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County Commissioners should visit MLK Center

April 29, 2006|By Andy Smith

Washington County Commissioner John Munson should have talked with tenants who use the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center before suggesting that the county either sell or give away the building.

The Herald-Mail newspaper reported that Munson had issues with the county budget, including funding to help maintain the building. The commissioner is questioning why the county is paying for the upkeep of the Martin Luther King Center. He believes the county does not use the building, when in fact the county does use it as a warehouse to store office equipment and furniture.

Commissioner Munson seems to wonder if the building is a lemon because the county offered to give the building away. Anyone who thinks the center is a lemon is insensitive to the community that uses the facility.

Some people in this area are aware of the significance of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, and there are those who understand that the center is a place for all people, not just those in the predominantly black neighborhood.

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I cannot speak for the preschool program in the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center that brings millions of dollars into Washington County to serve our children's educational needs. I cannot speak on behalf of the C-SAFE program in the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center. C-SAFE deals with numerous organizations working to lower the impact of crime in our communities, including the threat of our children being recruited into deadly gang activity. Children In Need's name speaks for itself as to whom it serves from the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center.

What I can tell you about is Brothers United Who Dare To Care, in the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center. We have been serving the community since 1996, after the crack cocaine plague almost devastated the neighborhood where the center is located.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Center has given us a strategic advantage of being in a location that carries great significance and historic value. It is the former North Street School, once attended by most of the parents and grandparents of black folks from this town.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center is the meeting point and location for most programs that reach out to the blacks in this area. While the Jonathan Street neighborhood cannot represent the 12,000 blacks in Washington County, the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center is a starting point to reach those blacks.

Our office works to facilitate that outreach to blacks and other minorities. Our organization has developed the only minority affairs office in Washington County working to promote racial, gender and religious tolerance. Our minority affairs office offers diversity training and works to resolve discrimination grievances.

We have a Minority Affairs Team of black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American Indian representatives that deals with health, education, employment, housing, home ownership and business ownership, as well as racial disparities and social-justice issues.

For several years our office has served as the Minority Outreach and Technical Assistance (MOTA) office in Washington County for Maryland's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

We also have a Community Outreach Team that has increased the opportunities for other organizations working to promote diversity and reduce minority disparities. Our Minority Affairs and Community Outreach teams lead panel discussions and give training that increases diversity education and tolerance.

I hope that matters to Commissioner Munson.

Commissioner Greg Snook said the county offered to give the building away free and pay a group to take it. Our group, under my administration, would like an opportunity to go over such an offer in detail.

Until such a time, consider this an open invitation to County Commissioner John Munson and the other County Commissioners to please come and visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center and the programs that benefit from the county covering the cost of maintaining the center.

Andy Smith is director of Brothers United Who Dare to Care.

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