In King's Spirit, Race Is the Topic

By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 24, 2008

In churches, ballrooms and venues across Prince George's County, the holiday Monday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. provided an opportunity to talk about race relations and the challenges ahead to realize King's dream.

County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey (D) and Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) were among the more than 1,300 people who took part in a town hall-style meeting, "Race, Creed, Color: What Happened to Race Relations," at First Baptist Church of Glenarden.

Johnson said it was good that people from many races took part in the dialogue.

"I think the understanding is that we have to talk to each other and understand who we are," he said. "You can't do anything until you understand who you are and then work in the larger context."

Angela Arboleda, director of civil rights and criminal justice for the National Council of La Raza, a District-based civil rights group, fielded questions about perceived growing tensions between blacks and Latinos.

"Coming together today, especially on King's birthday, is a good sign, but we have to do more of these forums more often," Arboleda said. "We need to bring Latinos and African Americans together, and we need to talk about our notion of hope as we grow together, because unless we talk about hope, the alternative is being divided and having hate crimes with one another."

The event, sponsored by WHUR (96.3 FM), featured speakers from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow, a Howard University professor and Georgetown University's NAACP chapter.

Earlier in the day, hundreds attended a prayer breakfast in New Carrollton, sponsored by the Ebony Scholarship Society. There, Cain Hope Felder, a Howard professor of divinity, said it is time for people to change their mindset about how to best honor King. Instead of just remembering and reflecting, Felder asked, "Why don't you be the next Martin Luther King?"

"If you can't get up and say every day, 'What can I do to make people's lives better, what can I do to make my community better,' it doesn't mean much," Donna Edwards, a county lawyer and congressional candidate, said at the breakfast. "I have benefited so much from the civil rights movement, and I have an obligation to give it back."

King was also on the mind of John Ford, a 43-year-old homeless man who was reading a newspaper on top of a trash can outside a Shoppers Food Warehouse in New Carrollton. Many people have forgotten King's legacy of helping those less fortunate, he said.

"Being homeless is a hard thing to get over," Ford said. "A lot of people out here don't understand. I have people come out and look at me like I am a brick on a wall. I say something to them, and they turn around and look the other the way."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company