|Aris Allen Needs Protection and Connection
We're disgusted by the continuing harassment of the statue of Aris T. Allen, a man whose achievement broke through the barriers of discrimination in our capital city and our state.
First, Allen was a man of the stuff that makes legends. A rolling stone into his 20s, he earned a medical degree and rose to become the first African American allowed to admit patients to Anne Arundel Medical Center. He and his wife Faye, who is also a physician, not only practiced medicine in their community but so understood its needs that Allen was elected first to the Maryland House of Delegates, then to the Senate.
"Aris' story says it's not over until you say it's over," said Leonard Blackshear, president of the Alex Haley-Kunta Kinte Foundation. "At a time when most people would think their chances had run out, his success was just beginning."
With a statue and a book to stand as memorials, Allen's legend should continue to inspire his community, black and white. But nothing is forgotten quicker than the past. His larger-than-life bust - which has been vandalized four times since it came to us in 1994 - becomes a target for the spite of know-nothings.
We've written before about both our relative poverty of statues in Chesapeake Country and the good they do for their community and its people. You can see the good they do for yourself any day at the Alex Haley group on City Dock, where people come to visit and stay to sit down with Alex and the kids.
We'd like Aris Allen's statue to enjoy the same fellowship. We'd like it to become a magnet for education, not destruction. So we brainstormed with Blackshear, the man who brought Alex Haley to City Dock, to imagine ways that dream might come true.
· Aris Allen should stay where he is, in the pocket park at the intersection of the parkway that also bears his name, Forest Drive and Spa Road. The present location is favored by both Mrs. Allen and the committee that first placed the statue.
That spot is the beneficiary of special attentions. Its "landscaped area" is owned by the Department of Transportation, so a degree of care is assured. More care comes courtesy of an anonymous donor who set up a small endowment for landscaping. Neighboring property owners also contribute. So Aris Allen continues to be part of a supportive community.
· The statue needs better protection. It needs more than the present ground lights. In this high-tech era, why not 24-hour Internet camera coverage to shine the light of knowledge as well building a halo of protection. Part of the problem with the Allen statue is its isolation. Lights bring it back into the circle of familiarity.
Internet coverage does even more. Part of Blackshear's grand plan is to make the city, specifically the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial, a center of heritage tourism both advertised and accessible by Internet. The Internet link gives both protection and connection.
· The statue needs to be better connected to city life. Rituals need to be planned for it and the friendliness of its space extended beyond two benches. Why not a birthday party for our only statue memoralizing a city resident? Why not stronger informational links to this main artery into the city?
Both the Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitors Bureau and Historic Annapolis Foundation offer guides - the one a brochure, the other a tape-guided walking tour - to guide visitors through the city's rich African-American history. A strengthened county-wide historic district will offer more opportunities to make Aris Allen a statue we all know and love.