Founding member explains purpose of community group

May 03, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ


A founding member of a community group on Tuesday explained its purpose to the Hagerstown City Council, then invited The Herald-Mail to cover its next meeting.

Dan Kennedy said Building Community has been trying to combat the perception that it's a "secret society" focused on Hagerstown's racism.

The group, which has been quietly examining race and other social issues for several months, on Monday polished a statement of its mission, vision and goals, he said.


Building Community started meeting in September 2005 with guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Stephen Thom, the deputy director of DOJ's Community Relations Service, has said his agency contacted Hagerstown community leaders in April 2005, when people were receiving hateful letters.

A former Hagerstown police officer has been charged with sending hateful and threatening letters and making similar phone calls.

The Community Relations Service tries to be a "'peacemaker' for community conflicts and tensions arising from differences of races, color and national origin," its Web site says.

The group drew criticism from city council members Penny M. Nigh and Kelly S. Cromer during council meetings in April.

Nigh alleged that the group, with DOJ's support, was exaggerating the city's racial problems.

Cromer criticized the group for receiving city money but not widely disclosing its activities. She labeled it a "secret society."

The city spent $367.21 on refreshments, flip charts and markers for the group when it started, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman has said. But, Building Community paid the money back after Cromer questioned the expenditure.

Zimmerman is one of six founding members of the group, according to Kennedy, who is another. The other four are: Dwayne Freeman and Charles Summers of the Hagerstown Police Department; Sam Keyes of Washington County's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and Councilwoman Alesia D. Parson-McBean, Kennedy said.

Kennedy and other Building Community members have said they tried to gain momentum first, so the media were not invited to cover the group.

After meeting with the city council Tuesday, Kennedy invited The Herald-Mail to cover the group's next meeting this month.

He said anyone else who wants to attend can e-mail him at

Building Community got warm praise Tuesday from Councilman Lewis C. Metzner.

"There is nothing but goodness in this group," Metzner said, noting that Kennedy has continued to work for a good cause even after an unsuccessful run for office.

Kennedy ran for council as part of a Republican slate in last year's city election, but lost. Metzner, a Democrat, won re-election.

Nigh reiterated previous skepticism of the group and DOJ, but said she was glad the group's focus has expanded beyond Hagerstown to Washington County.

Cromer emphasized that she doesn't oppose the group, only its stealthy start. She repeated her observations that racism was the only topic she heard at a meeting.

Parson-McBean said racism is not all the group is looking at. She said Building Community expanded its scope beyond what DOJ initially outlined.

Building Community's written goals include:

  • "Explore all issues of prejudice or discrimination, perceived and real, in our city and surrounding community."

  • "Identify the City's and County's strengths and weaknesses concerning integration of diverse groups into our community."

  • "Celebrate the strengths and strengthen the weaknesses within our community."

The group also has consolidated its eight committees into five: media/coverage; government/community relations; communitywide awareness; employment issues and workforce development; and tolerance in schools.

Kennedy said the group is planning to release a more detailed statement about itself to the media in about a week.

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