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A soldier for her cause

February 08, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

Editor's Note: This is the second of a five-part series featuring black men and women who are making a difference in their communities.




martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Growing up in a time before school integration, Rosabell Roman sometimes would wander down to Martinsburg High School, where disparities were obvious.

White students received accolades and scholarships.

"The black kids never got any awards," said Roman, who now serves as the chair of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Scholarship Committee.

Under the program, scholarships are awarded to students of all races, although half must be given to minority students. More than 120 scholarships have been given out since the program began in 1981.

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Roman, 76, has been active with the program since its beginning. Along with awarding scholarships, committee members also organize a banquet every year to honor King.

In order to qualify for a scholarship, students in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties must have a minimum 2.5 GPA and be considered low-income. Applicants also must be interviewed and write an essay on King.

Each student who is awarded a scholarship receives $1,000, which is sent directly to his or her college or university of choice. All of the money is raised through contributions.

Many students have used the money to attend in-state schools, but others have gone to Virginia Tech, Washington and Lee University, Carnegie Mellon University, City College of New York and Columbus College of Art & Design.

During her life, Roman has witnessed monumental events in American history.

She was on her back porch in Martinsburg on April 4, 1968, the day King was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn. She remembers hearing someone shout the news and running inside to turn on her television. "It was a sad day for the whole world," she said.

"I love Dr. King. He had a vision," she said. "I always think about things that he talked about, kids that need education."

Roman tries to help others to ensure her life has not been lived in vain - something King taught.

As a child, Roman had to walk to her all-black school, no matter what the weather was like. Sometimes, she and her friends would walk past school buses that picked up white students at home and dropped them off at school.

Black students trudged on.

"We got the same education that they did," Roman said.

Roman attended a former school that is now called The Ramer Center on Martin Street. She said it was a wonderful school with a family atmosphere. Some cried when they were forced to integrate into white schools, she said.

Work still remains in the fight for equality, she said.

"Not everything has changed. We hang in there and do whatever we can to make things better," she said. "There's a lot of hidden racism. I know it's out there. I don't know how to put it into words."

As for the biggest challenge facing black people today, Roman prefaced her remarks by noting that she is not a politician. However, she said the country needs people who will run government in a way that makes it better for all races and so everyone can live together peacefully.

"I know there are things that can be done to make life even better than it is," she said.

Not one to complain, Roman said she has lived a blessed life. A widow now, she and her husband had six children. She now is a great-grandmother.

Roman has worked for the Salvation Army and Red Cross. She participated in a nutrition program in which she taught low-income women how to prepare nutritious meals. Several years ago, she was named the Berkeley County Citizen of the Year.

As she and others on the committee grow older, Roman wonders how much longer the current scholarship and banquet program will be in place.

"We're going to keep it going as long as we can. Right now, we're really doing it for the community," she said. Hundreds attend the banquet each year.

Should the current program end, Roman said she hopes another organization will take over giving out scholarships and wants churches to continue holding a service in memory of King.

"He needs never to be forgotten," she said.

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