Long before Paul Berry became an Emmy Award-winning news anchor for WJLA-7 News, he was a soldier. As much as his service in Vietnam taught him about the world, it was a trip to Alabama that showed him the limits and possibilities of human nature.
Shortly after he completed basic training, Berry and a few of his fellow soldiers took a train to Alabama, where they were to receive further military training. A young man raised in Michigan, Berry had not experienced the racism of the South. When his grandmother warned him to “be careful, you’re going to the South," he didn’t know what she meant. He soon found out.
Upon arrival, the men hailed a taxi and got in. Berry was promptly told to get back out by the driver, a white man, and to go get a taxi that served blacks. He did so and his fellow soldiers did not object.
Getting into a taxi at the cabstand for blacks, he was greeted by the driver, a black man.
“Did you learn something today?,” the man asked Berry. “You in the South now, act like it.”
“Well I did,” said Berry. Delivering the keynote address at Rockville High School during Rockville’s 35th annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Berry said that he learned to adopt the behavior that would get him through the South without any further embarrassments and without any conflict. “But thank God Dr. King did not.”
Berry's relationship with hsi fellow soldiers was never the same. An unspoken barrier had arisen between the men.
“I didn’t say anything and they didn’t say anything,” Berry recalled. “But sometimes you have to say something. Sometimes you have to have courage — sometimes you have to be King-like.”
BERRY SPOKE at an event that a featured a variety of musical performances and honored youth leaders in the county. Aku Ammah-Tagoe, a Richard Montgomery senior, received the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Youth Award from the Rockville Human Rights Commission. The award is given each year to a high school student who the commission believes has advanced the goals and dreams of Dr. King in an academic setting or in the community.
In accepting her award, Ammah-Tagoe spoke of her efforts to fulfill Dr. King's dream and to move beyond it as well.
Ammah-Tagoe drew a standing ovation from the crowd and led Berry to say, “I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in the future.”
Rockville mayor Larry Giammo announced the naming of a street and the erection of a monument to honor William Gibbs, a teacher and principal at the Rockville Colored Elementary School, which stood on Washington Street and was open from the 1920 until the early 1950s.
Gibbs sued the Montgomery County Board of Education to obtain equal pay for the teachers at the school. He was aided in his cause by Thurgood Marshall, then a lawyer with the NAACP. The board settled out of court and in two years the teachers went from earning less than half of their white counterparts to earning the same amount, but Gibbs was fired by the board over what Giammo called a technicality with his teaching certification. The street will be located in Rockville’s new downtown area.
KING WOULD HAVE been 78 on Monday, and those who spoke at the “Fulfilling the Dream” event at Rockville High School said he would still be leading peaceful battles against injustice.
“There are still steps of progress to be made for the sons and daughters and grandchildren who reaped the benefits of [King’s] struggle,” said Rev. Kipp Ingram of Twinbrook Baptist Church. “There are still steps to be taken on the journey.”
In 1965, King became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize at age 35 for his fight to end racial inequality in the U.S.
While that fight remains unfinished, said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D), King would have taken on other tall orders as well.
“If Dr. King were still here he would continue to be unsatisfied with the conditions in our country and around the world,” said Van Hollen. The modern adaptation of his struggle would have taken form in efforts to end hunger, homelessness and violence throughout the world, and would have included the fight to provide health insurance to the country’s poor.
The struggle to bring justice where it is absent and to aid those who are in need of assistance starts with in each of us, Berry said.
“When the time comes when you are confronted, will you have the courage to stand up and be counted?” Berry asked. “When you are confronted with that one opportunity to stand up and be King-like, please do.”
“Let us go forth today with that vision in mind,” Van Hollen said, “to work to complete the work that he began.”