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Ideas for taking race relations in U.S. to the next level

February 07, 2007|by BOB MAGINNIS

On Jan. 17, I announced one of our periodic letter-writing contests, asking what I felt was an appropriate topic for Black History Month: What would take race relations in the U.S. to the next level?

Even as I wrote the column, I wondered whether it was appropriate to offer a prize for writers' thoughts on such a serious topic.

I decided to go ahead anyway, giving writers the option of taking the $25 prize as a donation to their favorite charity.

Two writers responded - Jonathan Burrs and Karlen Keto - and their letters appear elsewhere on this page. Burrs' original was almost 700 words and has been edited for publication.

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Burrs' full text appears on The Herald-Mail's Web site under "Latest letters," but if you don't have Internet access and want a copy, contact me and I'll send you one.

Burrs has some interesting thoughts and I would welcome some reader responses, though I hope that those who reply concentrate on something other than his criticism of those who fly the Confederate flag.

Whatever historical significance the flag has, the banner has been hijacked by a variety of white supremacists, gang members and people who wave it just to tick off their neighbors.

It is the same thing that happened with the swastika, which had been used in various cultures for 3,000 years as a symbol for the sun or good luck.

But its use in Nazi Germany during World War II has now made it a symbol of hate.

Burrs' best idea is to offer educational benefits to those who can prove through genealogical research that they are the descendants of slaves.

The expected counter-argument to this is that the crime of slavery was committed by people who are long dead. Why, some will say, should today's Americans have to pay in any fashion for a crime they had no hand in committing?

Here is my thought: My own great-grandparents arrived in the U.S. from Germany and Ireland long after the abolition of slavery.

But I can't kid myself and say that I would always have been treated as well as I have been if I had been an African-American.

When I was in my early teens, black people still did not have full access to housing, employment and educational opportunities. Because I was Caucasian, as a child I never had to think about race and what that meant.

Finally, can working to create a more educated population ever be a bad thing?

Those are my thoughts. Please share yours if the spirit moves you. And please remember that it is not enough to say that an idea won't work. As I have said on this page many times, if you say "no" to one thing, you have to say "yes" to something else.

Mr. Burrs, please contact me and I'll get you your prize.

I had a call this week from a reader who had seen my Sunday column about Siriki Diabate, a refugee form the Ivory Coast who was forced to leave that country because of his work as a journalist.

It would be nice, he said, if there were some way to meet new arrivals from other countries in a public setting to welcome them to the area and to get to know them well enough so that one could greet them on the street.

It's a good idea and similar to what the Interfaith Coalition of Washington County has done with those of different faiths, some of whom were born in other countries with different cultural traditions.

The coalition has held a variety of sessions during which local people of many faiths have not only heard religious leaders speak, but also have been able to speak one-to-one about their beliefs.

As it happens, the coalition will be holding another series of programs in March on marriages in which the two parties are of different faiths.

Titled "Interreligious Marriage: Blessings Amid the Challenges," the sessions will be held on four Mondays in March at St. Ann Catholic Church at 1525 Oak Hill Ave. in Hagerstown.

The dates are March 5, 12, 19 and 26 and the programs will run from 7 to 9 p.m.

The programs are being offered in conjunction with the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington and topics covered will include, among others: Communication, raising children and accommodating a marriage partner's prayer and worship schedule.

If you have questions, please contact Pastor Ed Poling of the Hagerstown Church of the Brethren by calling 301-733-3565 or by e-mail at elpoling@cs.com.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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