By David Noss
LA PLATA, Md. - According to local officials, "Charles County faces a defining moment." Expansive growth during the past decade has resulted in more homes, businesses, and schools, and a diverse population from various backgrounds, cultures, and religions.
However, the growth and the resulting changes in the community have fostered many new problems. "As we experience the positive aspects of this growth, we also struggle with the negative consequences of intolerance, bigotry, and racism," wrote the County Government in a statement released today.
Racial issues first came to light in Charles County in December 2004 when several local men set thirty-five unoccupied homes ablaze in the upscale Hunters Brooke development. The development was predominantly African-American. Five caucasian men were prosecuted in federal court where racist anger was demonstrated to be the primary motivation for the arson.
Since that time, the area has been plagued with ongoing acts of racial vandalism. Racial slurs and overtones, such as "KKK," have been spray painted on homes, churches, and other buildings. On November 6, 2006, a bomb threat was received at the predominantly African-American Zion Baptist Church in Welcome. While it is not known if the threat was racially motivated, the church was the victim of a hate crime in September. Few arrests have been made in any of the cases.
Charges of discrimination have even touched the county government. In 2005, Pernevlyn C. Coggins filed suit against Frederick E. Davis, former Sheriff of Charles County in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. According to the court documents, "Plaintiff, an African American female who applied for and ultimately was not selected for the position of Systems Administrator with the Charles County Sheriffs Office, brought this action against Frederick E. Davis, Sheriff of Charles County, Maryland, alleging two separate counts of discrimination, based on race and on sex, in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."
In order to address the problems of race and diversity in Charles County, the county government, state delegation, and various community organizations are sponsoring an all-day diversity forum in January. Unity in Our Community: A Call to Action for Charles County will include panel discussions on the Psychology of Diversity/Racism; Laws and Resources, and Demographics/Economics of a Multi-Cultural Community; Keynote Speaker and Expert Forrest Parker on multi-cultural affairs and race relations; and focus groups to provide future direction for Charles County.
Officials hope to highlight the issues, bring public attention to the matter, and discuss ways to solve the problems. "This open forum invites the community to share their perspective and ideas on how Charles County can build a healthier, more tolerant community that appreciates and celebrates diversity," wrote the County Government.
Sponsors of the event include: State Senator Thomas Mac Middleton; Charles County State Delegation; Charles County Commissioners; NAACP Charles County Branch; Charles County Sheriffs Office; Charles County Board of Education; College of Southern Maryland; Ministers Alliance of Charles County; Charles County Chamber of Commerce; Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland; Paula Martino; Serve Associates, Inc.; Beacon Printing; and Commissioner Samuel N. Graves, Jr.
The forum will take place on Saturday, January 20, 2007, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. at the College of Southern Maryland, La Plata Campus, Center for Business and Industry, Room BI-113. The Inclement weather date is Saturday, February 10, 2007.
The forum is free, but space is limited. Lunch will be provided. Registration is required by Friday, January 12, to 301-645-0580 or voehln (at) charlescounty.org.