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«Title of Dissertation: Community journalism as ritual: A case study of community and weekly newspapers in Laurel, Maryland Lindsey Lee Wotanis, ...»

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When we first arrived here I was um, [long pause, she begins to cry] I was stunned to read in the paper that the Ku Klux Klan had marched through Main Street and I think it was the reality wake up that in northern cities [from] which I had come that struggle was more intellectual and I do remember when, I don‘t know, whoever went down and joined the march, 34 The percentages were calculated by dividing the number of races tallied in each category by the number of total races tallied. The total population figures are included for comparison only.

–  –  –

Lara agreed that this presented a difficult transition:

My dad used to tease me because he said, ‗Oh, my gosh. You‘re going to move south of the Mason Dixon Line?‘ And I didn‘t realize until we even we moved here, that indeed was true. And, of course, it‘s just sad. You know, boo hoo. People are people. But it‘s different. At least at that point it was different. You know, obviously now you don‘t have the one segregated area of Laurel. We don‘t have our high school students being bused down to Fairmont Heights. We don‘t have all of that. We do have the discussion about the library now, [about building a new library in] Emancipation Park, [and] about the cultural and historic significance and about being, respectful and cherishing that.

The three-acre Emancipation Community Park that Lara mentioned is located in The Grove section of Laurel—a historically black neighborhood. According to the City of Laurel website, ―Laurel celebrates Emancipation Day with a parade and events at the Park every year‖ (Emancipation Community Park).

Emancipation Day, according to the District of Columbia website, originated on April 16, 1862, when ―President Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act, For the release of certain persons held to service or labor in the District of Columbia, making DC residents the ‗First Freed‘ by the federal government‖ (DC Emancipation Day). At the time I was conducting research for this project, there was public discussion among different factions in Laurel about building a new

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park. According to a March 25, 2010 article in the Laurel Leader, Residents in the Grove want to keep the library in their neighborhood, so young children and older citizens without transportation can continue to

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community, who are pushing for the new library to be built just off Main Street at the site of the police station, which is moving to Fifth Street soon.

One of the main points being pushed by their group, Bring Our Library Downtown, is that the library could help revitalize the city's Main Street corridor (―County funds proposed‖).

Also according to the same article, if the county‘s proposed funds for the construction of a new library are approved, work could begin as early as spring of 2011, assuming the groups can agree on a location.

As Lara pointed out, in the 1960s, segregation in Laurel was very real.

Gwendolyn Glenn said that she gathered from reading past Laurel newspapers that Laurel has had its divisions along racial lines: ―[The] African American community had their community and then the whites had their community, and they were very divided. And I think it‘s still like that to some extent today.‖ Nate remembered being in the seventh grade in 1954 when ―the first black came into the school.‖ Lara believes that the relationship between the African American population and the rest of Laurel has improved. Lara, said that now she ―feel[s]

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[The Grove] is integral and [people] have much more respect.‖ Though Laurel is no longer segregated, African Americans are still not well represented in Laurel city government. Fredrick Smalls is only the second African American to serve on the Laurel City Council. Fredrick said that first African American was elected in 1992 and in making this point also emphasized that Laurel‘s history dates back to the 1870s. And, Gwendolyn is the only African American covering Laurel for the Laurel Leader.

Still, not all Laurel residents appreciate the racial diversity in Laurel. Ray, age 76, who first referred to African Americans as ―coloreds‖ during our

conversation, said:

I don‘t like the influx of African Americans, and I should say, I don‘t like that. But they‘re nice folks. They come here and they are in increasing number […] but they have their schools, they go to school together and

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But others, like Olivia, an 84-year-old African American who lives in The Grove, have a different perception of the relationship between African Americans and the rest of the folks in Laurel. Olivia told me that while the police used to be friendly, as of late, they are rude and unprofessional Olivia recounted a story about police harassing her grandson, who was

visiting her in Laurel. Her story is worth quoting at length:

[My grandson and] the youngsters at that time were kind of hanging out on the streets and he came and [the police] saw him. […] So many times,

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grandson] immediately started walking and walked over to my home. I was in the house and I heard all this commotion outside of my door. So I went to the door to see what was going on because it was the summer and I went to see what was going on and that‘s what it was. And he kept sayin‘, ‗I hadn‘t done anything. Why did I need to be on the ground?‘ and that kind of thing. So at that point, one of the, it was two officers, one of them start cursin‘ like you wouldn‘t believe. I mean some really bad, so I, at that point I said, ‗Excuse me. I don‘t know what the problem is. And I don‘t mind you doing your job,‘ I said, ‗But, I really would prefer that you didn‘t use that kind of language.‘ I said, ‗because as of right now, I don‘t see any reason for you to use that kind of language.‘ And he kind of paused, one of ‗em, the one that was really trying to get him on the ground and he paused and he said, ‗Well this is all some of ‗em understand.‘ And I said, ‗But you are the professional. And if you use that kind of language,

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After Olivia pointed out that there was no need to speak to her grandson in that manner, the other officer took over and tried to smooth things over. She said that the incident made clear to her ―why there are so much problems with the citizens and policemen‖ and also why such confrontations can lead to the point of shooting. Though Olivia never addressed the incident directly with the mayor, she said her minister brought it to his attention at one of the mayor‘s meetings in the park. However, she was unaware if anything came of the conversation.

–  –  –

seen police harass African American kids in The Grove and suggested that they ―fish‖ for them in order to make their quotas at the end of the month. But, Olivia argued that the black kids are not the only ones causing trouble in Laurel. ―Most of the high crimes here in Laurel, it‘s not the black kids. It‘s the Hispanics, the Mexicans, but it seems like [the police] target the black kids,‖ she said.

Of course, Laurel is not immune to crime, but most participants said that compared to other surrounding areas, the crime in Laurel is not as bad. Dan Schwind, education reporter at the Leader said, There are gangs in Laurel but it‘s not something like D.C. or some of the area inside the beltway in Prince George‘s County where you have MS13 running all over the school, graffiti in the school complex and things like that. I mean, there‘s gang problems, but not nearly to the same degree, you know? The crime is, I say, a little more toned down in Laurel than it is say in the rest of Prince George‘s County.

Laurel has seen a large increase in the number of Hispanic people in the past twenty years, according to Pastor Segundo Mir, who came to Laurel twenty years ago from Miami, when he said God called him to join the First Baptist Church in Laurel as a Spanish pastor. A native of Cuba, he has been helping the Hispanic people living in Laurel ever since. Pastor Mir said that he has seen tensions between African Americans and Hispanics in Laurel, but cannot understand the source of the tension. He said that there has been no history of tension between blacks and Hispanics, and he cannot understand why black

–  –  –

the population is black.

The uncounted: Illegal Hispanic and homeless populations Mike McLaughlin, columnist for the Laurel Leader and resident of Old Town—and Pastor Mir‘s neighbor—acknowledged the tension in Laurel about

the increasing number of Hispanics:

As far as the redneck aspect, yeah, I think there a lot, there are probably some old timers clinging to that especially with, you know, the strong, heavy influx of Hispanics. I‘m sure there‘s some folks that have a resentment to that, but we haven‘t experienced it.

These feelings toward Hispanics may be because so many of them are illegal immigrants. Indeed, looking at official Census numbers, Hispanics are barely represented. Pastor Mir, however, said that he has made upward of 20,000 friends—likely Hispanics—as a result of his work with the church. He talked about the challenges of working with a population of illegal immigrants.

Most of the Hispanic, there are a lot of Hispanic, they are in, they are not legal. They are illegal. They don‘t have a permit to work, so I need to find job for them, but at the same time they are illegal. It‘s a problem and I need to help them because they are human beings. I need help them. They need insurance. They have medical, they need doctors, medicine. Some people die because they don‘t have insurance. They don‘t have money to go to the doctor, so I have been for 20 years, helping people with looking for jobs, looking [for] lawyers for immigration, looking for doctors and

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as a second language, GED, go to college and help them find some career, helping them [find] housing, different housing.

Besides Pastor Mir and Ellen, few participants brought up Hispanics. Though they are visible throughout Laurel—and growing in number, according to Pastor Mir—they seem largely overlooked. In the next chapter, Pastor Mir points out how the Laurel Leader was not supportive of his idea for a column written in Spanish and geared toward the Hispanic population.

My participants‘ discussion of another population in Laurel—the homeless and addicted—presented an interesting contrast to the population of illegal immigrants in Laurel. A few participants talked about the number of homeless in Laurel, and about all those who, while they may not be homeless, are in need of assistance in some way or another. Bob Mignon, a resident of Russett and owner of Minuteman Press in Laurel, called these people ―broken,‖ saying that they are ―visible‖ throughout Laurel. Unlike the population of Hispanics, who Pastor Mir said need help for a variety of reasons though few outside of the church reach out to them, there are several agencies in Laurel for the homeless and addicted. But, Bob Mignon, rather than focusing on the challenges that the homeless and addicted bring to a community, talked about how much help exists for them in Laurel. ―These are what I call broken people that we need to help. It seems like we have a lot of that and it is part of the community,‖ said Mignon.

The Laurel Advocacy and Referral Service (LARS) is ―a nonproselytizing ecumenical ministry serving the Greater Laurel area by assisting

–  –  –

emergency and long-term services designed to promote self-sufficiency‖ (Laurel Advocacy and Referral Service). Elizabeth House, located at 308 Gorman Ave., is ―a non-profit 501(c)(3) all volunteer organization that exists to help our needy neighbors in the greater Laurel area.‖ It operates ―entirely from private and public donations of food, money and volunteer services.‖ (Elizabeth House, Fish of Laurel, Inc.). And, Reality House, located on Main Street, is a substance abuse treatment facility. Laurel seems to have taken responsibility for these broken people by providing services to help them. These three organizations are wellknown throughout Laurel. LARS reported serving approximately 1,500 individuals or families throughout the course of one year (Frequently Asked Questions).

While some participants clearly struggle with the diversity present in Laurel, others have a more open-minded point of view about what the different types of people contribute to their experiences in Laurel. Melanie Dzwonchyk, editor of the Laurel Leader and Old Town resident, said that she saw the benefits of Laurel‘s diversity when her children left Laurel to attend college.

Especially the two college graduates, they say, ‗Wow. Growing up in Laurel, I dealt with so many different things and so many different people, socioeconomic groups and religious and any kind of cross cultural or whatever.‘ They‘ve seen it all, you know? They‘ve dealt with it all.

Private school, public school, and they say, ‗I understand other people better, Mom, because when I grew up, I had a friend that was like this or

–  –  –

Dan Schwind, reporter for the Laurel Leader, agreed that one of the best things about Laurel is its sense of inclusion.

It‘s a really broad spectrum, and I think that kind of would make this town pretty cool, is that, you know, you just don‘t have some insular community that is just, you know, got their spears out trying to defend it, try to keep outsiders out of here, or anything like that. I think it‘s kind of

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