MLK breakfast loses county funding

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The annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast in Anne Arundel County will take place as scheduled in January, but minus the customary $5,000 from the county — which stunned the planners of the event, now in its 31st year.

Funding for the annual breakfast was not included in the current fiscal year's budget because the organizing group lacks 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and doesn't meet criteria for a grant, said Dave Abrams, spokesman for County Executive John R. Leopold.

The decision drew outrage from former longtime breakfast chairman Carl O. Snowden, who is now the head of the civil rights department in the state attorney general's office. He called it "unconscionable" and railed against the reason and Leopold, saying that top officeholders of both political parties have long backed the event.

He said that the funding could have gone through one of the nonprofits that helps plan the breakfast and that county officials should have told the breakfast planners months ago that the funding mechanism would be changed to require a grant application with a number of requirements.

He described the breakfast, which draws 700 people, as a longtime partnership among a consortium of organizations — most of them African-American — Anne Arundel Community College, county public schools and the county government.

"It's the only event that brings together a cross section of the community and honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," Snowden said.

The organizing group has never been a 501(c)(3).

Last spring, County Auditor Theresa Sutherland recommended not funding the breakfast because of the absence of nonprofit status, Abrams said. Among requirements in grant applications, organizations must show proof of nonprofit status and how the money will be used.

"We got a letter. That doesn't meet the criteria. Everyone else fills out an application form," Abrams said.

"If Mr. Snowden wants a community grant to fund the breakfast, he can establish a 501(c)(3) and fill out an application like every other nonprofit that receives county funding to show that the event is being run in a fiscally responsible manner using taxpayer money," Abrams said.

The county buys a table of seats, he said.

Grants typically go to funding services in the community, he said.

Meanwhile, Eugene Peterson, chairman of the breakfast committee, said he was disappointed when he learned belatedly that the county funding would not come through, and spoke with Snowden about it last week.

He said he expects to ask county officials and probably others to "memorialize the commitment" to help fund the breakfast.

He also said he plans to see if organizers would agree to meet with a lawyer, working for free, to have the breakfast committee organized as a nonprofit organization so that it could boost scholarships. Proceeds from the breakfast help fund a scholarship at the community college.

Meanwhile, the breakfast will take place as scheduled.

Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings will be the featured speaker.

Rep. Donna F. Edwards, a Prince George's County Democrat whose district was changed this fall to include parts of Anne Arundel, will also attend the event at Anne Arundel Community College.

The breakfast will feature for the first time a performing and visual arts contest for middle and high school students. Additionally, two students will share the master of ceremonies role.

"We hope this effort helped connect our youth with the history behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and helped bring his story to life," said Peterson. "We fear that all too often today, our youth see Dr. King as a mythical stereotype or a cartoon character rather than the man who literally changed the face of American society."

Doors open at 7:30 a.m. in the David S. Jenkins Gymnasium. The breakfast program begins at 8 a.m.

Tickets are $35 per person or $350 for table of 10. RSVP by Jan. 6 to Eugene Peterson, breakfast committee chair, 301-538-0087.

The event includes six community awards. The recipients are:

•Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Zeitgeist Award, AACC Black Student Union: Arlene Bayron-Fogg, a retention adviser for the Anne Arundel Community College Student Achievement and Success Program since January 2009.

•Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award, Anne Arundel Coalition of Tenants Inc.: Joshua J. Cohen, mayor of Annapolis, two-term city alderman for Eastport and one-term Anne Arundel County Council member.

•Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award, City of Annapolis Human Relations Commission: Deborah A. Johnson, a volunteer for Helping Hand Inc. since the 1980s, a community activist and, since October 2010, a member of the Annapolis Housing Authority Board of Commissioners.

•Dallas G. Pace Sr. Humanitarian Award, Anne Arundel County Human Relations Commission: Romaine Parker, a 24-year Foster Grandparent Program volunteer who has contributed more than 7,559 hours as a mentor to area youth.

•Leon H. White Clergy Memorial Award, United Christian Clergy Alliance of Anne Arundel County: The Rev. Herbert W. Watson Jr., minister at St. Mark United Methodist Church in Hanover and chaplain coordinator for the Baltimore County police and fire departments.

•George H. Phelps Jr. Distinguished Citizen Award, Anne Arundel County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People: John W. Wilson, executive director of RESPECT for a decade, a life member with committee leadership roles with the Anne Arundel County branch of the NAACP, and a former deputy director and chairman of the Opportunities Industrialization Center for Anne Arundel County.