71 Reasons to Believe in America


Washington -- You wouldn't be driven to despair by the rioting in Los Angeles and the ugly political fallout if you were lucky enough to go to a scholarship dinner that I'll be attending tomorrow night.

You'd get a chance to see 71 black high school seniors who epitomize the best of what black America is and wants to be.

And you'd see hundreds of white people whose support for those college-bound black youngsters is proof that millions of white people understand that the prosperity and tranquility of America lies in their willingness to ensure that educational opportunity is extended to all the youngsters of this land.

At this dinner of Project Excellence, Inc., which I founded five years ago to encourage black high schoolers to study hard and to hone their writing and speaking skills, we'll give out more than a million dollars in scholarships. The money, given by a remarkable assortment of whites and blacks, is very important.

But more important is the fact that these scholars and their benefactors will give the lie to notions that America is doomed to sink in a cesspool of "black crime" and "white racism."

You would feel compelled to stop stereotyping black males if you could hear the story of Andre Taylor, who has grown up not just poor, but at risk in many ways. He has no telephone, so we have had to contact him at his job at McDonald's. Andre has persevered, grasped at excellence, and has won a four-year scholarship at Washington College in Chestertown.

You wouldn't be so vulnerable to propaganda about young black females having babies out of wedlock if you could see Carolyn Furr, father dead, mother in another state, living with a partially paralyzed grandfather -- but a young woman so dedicated to learning that she has won a four-year scholarship at the Johns Hopkins University.

Then there is John Morcos, who was getting terrible grades as a high school freshman. He sat down one day and told himself, "Get your act together!"

He did. In his senior year he got all A's in courses so difficult that where 4.0 is supposed to be perfect he had a grade-point average of 4.5. He has won a five-year $90,000 scholarship at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Sciences.

The glory -- and part of the tragedy -- is that these youngsters represent a broad swath of the black youth of America, of brainpower often wasted because of stupid rantings about "unfair preferences."

The white people of wisdom and compassion who have given a great measure of this million dollars in scholarship money don't stoop to such divisive rhetoric. They understand that in this metropolitan area alone some 190 deserving seniors were nominated for Project Excellence scholarships. So 120 or so were told, "We're sorry," when the money ran out.

But you multiply the Washington situation by the number of cities such as Los Angeles where there are few rewarding or rescuing scholarship programs that give hope to those on the brink of despair and you get a sense of what neglect of human and social needs is doing to America.

People outraged by the jury verdict in the Rodney King case ask me to declare that all white Americans are racists. I can't do that, because I know better.

I'll know it with greater assurance tomorrow night when I watch a lot of white people cry with joy for 71 youngsters who have triumphed over myriad handicaps, deprivations, bigotries -- and even a few over privileges that might have made them slothful.

There'll be no room for you at this dinner. But trust me when I say that it will be proof that America is still populated by millions of decent, caring people who are determined that "we will get along" in intelligence, with justice.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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