Message of nonviolence is spread to honor King

Volunteer bus riders stress peaceful conflict resolution

Remembering King's lessons

January 17, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,special to the sun

Maroulla Plangetis marked the Rev. Martin Luther King's birthday on an Annapolis Transit bus.

Over a four-hour period Monday, the Annapolis High School senior and more than a dozen other volunteers rode in circles around the city, handing other passengers brochures with tips on how to solve problems peacefully.

Recalling King's support of Freedom Rides in the 1960s to protest segregated seating on public buses, Plangetis looked at the white, black and Hispanic riders sitting together and mused that the civil rights leader would be proud to see what the movement has accomplished.

"I feel like the bus we're riding on now is the kind of bus Martin Luther King would have wanted to see," she said.

Linda Deming, executive director of the Anne Arundel County Conflict Resolution Center, participated in Freedom Ride protests in the 1960s as a student at the University of Maryland, College Park. As a blond, blue-eyed teenager, she stood out among the black riders on the buses and remembers clearly the fear she felt when epithets were hurled at them.

"The thing that bothered me the most was seeing children parroting what their parents were saying," Deming said.

She and Fay Mauro, head of the Volunteer Center for Anne Arundel County, conceived the local program three years ago to teach young people how to solve problems nonviolently.

"Everybody has the power to solve their own problems," Deming said. "It's such a great survival skill."

It is also an important message amid school shootings and increased violent crime, said Vincent O. Leggett, a mediator at the conflict resolution center and former president of the county Board of Education.

"Conflicts spill into the schools, and school conflicts spill into the community," he said.

Yesterday's bus ride imparted other lessons for the teenage volunteers by showing them the number of minorities who don't have alternative transportation and exposing them to impoverished areas of Annapolis, Leggett said.

"I think this trip itself is going to show that everyone is not prosperous in Annapolis, that there are some pockets of despair," Leggett said.

The riders took a transit bus from the resolution and volunteer center at 2666 Riva Road to the transfer station at Spa Road. From there, they split up into small groups, each taking a different route. Some passengers accepted the brochures; others turned them down.

Chanica Massey, a junior at Annapolis High School, said she was shocked that some black people did not want the brochure.

"I learned a lot about people's reactions to something like that," she said.

At stops downtown, the riders got off the bus to walk around City Dock and distribute brochures. One group came across several friends from Washington who were visiting Annapolis. When Leah Pinkney, Massey's classmate, explained the purpose of the brochure, the travelers expressed support.

"I think it was good for me. It helped me talk and open up," Pinkney said.

In honor of the King holiday, the city did not charge bus fares Monday. Each bus had a sticker on a window near the front honoring Rosa Parks, the woman who sparked the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger.

Mauro wants to expand the program statewide. It has been the subject of a proclamation from the governor's Office on Service and Volunteerism and was awarded a $500 state grant to print the brochures, create badges and buy food for the volunteers.

"This is a perfect project, really, because it absolutely goes along with the beliefs of Dr. Martin Luther King and nonviolent resolution," said Debbie Staigerwald, the office's emergency management coordinator.

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