Belafonte Issues Challenge to Local Lawyers
Reflecting on words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., singer and activist Harry Belafonte looked across a sea of lawyers, judges and politicians gathered in a Greenbelt ballroom Thursday night and said, "In our struggle for integration, we have integrated into a burning house."
Belafonte used his speech at the 30th anniversary celebration of the J. Franklyn Bourne Bar Association of African-American lawyers in Prince George's and Montgomery counties to offer a blistering challenge.
"In your daily lives. you make decisions that affect the lives of the people who come before you," Belafonte said. "But if you look a little deeper in your work, what kind of difference have you really made, when you take a look at what you have impacted on the American community, on the black community?
"Never before have I been before so many rich black people than who sit here now. Never before I have met so many achievers in all walks of life, but yet at the same time we have the largest prison population in the whole world and as a matter of public policy we are building more prisons, we have more cells than we have school rooms.
"What are we telling our young generations to come? We can't give you an afterschool program, we can't give you this, we can't give you that, but we can give you 25 to life."
Even before Belafonte's speech, that message was on the mind of Prince George's Circuit Judge Herman C. Dawson, one of the attendees.
"We can't have 9 out of 10 young men coming through juvenile court and not getting out of the ninth grade," Dawson said after the speech. "We want to call a meeting of all the clergy to address the issue of how we are losing so many young brothers in the community."
Said Belafonte, "We have integrated into a burning house and we have to just become firemen. I think that America is worth saving. I really do."
-- Hamil R. Harris
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