Dr. King's message still shaping local students
by Rick Allen
For the most part, we live his dream.
It was this dream of racial harmony and the fulfillment of the promise that was the United States that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. laid out on a sunny August day in Washington, D.C.
About a quarter-million people stood listening in rapt attention or sat soaking their feet in the reflecting pool on the National Mall. For 17 minutes he spoke on the steps of the memorial honoring President Abraham Lincoln, who 100 years earlier secured the Emancipation Proclamation.
On that day 50 years ago, King, a Baptist minister from Georgia, extolled his dream of harmony and acceptance for all the people in this land.
"I thank him for making this country different, for unseparating blacks and whites," said Christopher McKinstry, a fourth-grader at St. John Lutheran School in Ocala.
He and his fellow classmates in Francesca Knutson's fourth-grade class were making "peace posters" to spread around the school to remind the 360 St. John students of Dr. King's impact on their lives. The posters, said classmate Sarah Milbrandt, "are for each classroom, to show that we care and we're all equal."
The fliers, many bearing the students' "dream wishes," are but one way King's legacy is entwined in daily education. Another is a timeline of King's accomplishments that St. John sophomores Seth Wiles and Jamie Daw in Teddy Lausier's history club put together.
In general, at St. John as well as at most schools in Marion County, the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a sense of history and aspiration, guidelines of the soul to live by.
Typically, there's no specific King curriculum.
"As long as they are addressing statewide standards, teachers have the flexibility in how they present Dr. King," said Dr. Diana Greene, principal at Fessenden Elementary; until recently, she was deputy superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Marion County Schools.
"The character of Dr. King," she emphasized, "is exhibited daily, not just in January, the month of his birth."
The 9- and 10-year-olds in Knutson's class took a few moments with a visitor recently to reflect on what they know about the venerated civil rights leader.
"I learned that anyone can make a difference," said Emma Argus. "I'm glad he was alive and could make that speech. If not, we would probably still be segregated."
King's Dream speech "changed my point of view," said Tanner Kana. "Now I look at everyone equally; African-American, Native American, we're all equal."
Knutson said she showed YouTube videos of the speech and the March on Washington to her students. "When they saw the speech, they saw the crowd," she said. "And they saw the crowd was diverse, working together."
The principles of King's movement track the core values taught at St. John, said principal Jeff Knutson.
"Diversity in the student body is very important to me," he said. "We're a Christian school and we believe and teach that all individuals are equal in the eyes of God and man."
In Summerfield, students and teachers at Lake Weir Middle School already are gearing up for their annual Black History Month festivities next month, which include a student talent show and a visit from Daniel Keel, a Tuskegee Airman in World War II.
Much of King's legacy is the undercurrent in the month-long celebration, said principal Kathy Quelland. "His legacy is huge, but there are many other African-Americans" influential in American black history.
The theme this year is "Celebrate the Legacy and Shaping the Future," said Star Scott, a culinary teacher and coordinator of the activities. "It's very important we find time to fit this in," she said. "It's not just black history, this is American history."
It has been this way for years at the school with 1,275 students 40 percent of whom are black, Hispanic or multi-racial and who hail from Silver Springs Shores and all around Lake Weir down to Umatilla.
"He helped everybody come a little bit closer," said Anthony Aldret in Toris Rutledge's eighth-grade study hall. "We're not separated anymore; nobody around here hates us."
Arianna Hannah said she has a special reason to be grateful. "I'm mixed," she said. "I probably wouldn't be here."
And Schyler Felder linked King to the Bible story of the Good Samaritan. "He taught us to help each other," she said. "Instead of asking what can this do to help me, ask what can this do to help (our) fellow man?"
"And if not for him, we wouldn't have Mr. Rutledge," piped in Daniel Snoddy. The class chuckled; Rutledge smiled.
Across campus in Steven Shaw's Physical Science class, eighth-grader Antonio Gibbs said, "Martin Luther King's legacy is standing up for others, making everyone feel they're worth something."
And paraphrasing a passage from King's Dream speech, Landon Williams added, "No matter what your race or whether you're gay or straight, you should not be judged for what you are. He taught us to speak up for what you believe in."
Up at Fessenden, an elementary school northwest of Ocala with its own rich culture of black history, teachers have been explaining to their students "why they're getting the day off Monday," Dr. Greene said. Monday is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday and schools are closed.
"We have to continue to stress to our children what he's done for our country," she added, "for them to be able to come to school. Marion County has worked hard and I hope it will continue to do so to present the values that Dr. King represents in our schools."
Northeast Ohio follows President's lead on National Service Day
by James Ewinger
Many fanned out across Northeast Ohio Saturday to honor President Barack Obama's second inauguration -- replacing pomp and glamour with sweat, toil and service to others.
They followed the president's call for a National Service Day. It is something that began with Obama's first inauguration in 2009, and one he hopes other presidents will embrace.
There were about 25 venues within a 45-mile radius around Cleveland, ranging from reading to kids, to painting and cleaning multi-service centers.
One of the earliest events saw volunteers bring the warmth of human companionship to seven developmentally disabled residents at the Hattie Larlham Foundation in Mantua.
Most of the volunteers were from Cleveland Heights. The agency's residents ranged in age for 12 to 25 years old. The objective was for a volunteer to pair with a resident to build paper snowmen.
Debbie Davison of Ravenna said she volunteered simply because her daughter has done the same thing at Hattie Larlham. The contingent from Cleveland Heights followed the lead of Katie Chapman who formerly worked at the pediatric unit at MetroHealth Medical Center.
The foundation takes its name from a local nurse who founded the private nonprofit in 1963 to care for children and adults with developmental disabilities. It has grown into a diverse organization providing a variety of services through centers around the region.
A more complex operation occurred Saturday afternoon at the Word of Righteousness Family Life Center, housed in a former Garfield Heights elementary school.
Around 15 people representing different groups with different motives began a repainting project that will run at least five more days.
HandsOn Northeast Ohio and it executive director, Jeff Griffiths, led the project.
It was a natural for HandsOn, which describes itself as a nonprofit volunteer-action center serving the region.
Griffiths, who founded HandsOn in 2007, invoked another American leader who did as much as the president to inspire the National Service Day.
"This is a way of reminding people of the ethic of service that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had," he said. HandsOn hopes to use the event "as a springboard to encourage volunteering all year long." (This year the inauguration and MLK Day overlap).
"Everyone has the power to positively effect their community," Griffiths said.
Two members of the crew who do just that by working with HandsOn throughout the year are Stacey and Eric Blegen of North Olmsted.
Six members of the New Jersey-based International Leadership Training Program were also part of the crew.
LaVera Wingfield of Shaker Heights worked on both of Obama's presidential campaigns and responded to an email from his inauguration committee to get involved on National Service day, just as she did in 2009.
As the volunteers washed down walls and masked off areas that were to go unpainted. Griffiths circulated and demonstrated the finer points of painting with a roller. "We want it to be perfect," he said. "Paint like it's your house."
HandsOn's association with the family center goes much deeper than keeping the facilities in trim. Alicia Lyttle, the center's president, CEO and founder, said HandsOn also staffs food giveaways that the center has on the first Saturday of every month.
She said the center is a non-denominational church, that also provides myriad services to residents of Garfield Heights and surrounding communities, including child care and food, utility and housing assistance.
Ohio to launch arson regisry
by Rick Armon
Ohio is launching a statewide registry this year to keep track of convicted arsonists.
Arsonists just like sex offenders will be required to register annually with the county sheriff where they live under a law that takes effect July 1.
This will get the arson investigators on the doorsteps of people who are likely culprits of repeated crimes much more quickly and will help save lives, said state Sen. Tim Schaffer, R-Lancaster, who sponsored the legislation.
The list, being created and maintained by the Ohio Attorney General's Office, will be available only to law enforcement and not the general public. Ohio joins other states such as California and Montana with a statewide registry.
Arson is a major problem in Ohio. The FBI reported that there were 2,850 arson incidents in the state in 2010, the Ohio Legislative Service Commission said.
It's unclear how many convicted arsonists live in Ohio. Attorney general spokesman Dan Tierney said more than 500 people are convicted of arson crimes each year.
This month, there were 315 men and women serving time in state prisons for aggravated arson, attempted aggravated arson or arson.
Under the new law, anyone convicted of an arson crime after July 1 or who is serving time in jail or prison for arson on that date must register.
Convicted arsonists are required to pay a $50 registration fee and a $25 annual fee after that to help maintain the registry.
Anyone who fails to register could be charged with a fifth-degree felony.
Lt. Robert Wroblewski with the Akron Fire Investigation Unit said the registry will be a good tool for investigators.
Fire is just as deadly a weapon as a gun is, he said.
Arson isn't an easy crime to prove, he added.
You have to be able to take the physical evidence and re-create what happened and determine the origin and cause, and then you have to prove that there is a malicious intention to set the fire or cause the fire to happen, and then identify who's responsible, Wroblewski said.
Akron fire investigators looked into 298 fires in 2011 the latest year that statistics were available and determined that 108 of them were intentionally set.
From the White House
Now Is The Time to Take Action Against Gun Violence
Hi, everybody. This week, I announced a series of concrete steps we should take to protect our children and our communities from gun violence.
These proposals grew out of meetings Vice President Biden and his task force held over the last month with more than 200 different groups from parents and teachers; to law enforcement and sportsmen; to religious leaders and mental health professionals.
And in the weeks ahead, I will do everything in my power to make them a reality. Because while we may not be able to prevent every senseless act of violence in this country, if there is even one thing we can do to reduce it if even one life can be saved we've got an obligation to try.
My administration is taking a series of actions right away from strengthening our background check system, to helping schools hire more resource officers if they want them, to directing the Centers for Disease Control to study the best ways to reduce gun violence.
But the truth is, making a real and lasting difference also requires Congress to act and act soon.
First, it's time for Congress to require a universal background check for anyone trying to buy a gun. The law already requires licensed gun dealers to perform these checks, but as many as 40% of all gun purchases are conducted without one. That's not safe, it's not smart, and it's not fair to responsible gun buyers or sellers. An overwhelming majority of Americans agree that anyone trying to buy a gun should at least have to prove they're not a felon, or someone legally prohibited from owning one. That's just common sense.
Second, Congress should restore a ban on military-style assault weapons, and a 10-round limit for magazines. Many assault rifles, when combined with high-capacity magazines, have one purpose and one purpose only: to fire as many bullets as possible as quickly as possible. These weapons have no place in our communities. And a majority of the American people agree with me.
Finally, Congress needs to make it easier, rather than harder, for law enforcement to do its job. We should get tougher on people who buy guns only to turn around and sell them to criminals. And at a time when many communities have been forced to make cuts to their police force, we should put more cops back on the job and back on the street.
Like most Americans, I believe the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. We have a strong tradition of gun ownership in this country, and the vast majority of gun owners act responsibly.
But I also believe most gun owners agree that we can respect the Second Amendment while keeping an irresponsible, law-breaking few from causing harm on a massive scale. That's what these reforms are designed to do.
None of this will be easy. Already, we're seeing pundits, politicians, and special-interest lobbyists calling any attempt at commonsense reform an all-out assault on liberty not because that's true, but because that's how they get higher ratings and make more money. And behind the scenes, they're doing everything they can to protect the status quo.
But this time, it can't be up to them. It's got to be up to you. If, like me, you want this time to be different, then I need your help to make it different. Ask your Member of Congress if they support universal background checks and renewing a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. And if the answer is no, ask them why not. Ask them why an A-grade from the gun lobby is more important than keeping kids safe in a first grade classroom.
Since the tragedy in Newtown, I've gotten letters from all over the country including many from our young people. One of them was from 8-year-old Rachel, who lives in Brooklyn, New York. She wrote: Please do something so that bad people cannot get guns to kill other people. Children should be safe, especially in school.
Rachel is counting on us. Let's get this done for her, and let's make this country a safer place for all our children to learn and grow.
Thanks, and have a great weekend.
Attorney General Eric Holder at the U.S. Conference of Mayors Crime and Social Justice Committee Meeting
From the Department of Justice
Washington, D.C. ~ Friday, January 18, 2013
Thank you, Mayor Parker, for those kind words and good afternoon, everyone. It's a pleasure to be here today, and a privilege to be included, once again, in this annual forum. I'd like to recognize Mayor Nutter, along with the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Executive Committee and staff, for all they've done to make this year's Winter Meeting such a success. And I'd like to thank every member of the Criminal and Social Justice Committee for the opportunity to take part in this important session.
For more than eight decades, this organization has brought together dozens of our nation's best and brightest public servants to share ideas and expertise; to discuss mutual concerns; and to formulate the policy solutions that our cities, communities, and citizens deserve. Over the years, I've had the chance to work with many of you to address some of the most complex and intractable public safety challenges we face. It's an honor to join Vice President Biden, Administrator Pistole, and other leaders from across the Administration in continuing our work this week and adding my voice to this critical dialogue. And I'm particularly grateful for this opportunity to thank each of you for your service, your leadership, and your partnership with one another; with key federal, state, local, and tribal leaders; and especially with the United States Department of Justice.
Every day, America's mayors stand on the front lines of our fight against terrorism, crime, and threats to the most vulnerable members of society. Your engagement is essential in protecting our citizens from harm, guarding against civil rights violations, and combating the gun-, gang-, and drug-fueled violence that steals too many promising futures. You understand exactly what we're up against not only because you hear the alarming statistics and read the news stories, but because you see it, firsthand, on a daily basis. Most importantly, you recognize, as I do, that no public safety challenge can be understood in isolation and that none of us can make the progress we need, and secure the results our communities deserve, on our own.
This is particularly true when it comes to gun violence an issue that, in one way or another, has touched every city and town represented here and about which many of you have long been passionate advocates. On a number of occasions, the leaders in this room have joined with the Justice Department to support law enforcement and strengthen anti-violence initiatives. Especially in recent weeks as our nation has come together in the wake of last month's horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut you've heard from your citizens and colleagues. You've built a broad, bipartisan consensus on the need to protect the most vulnerable among us our children. And many of you are helping to lead efforts to heed, and to honor, the lessons of Sandy Hook Elementary School and the realization that unacceptable levels of gun violence plague our cities and towns every day.
This unspeakable tragedy, and the individual tragedies that take place on your streets all too often and all too often unnoticed, stand as stark reminders of our shared responsibility to address not just the epidemic of gun-related crimes, and the ongoing need for vigorous enforcement of our laws but also the underlying conditions that give rise to gun violence. Throughout our history, the overwhelming majority of American gun owners have been responsible, law-abiding citizens. Yet we've repeatedly seen in the most tragic ways how easy it can be for dangerous people to acquire, and wreak havoc with, deadly weapons.
Although there's no single solution that can bring a decisive end to this senseless violence, it's incumbent upon each of us to try. And it's time to consider what common-sense steps we can take together to save lives.
This means doing everything we can to secure the tools and resources we need to keep guns out of the hands of those who are not and should not be allowed to possess them. It means taking action to ensure that, while our Second Amendment rights are upheld, we have the means to prosecute effectively those who use firearms to commit acts of violence. And it means summoning the courage to confront even the most difficult, enduring and pervasive national challenges.
I know many of you participated in yesterday's session with Vice President Biden, in which he discussed the Administration's efforts to combat gun violence and the concrete, common-sense recommendations that President Obama adopted earlier this week. As you know, I worked closely with the Vice President, a number of my fellow Cabinet members, and representatives from more than 200 groups of experts, advocacy organizations, policymakers, and private citizens to help formulate this plan. From law enforcement leaders, to firearm owners and enthusiasts, technology experts, and gun safety advocates; from retailers, to mental health professionals, members of the clergy, victims of gun violence, and members of the entertainment industry the conversations we had were frank, wide-ranging, and inclusive. And the consensus that emerged was clear: that, as President Obama said, if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence if there is even one life that can be saved then we have an obligation to try.
This obligation is what drove the Administration to propose a range of legislative remedies along with 23 executive actions to end mass shootings and prevent gun violence. On Wednesday, President Obama signed directives putting a number of these proposals into action. Others will require legislation that will soon be introduced in Congress and which we hope will receive timely consideration. And, at every level of the Administration and, particularly within the Department of Justice my colleagues and I will continue doing everything in our power to maximize enforcement efforts and implement new recommendations for keeping our people safe, and our cities, neighborhoods, and schools secure.
But we won't be able to do this alone. The fact is that our ability to tackle this challenge will depend on the willingness of millions of Americans and thousands of dedicated public servants like you to engage with one another in order to make a positive difference.
We can begin by calling for immediate Congressional action. As the President indicated, Congress should move swiftly to adopt legislation to require universal background checks, so that a full background check is conducted every time someone attempts to buy a gun. By taking this relatively simple step, we can significantly strengthen our ability to keep criminals and other dangerous individuals from gaining access to deadly weapons. And we can do so starting today by encouraging private sellers to run their transactions through the NICS background system with the help of a licensed gun dealer. Many licensed dealers throughout the country already facilitate firearms transfers between private individuals on a regular basis. And we are encouraging more private sellers to work with licensed dealers to ensure that all sales are subject to a comprehensive background check.
Of course, the effectiveness of these checks depends on the integrity of the national background check system as a whole. To date, this system has proven remarkably effective enabling gun dealers to make more than 90 percent of background check determinations on the spot, and roughly 95 percent within three business days. This has helped us keep more than 1.5 million guns from falling into the wrong hands over the last 14 years.
But we can, and must, do even better by ensuring that the information included in this system is complete, tearing down barriers that prevent federal agencies and some states from sharing relevant records, and making certain that our laws and regulations are as effective as possible when it comes to identifying those who should not have access to firearms. This week, President Obama took executive action in support of these goals addressing gaps in the national background check system, bringing accountability to the sources of information it relies upon, and ensuring that federal law enforcement agencies become more uniform in tracing guns recovered during investigations.
At the same time, he put an end to the virtual freeze on rigorous, non-partisan research into gun violence by the Centers for Disease Control and has directed the CDC to resume examining the causes of this violence and evaluating strategies for its prevention. He has taken a variety of steps to reinforce the Justice Department's efforts to provide law enforcement with the tools, training, and resources they need to prosecute gun-related crime and to respond to active shooter situations. In addition, at the President's direction, the Administration will issue guidance making clear that, under existing federal laws, doctors are in no way prohibited from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement. We will work with individual communities and school districts to develop plans to make our schools safer. And relevant authorities will finalize regulations under the Affordable Care Act to increase access to mental health services for all who need them. Not one of the Executive Orders contrary to what a few have said impinges upon anyone's Second Amendment rights or is inconsistent with the historical use of executive power.
But all of this is only the beginning. In addition to these actions and proposals, the Administration has called upon Congress to renew legislation banning high-capacity magazines, including those used in recent high-profile mass shootings; to protect our police by getting rid of armor-piercing bullets; to pass a new assault weapons ban, updated and stronger than the one enacted in 1994, to keep military-style weapons off of our streets; and to consider a series of new federal laws imposing tough penalties on the gun traffickers who help funnel weapons to dangerous criminals.
These measures represent essential parts of any serious, comprehensive effort to eradicate gun violence and today, I join President Obama, Vice President Biden, and countless Americans in urging Congressional leaders to adopt them without delay. I'd also like to echo the President's call for the Senate to confirm Todd Jones as Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives a critical Justice Department component that's been without a Senate-confirmed leader for six years and to eliminate misguided restrictions that require the ATF to allow the importation of dangerous weapons simply because of their age.
Some have said that these changes will require tough votes by Members of Congress. Public service is never easy, and there come times when those of us who are in elected or appointed positions must put the interests of those we are privileged to serve above that which might be politically expedient or professionally safe. This is one of those times.
By acting within existing authorities to improve our enforcement capacity for laws that are already on the books; by enacting common-sense legislation to strengthen our ability to stop guns from falling into the wrong hands and to stem the proliferation of military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines; I'm confident that we can and will make significant strides in reducing the violence that too often fills our headlines and afflicts our communities. As Vice President Biden said yesterday, the Administration is determined to take our gun violence prevention efforts to a new level and we're eager to work with leaders like you in advancing the conversation about how we can put an end to these crimes and secure a brighter future for all those we're privileged to serve.
To this end, in addition to implementing the orders and advocating for the legislative actions that the President announced on Wednesday, my colleagues and I remain committed to standing with America's mayors in strengthening anti-violence initiatives that are already underway. Since 2009, this commitment has led the Justice Department to award more than $3.5 billion to state and local partners through Byrne-JAG a grant program that helps keep officers on the beat, and equips them with the latest tools and technologies. Over a similar period, the Department's Community Oriented Policing Services or COPS Hiring Program awarded more than $1.5 billion to create or protect over 8,000 jobs in local law enforcement.
Our Officer Safety Working group has also been forging stronger relationships with officers and law enforcement organizations across the country and building a platform for researching the threats they face. Under a groundbreaking training and technical assistance program called VALOR, we're enabling officers to anticipate, prevent, and survive violent encounters . Thanks to initiatives like the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program, we're helping to provide law enforcement with equipment that is quite simply saving lives. And, based on the recommendations of our Defending Childhood Task Force, we're bringing a variety of partners together, expanding screening and assessment of at-risk children, and supporting research to help combat unacceptable levels of violence among, and directed towards, our nation's young people.
There's no question that we can be proud of these and other current efforts to reduce violence and victimization. But, as you've been discussing this week and as the President has made quite clear we cannot yet be satisfied, and this is clearly no time to become complacent.
When it comes to combating gun violence, preventing future tragedies, and ensuring the safety of our citizens and first responders, each of the leaders in this room has both the power and the responsibility to make a powerful, positive difference. Despite the challenges and frustrations we may face and the disagreements that may, at times, divide us from one another we all have essential roles to play in driving the critical debate that is unfolding across the country. And every one of us has been given a rare chance: to strengthen this nation and help to determine its future.
So, as we conclude today's session, adjourn the 81 st Winter Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and begin planning for the 82 nd I urge you to seize this moment. I ask that you keep up the conversations we began this week, and pledge to continue working together in pursuit of the goals we share. And I thank you as colleagues, as partners, and as indispensible leaders for your contributions, your service, and your ongoing dedication to protecting and improving the lives of those around us.