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Scores attend King convocation

January 20, 1997

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer, Charles Town

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Before he took part in a multicultural program, Anthony Washington said he would pass other students at Shepherd College without acknowledging them.

The nursing major, who is black, was put together in a room with about two dozen other students at the Multicultural Leadership Retreat where they had to look at who they were and discuss racial issues.

"We put to rest a lot of myths, a lot of lies, and a lot of stereotypes," said Washington.

"It's funny how God forces us to live by his rules," Washington said. "One of his rules is that we must not only love him. We must love others as we love ourselves."

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Washington and others spoke Monday night at the 10th annual public convocation honoring Martin Luther King Jr. at St. Peters Lutheran Church in Shepherdstown.

About 170 people packed the pews of the church located in the center of the college town.

The crowd, made up of ministers who remember listening to King's speeches in the 1960s and college students not yet born when the civil rights leader was slain in 1968, marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a program of music, scripture lessons, speeches, cookies and coffee.

Speakers included four winners of the Multicultural Leadership Scholarship, a program aimed at improving race relations and enhancing cultural diversity by bringing together students of different races and backgrounds. The scholarship is funded by Shepherd College, the Shepherdstown Ministerial Association, the Black Clergy Fellowship of Jefferson County and the Shepherd College Foundation.

Monday night's keynote speaker, Martinsburg attorney Keith Wheaton, praised the multicultural program.

"This is what this state needs," Wheaton said. "This is what the community needs. This is what the world needs."

Wheaton said much more needs to be done before King's dream of racial equality is reached.

Wheaton said he listened to a broadcast of President Clinton's inaugural address as Clinton spoke of building a bridge to the 21st century.

"Before we build that bridge, let's take care of a little business we still have here in the 20th century," Wheaton said.

Wheaton said racial problems in 1996 made it at times seem like 1963. Some of the events he pointed out: how an all-white jury acquitted Pittsburgh police officers of choking to death a black motorist, the racially segregated employee locker rooms and parking lots at Giant Foods, and racist fliers posted at a Tennessee high school.

"I think Dr. King faced some of these same problems," Wheaton said.

Wheaton said there is an effort in Congress and the courts to weaken civil rights legislation.

He saved his harshest criticism for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who is black.

"He's rolled back some of the same affirmative action programs that he benefited from," Wheaton said.

The right-wing U.S. Supreme Court has shown it is out of touch by ending affirmative action programs with rulings saying they are no longer needed.

"The Supreme Court should take a look at what is really happening out there," Wheaton said. "(Thomas) seems to have forgotten from where he came."

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