "He continuously promotes our goals and gets people to work together harmoniously," Harrison said. "I have been to many of the events he puts on, and I always leave uplifted and upbeat."

Michael, son of a Methodist minister, spent his youth demonstrating against the Vietnam War, working in the civil rights movement and honing his musical talent. He brings that background and his many musical connections to Common Ground.

"I am honored to be recognized by this wonderful organization," Michael said. "The commission has been at this work a long time, making sure people obey the laws regarding equal rights. They are wonderful people who work hard at trying to bring people together."

The Human Relations Commission chooses its honorees based on their efforts to promote human relations above and beyond the ordinary, Harrison said.

The group was formed to ensure that all individuals are free to exercise and enjoy civic, economic, political, housing, recreational and other human rights, Harrison said.

In previous years, the commission has honored individuals such as Richard Bucher, a founding member of the commission, an author and a teacher; and Greg Eckles, the high schools director for Carroll County, as well as groups such as the Carroll Citizens for Racial Equality and the American Legion Auxiliary in Sykesville. Dr. Ira Zepp, professor emeritus at McDaniel College and a previous honoree, will be the guest speaker.

"We chose Ira because he knows Walt and knew Walt's parents before Walt was born," Harrison said.

The commission will also confer a certificate of appreciation this year on Richard N. Dixon, former state treasurer and county legislator.

"We want to say thank you for everything he has done, particularly for education in this county," Harrison said. "He has helped build schools here and helped bring state money to Carroll Community College and McDaniel. Throughout his career, Richard Dixon made education the highest priority."

Dixon was also instrumental in starting the Friends of Robert Moton School, an alumni association that has awarded more than $70,000 in scholarships to more than 100 college-bound African-American students.

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