The 10th birthday of the Montgomery County chapter of a national black fraternity last week was occasion for applauding a decade's achievements and for admonishing area blacks that it was time to stop relying on the government. f
"We have an over-reliance on what government is going to do for us. We have to do it for ourselves," said the guest speaker, James R. Williams of Akron, Ohio, national president of Alpha Phi Alpha.
About half of the 300 persons seated before him in the banquet room of the Indian Spring Country Club were members of Montgomery County's Iota Upsilon Lambda chapter of the fraternity. Many of them are teachers, doctors and lawyers, and all of them are active in the county's growing black community.
Chapter president John W. Diggs of Silver Spring, interviewed during the reception before the banquet, cited particular problems blacks have in Montgomery County: the lack of housing for middle-income blacks, the absence of blacks in any policy-making positions in the county and what he feels is the refusal of the school board to pay attention to black needs.
Added to these issues, he said, is a national political climate and an election that are "going to take us back 20 years.
"Unless the black community takes stock and looks ahead, it may take a long time to recover.
"On the other hand, this election could cause us to wake up and realize we can't sit idly by and not get involved. Sometimes people become more involved under adverse conditions," said Diggs, who joined Alpha Phi Alpha in 1954 at Lane College in Jackson, Tenn.
The Iota Upsilon Lambda (IUL) chapter, one of the youngest in the black fraternity founded by a group of Cornell University students in 1906, has given $22,000 worth of educational scholarships since 1973, published two editions of a Montgomery County black business guide, and worked with county organizations to increase black participation in local politics.
IUL, has won outstanding-chapter awards half a dozen times in its short history, for projects such as registering voters, finding summer jobs for youths, sponsoring scholarships and honoring black businessmen.
At the celebration banquet, the fraternity gave its "Many Deed Award" to New Orleans Mayor Ernest N. Morial, who was to have been guest speaker but was unable to attend.The award, which recognizes outstanding leadership and community service, is one of the group's highest. It has been given only twice before -- to Charles H. Wesley, president of Ohio's Central State University and former dean and history professor at Howard University, and postthumously to actor and political activist Paul Robeson.
Among the guests last Friday night were County executive Charles W. Gilchrist and school board member Blair G. Ewing. Calvin Jones, assistant professor of music at the University of the District of Columbia, played "A Time for Love" and "Easy Living" on the trombone, and dancing to disco music lasted until after midnight.
Diggs agreed with keynote speaker Williams that blacks have to fight for their rights across the country, but he added, "Many of the blacks here are not as involved as I think they should be because of their ties with D.C. We're trying to enlighten them to the community here."
He cited the highly publicized recent incident in which Wheaton High Shool assistant principal Sandy McDomald, who fired a gun into a group of students, said the shooting came as a result harassment and vandalism.
"We have many people who have moved into the county and had the same experience (with harassment) as Sandy McDonald," said Diggs.
Highlighting the achievements of black students is one of the chapter's main projects. "We try to give them some degree of recognition in a system where they are largely ignored.
"There was tremendous progress until two years ago. With the (school board's) conservative majority there is almost total lack of communication," Diggs said.
He said he has asked school board members to sit down with him to discuss the needs of black children, but his invitation have been ignored.
"If you look at the discipline rate of black children, the number of expulsions far outnumbers their number in the school system. The percentage of blacks that are placed in slow learners' class outnumbers their percentage in the population. They are disciplined more stringently and teachers are not pulling out the best in black children. Blacks don't feel free to go up to the teacher after class or speak up in class," Diggs said.
Two years ago, despite vigorous protests from black parents, the school board eliminated a requirement that all school employes take a course in black culture. Board president Daryl W. Shaw this fall put on the school board agenda a recommendation that such a mandatory course be reinstituted, but he withdrew the proposal when it became clear that the board majority would not consider it.