Bahai News -- The Oregonian - King's letters, words leave lasting imprint

Washington County News

King's letters, words leave lasting imprint

01/17/03

JILL SMITH

Years after studying Martin Luther King Jr. in elementary and middle school, Graham Turner, a senior at Beaverton High School, remembers snippets of speeches given by the famous civil rights leader.

"I know, like, 'My children should be judged on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin,' " he said.

And he remembers King's Gandhi-like approach, which promoted nonviolent but effective ways to change the political system. His admirationfor King is one reason Turner volunteered to be part of a youth choral reading at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Annual Interfaith Celebration in Hillsboro.

It is one of two celebrations being held in Washington County a day before the federal holiday honoring King. The other is sponsored by the city of Beaverton and the Beaverton Baha'i Community.

The interfaith event in Hillsboro is supported by Muslim, Jewish, and Catholic and other Christian organizations, including the First Congregational Church - United Church of Christ in Hillsboro, where it will take place.

Caitlin Brennan, a Beaverton 18-year-old, will be another youth reader. She remembers King's poignant letters written from jail, where he spent time after protesting Jim Crow laws that promoted unequal treatment of blacks and whites.

"After being thrown into jail, to be that eloquent," she said. "And instead of lashing out he created those letters, and they were so powerful and strong, but they weren't offensive."

Bill Christopher, executive dean of Portland Community College's Rock Creek Campus, was chosen as the main speaker, partly to emphasize the importance of education in helping people of different backgrounds and races learn to understand each other, said Diane Dulin, pastor of the First Congregational Church.

Christopher comes from a mixed-race household -- his mother was born in Guatemala -- and grew up in a racially mixed community in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"In my younger years of school I don't remember that it made any difference," he said. "Young children seem to not know about all these differences in language, culture, skin color.

"As I grew older, I watched the community of children separate themselves into like groups."

The racial tensions and misunderstandings among high schoolers showed themselves more openly in Portland this fall during a controversy about whether teachers could effectively navigate the racial issues raised by Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn," which uses racially derogatory language.

Turner said he remembers studying King a lot in elementary and middle school, but not in high school. Still, the early lessons stuck with him.

"The guy had amazing powers," he said. Jill Smith: 503-294-5908; jillsmith@news.oregonian.com

©Copyright 2003, The Oregonian (OR, USA)

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