The 450-plus people who crowded the Kennett Fire Co. Red Clay Room on Monday morning applauded a Harvard University scholar who demanded a new civil rights movement from the black middle class.
Martin Kilson, the Frank G. Thomson Professor of Government Emeritus at Harvard University, addressed a standing room only crowd at the fifth annual Martin Luther King Jr. CommUnity Breakfast, eliciting periods of applause and verbal affirmations from his audience as he talked.
He said prosperous blacks have an obligation to address poverty.
Kilson cited statistics that show substantial numbers of blacks have risen to executive, managerial, clerical and service jobs since the civil rights movement of the 1960s. "New middle class black Americans are a new social system category," he said.
Still, he added, there are black youths who "wallow in self-imposed ignorance" in what he described as a static stratum of African American households, as well as a 24.5 percent poverty rate among blacks.
The solution, he said, lies in the advice given in a recent New York Times article by columnist Bob Herbert. The piece called for a new civil rights movement to bring about an anti-racist criminal justice system, reforms in education, and social programs to address teenage pregnancy and drug use.
Throughout his speech, he sprinkled in praise for liberal Democratic leaders of the 1960s who funded social programs of health, housing and education. He also hearkened back to his days as an undergraduate student at Lincoln University in Lower Oxford.
The CommUnity breakfast was initiated in 1992 by a committee headed by longtime Kennett Square resident Mabel Thompson. She was on hand -- having traveled to the borough from her present home in suburban Boston -- to deliver the "founder's remarks." On the occasion of the Martin Luther King Jr. birthday holiday, she said that the nation has come a long way toward equality since Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus. Still, she said, war, poverty and racism are still present to be remedied, and that is what King's legacy of hope is about.
Carrie Freeman, executive director of the United Way of Southern Chester County, followed Thompson at the podium and told what the money raised from the breakfast went toward. She said various organizations apply for funding for projects that promote peace and harmony. Since the beginning the breakfasts, $52,000 has been raise and has gone toward such things as scholarships, a bilingual book on housing codes, gardens, anger management courses and the after-school study buddy program.
The Kennett CommUnity Choir, led by Kennett Square Mayor Leon Spencer, provided music, as did Kennett Middle School student DJ Turner, who recently won a music competition at Harlem's Apollo Theatre and also played for a New York Nicks game at Madison Square Garden.
Closing out the program, the scholarship committee handed out applications to people who were interested in obtaining grants for projects they deemed as promoting peace and harmony.