When Martin Luther King Jr. CommUnity Breakfast speaker Martin Kilson called for a civil rights renaissance movement to address the ills of black culture, he was "speaking to the choir" in Kennett Square. Throughout his talk, he received applause and nods of agreement.
The prolific author and Frank G. Thomson Professor of Government Emeritus at Harvard University told a standing-room-only crowd at the Kennett Fire Co. Red Clay Room on Monday that 40 years after the initial civil rights movement began in the south, there are still "black youth wallowing in self-imposed ignorance," as well as a 24.5 percent black poverty rate.
As a remedy, he called for three things: an anti-racist criminal justice movement, an educational reform spreading attitudes favorable to learning, and a black civil society enhancements to address high teenage pregnancy and drug use rates.
His goals are worthy and his suggestions sound. But we hope Mr. Kilson was talking sociological challenges in general rather than Kennett Square and other towns like it in particular.
n He asked for an anti-racist criminal justice system.
Based on what we've seen, the borough and its surrounding area, can brag of a compassionate police and court system. The local cops bend over backwards to help people of all races, and they respond to calls without regard to the color of callers' skin. Mayor Leon Spencer, who is in charge of the police department, is himself black, and the force includes members who are black and Latino.
n Mr. Kilson said the schools need educational reform so that a positive attitude of learning can be passed on to minority youth. We hope he's heard about the extended network of educational enhancement that exists in Kennett, including After-the-Bell, Study Buddies, the library literacy program, various church tutoring programs, a wide array of support groups for Latino youth and teachers of all skin shades. The local school system once had segregated classes and issued second-class materials to its minority students. That practice was stopped more than 40 years ago, and now anyone -- black, white or brown -- can get a good education here.
Mr. Kilson must also remember that a major part of education has its roots in family attitudes, not just the school.
n The target of Mr. Kilson's third point was teenage drug use and pregnancies. And yet, the very criminal justice system that he seeks to reform in his first point is working day and night to round up drug dealers and change youthful attitudes toward addiction. Every week, local police officers go into the schools teaching the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program and form positive relationships with students. At the enforcement level, local cops work with state police and undercover agents to attack drugs and stem the tide of distribution. As for pregnancy, Planned Parenthood is active and well-funded in the area. Anyone who wants contraceptive materials can get them -- or they can even choose chastity.
We applaud Mr. Kilson for his insight and wisdom. But we hope the guests at the Martin Luther King breakfast did not take his comments as a cause for self-flagellation, because, to tell the truth, Kennett Square is doing pretty well by all of its races.