When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stood at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 and spoke of a world where blacks and whites would live in harmony, many communities just a few miles away in Maryland and Virginia were segregated and banned minority families.
There would be sit-ins, prayer rallies and marches called in the name of integration. Then came the court orders, school buses and legislation to bring whites and blacks together. But big jobs, fat paychecks and fine homes did not bring peace between blacks and white.
Now, almost 37 years later, minorities in the Washington area still report examples of discrimination. But among the area's young people, there seems to be hope.
At a Hyattsville middle school, a 12-year-old's painting shows people of all races enjoying a backyard barbecue. At a Chillum recreation center, high school students sing songs of freedom. At a Bowie private school, a 9-year-old dances to teach her peers about other cultures.
"I drew a backyard barbecue with people of all different races," said Valerie Wiest, 12, of College Park, who was one of the first-place winners in this year's Martin Luther King Jr. poster contest sponsored by the Prince George's Human Relations Commission. "They were sharing all meals, and they were happy."
Valerie and six other students from Hyattsville Middle School received awards in the poster contest. Hyattsville Principal Gail Dorsey said, "From the beginning of the school year, we emphasize diversity and learning from everyone else."
Hyattsville Middle School Vice Principal Robynne Prince said the school was a good venue for a discussion on diversity. The school has 610 students. Of these, 71 percent are African American, 16 percent white, 11 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Asian and the rest are children from many nations. On Friday, Dorsey gathered the poster contest winners and several other students in the school's media center for a frank discussion about race that included herself.
"In 1970, I was sent to desegregate a school in Suffolk, Virginia. Then I married a black man, and my family disowned me," said Dorsey, who is white. Amanda Brosch, 12, who is white and lives in University Park, said many children like to meet people of other races, but, "because of influence from parents and grandparents," they are discouraged. Donald Boone, 13, a black student from Seat Pleasant, said the races can't get along because blacks and whites can't forget the pain of what they have gone through in the past.
Justine McNeilly, 14, a white girl from University Park, said: "Some [black] girl pushed me and said, 'I hate white people,' and I said, 'I didn't chain your people up.' It hurts. It's scary."
Andrian Young, 14, a black teenager from Mount Rainer, said: "A lot of black people should just put race aside and get over it. It's the new millennium, and it's time we start off the year right."
After the discussion, the students went to the school cafeteria and worked on a mural that reflects the school's theme, "Unity Through Diversity." The painting showed students of various races in activities that showed them caring, trusting and respecting each other.
As the students worked on the mural, their art teacher, Janice Gault, of Temple Hills, said, "I love watching all of them work together."
The Rollingcrest-Chillum Community Center in Chillum was filled with gospel music last Friday as the center's recreation council honored King with a musical celebration that featured the Northwestern High School choir, harpist Kim Randolph and other performers.
"Young people don't know about the legacy of Dr. King and what the dream meant to us all," said Melvin Colbert, the center's assistant director. "Thirty years ago, the suburbs were not opened to African Americans, and to have a facility like Rollingcrest was a dream."
"People need to understand what the struggle was to get to this point," Colbert said. "The recreation council, a group of community residents, was directly responsible for this building being here."
When it comes to civil rights leaders, 65-pound Veena Meer, of Bowie, is not exactly cast in the same mold as Martin Luther King Jr. But Jan. 3, the 9-year-old student at Holy Trinity Episcopal Day School in Bowie taught her schoolmates some new moves.
"Dance is a form of expression, and a lot of people from different cultures don't know about it," said Veena, who dressed up and performed dances of Africa, India, Indonesia and Native America.
Peggy Reiber, principal of Trinity Episcopal Day School, said: "Our whole school philosophy is to be inclusive. There is never a question as to your culture. It is just accepted and respected."
Veena's family immigrated to the United States from India. Her father, Abdulla, came in the 1970s, and her mother, Aziza, came in the '80s.
Aziza Meer said it is important for Veena and her other child, Zarina, 5, to learn about other cultures. "When you know about different cultures, you know about a different walk of life."
CAPTION: Veena Meer, 9, pauses while performing dances from different cultures at Holy Trinity Episcopal Day School in Bowie.
CAPTION: Above, students work on a mural about diversity during their lunch break at Hyattsville Middle School. Left, William H. Hymes Sr. talks about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at Rollingcrest-Chillum Community Center in Chillum.