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NAACP holds family picnic at Wheaton Park

July 05, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN

Though the pavilion was only half full, a participant at a NAACP Independence Day picnic expressed optimism in the quest for racial equality.

"This is about rights for everybody, and people need to know that. They need to be in an organization that's about equal rights for everybody," said Leonard Cooper of Hagerstown.

According to local NAACP President Samuel Key, between 50 and 60 people had turned out by 3 p.m. Tuesday for the organization's first family picnic at Wheaton Park. Of the 150-some members in the Tri-State chapter, Key said about 15 or 20 are white.

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In his "60-plus" years, Key, of Hagerstown, said he has witnessed both progress and disappointments in the push for racial harmony.

As president, he said he is focused on educational issues. He said he also wants to lobby for sensitivity training for police and affordable housing.

"It seems like we, as African-Americans, we're still at the bottom rung," he said.

Decked out in a neon green shirt and pants, Cooper smiled as he watched children play in the park. Regardless of race, most people's concerns for their children, jobs and families are the same, Cooper said.

"Whites and blacks are coming together ... slowly," he said.

Though he acknowledged that organizations like the Ku Klux Klan still attract some members, Cooper said he believes they are slowly being pushed aside.

"We can squeeze them out ... by being nice. All the niceness and all the good things will squeeze them out, and they'll be out there by themselves, looking like idiots," Cooper said.

The NAACP is a "good cause," said Martrice McCall, who watched as a group of teenage boys played cards. One held a basketball between his knees; another palmed a football.

Martrice, a 16-year-old North Hagerstown High School student, said she became a youth member of the NAACP two years ago to get involved in the community.

Martrice's aunt, Marcia Saunders, 49, of Hagerstown, said she, too, wanted to help the community. She joined the NAACP more than 10 years ago, she said.

Saunders, the local organization's treasurer, said she is concerned about education, and she wants to help high school students realized they need more than a diploma to succeed.

"I want to see them further their education. I don't want to see them on the corner, trying to make an easy dollar selling drugs or getting involved in drugs," Saunders said.

As a barber, Cooper, 67, said he has gotten to know many people in town, and he believes most people want the same things out of life. Immigrants and minorities are no different, he said.

"They're trying to do the same things you're doing, and that is living," Cooper said.

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