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Museum founder boosts African-American culture

February 26, 2006|By MARIE GILBERT

marieg@herald-mail.com

As a young man, Ron Lytle always wanted to know where he fit in.

"I was an athlete, but I knew I wasn't going to be a professional boxer or baseball player," Lytle said. "People told me I was too small. But I always thought big. And whatever I grew up to be, I knew I wanted to make a difference."

Today, Lytle is well on his way to achieving that goal.

As founder of the Contemporary School of the Arts and Gallery in downtown Hagerstown, Lytle offers programs that enhance the artistic abilities of young people, provides a venue for area artists to display their work and educates the community about the African-American culture.

"But I always have more goals in mind," he said. "I'm always being inspired."

During February, as part of Black History Month, Lytle has sponsored a series of weekend programs at the gallery spotlighting African-American history and talent that he hopes "inspires the community."

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Christo Johnson, an educator, poet and author, was Saturday afternoon's featured speaker.

A native of Delaware, Johnson is an elementary school teacher in Prince George's County, Md., and is the author of "Tangled Roots, the African-America Dilemma," a book of poetry and prose.

"I never enjoyed writing until the latter days of college," Johnson said. "Whenever I had to write something, I hated it. Then one night, I couldn't sleep and I wrote a two-page poem. Now I love writing. I find it therapeutic."

Many of Johnson's writings deal with the African-American culture and social change, he said.

In his new book, "I try to take history and make it relevant to today," he said.

Topics range from a man's journey on the Underground Railroad to fatherhood and the responsibilities men have to their children.

During his program, Johnson recited excerpts from his book and also discussed African-American culture from slavery to present day.

He focused on the importance of education and, in particular, African-American history, which he said "not only teaches young people about their past, but builds self-esteem and character."

In discussing race and prejudice, Johnson said "people are insensitive to other people. There is little compassion in our world, and that's a problem."

Johnson told the audience that it is easy to identify the problems that are all around us.

"But be the change you wish to see in the world," he said. "If you have a problem with corruption, don't be corrupt. If you have a problem with jealousy, don't be jealous. We all have the power to make a difference. It's important to exercise that power."

Lytle said he has been encouraged by the response he has received to the weekend programs, as well as efforts to make the community aware of the area's black history.

"Locally, we have started an African-American Historical Society in hopes of preserving our landmarks," Lytle said. "We have presented programs at both Bester Elementary School and Eastern Elementary School during Black History Month. And I have worked with the Washington County Free Library to offer programs that spotlight African-American talent."

Lytle said he wants to make these programs ongoing.

"Focusing on black history should be more than just 28 days out of the year," he said.

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