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Jerome Edwards

August 24, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU | kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com
  • Jerome Edwards of Smithsburg reflects on the social change of the last 50 years since the historic March On Washington.
By Joe Crocetta / Staff Photographer

As a teenager in Jamaica, Jerome Edwards thought of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as a hero.

Edwards, a special-education teacher at Williamsport High School, said King’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered Aug. 28, 1963, during the March on Washington still gives him goose bumps.

Edwards’ family immigrated to the United States in 1984, and as he describes it, he had the opportunity to witness the country changing as old racial attitudes crumbled, giving way to a new spirit of inclusiveness.

“So what Dr. King did and the civil-rights movement did was to give me ... the opportunity to even come to this country and become a teacher and be able to marry who I want to marry,” said Edwards, 45.

He was referring to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and another landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1967 that removed the last barrier to interracial marriage in the country.

Edwards, who lives in Smithsburg with his family, said he identifies himself as African-American although he is a descendant of a mixed-race family.

“It is nice to know you can walk anywhere, you can live anywhere,” said Edwards, who has lived in Washington County since 2001. “Today, I’m reaping the benefits of events such as the March on Washington.”

Still, he said, there is work to be done.

Edwards, who graduated from the University of South Florida in Tampa and has a master’s degree in special education from Bowie State University, said he still dreams of the day when the country will be free of all discrimination.

“Maybe that will never happen,” he said. “There are still some people who are trying to realize the dream.”

Some, he said, have been caught in an endless cycle of poverty, while others lack role models.

Edwards said he felt unsettled by the Trayvon Martin case in Florida, where an unarmed black teenager was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a white man. A jury in July found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder.

“You know, it could have been me,” said Edwards, who said he felt Zimmerman judged Martin because he was black and wearing a hoodie.

“You can’t judge a book by the cover,” Edwards said. “We need to have a conversation in society about how we judge other people.”

A recent move in North Carolina requiring government-issued identity cards to vote and a reduction in time for early voting has Edwards worried.

The new law in the state is drawing threats of legal action from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, according to the Associated Press.

“They are making it more difficult to vote,” Edwards said. “It reminds people of the discriminatory days of the  ’60s.”

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