A Connection through Time: Greek & African Americans bond in Baltimore!
by Zach Winters
In 1965 at the political and emotional height of the American Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. issued a call for bravery with the march on Selma. His call was answered by a Greek – Archbishop Iakovos – one of the few prominent non-African American clergymen with the courage to walk hand in hand with Dr. King on his momentous march. Their historic bond was captured on the cover of LIFE Magazine on March 26th, 1965.
Nearly 50 years later to the very day, the Johns Hopkins University Hellenic Association commemorated this timeless cultural bond with the first ever Greek and African American Reception, held at The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture. The storied setting of this downtown Baltimore museum seemed the perfect location to honor an ethnic connection that has endured through time.
“This is the story that museums exist to tell,” says Dr. Skipp Sanders, museum director, and former Dep. Superintendent of Schools.
Honored guests included former Senator Paul Sarbanes, Lt. Governor of Maryland Anthony Brown, Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Congressman John P. Sarbanes, Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, Deputy Mayor of Baltimore City Kaliope Parthemos, Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Anthony W. Batts, as well as a host of other distinguished names of the state’s business & civic leaders: Philanthropist and Brown Capital Management Chairman & CEO Eddie C. Brown, Former Westinghouse Corp. executive Aris Melissaratos, developer Theo C. Rogers of A&R Companies, President of Morgan State University Dr. David Wilson, President of Verizon (Mid-Atlantic) Anthony Lewis, Dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine Dr. Albert Reece, Adcor Industries President Jimmy Stavrakis , Michael Cryor of the Cryor Group, and DLA Piper attorneys Thomas Prevas and Guy Flynn.
The impressive guest list and the event itself were orchestrated by the evening’s host, George Petrocheilos, President of the Johns Hopkins Hellenic Association. Graduating in 2013, George has already established for himself a remarkable reputation for networking and professionalism.
“What a network George has,” admiringly comments Dr. Sanders, to the mutual agreement of the room at large.
When the last of the distinguished guests did finally arrive – (“they’re on Greek time,” quips Mayor Rawlings-Blake) – more chairs had to be brought to the museum’s fourth floor event room in order to accommodate the impressive turnout. After a tasteful cocktail reception catered by Act Class Catering, the mass of dignitaries gathered round to give speeches and delve into the true nature of the Greek and African American bond.
“It’s a legacy of solidarity,” says Congressman John Sarbanes powerfully to the diverse room. “It’s a legacy of solidarity leading up to today, and this day is something to build on and form a tradition around.”
“Our history is a shared history,” comments Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake impressively as she stands beside her Deputy Mayor and longtime friend Kaliope Parthemos at the podium. The one African American and the other Greek (guess for yourself from the names which is which), the two met in 6th grade at a magnet school when a young Mayor Rawlings-Blake was intrigued enough by Deputy Mayor Parthemos’ traditional Greek lunch to go over to the latter’s lonely table and strike up a conversation. “The cultural relationship speaks for itself,” Mayor Rawlings-Blake now says many years later, “and we are exhibit A. Our history is a shared history – and what I think is a shared future.”
Aris Melissaratos, Senior Adviser to the Johns Hopkins President and Former Secretary of Business and Economic Development in Maryland as well as a former top executive with Westinghouse, says we need only to look at patterns in the past to see concrete evidence of the historic and cultural turns of the future.
“Look at history,” he says. “Every ethnicity takes a turn at being the minority of interest. Every ethnic group works hard to overcome the obstacles invariably put in its way. You come to this country and your people start as dishwashers, then waiters, then they own restaurants. And soon they’re becoming lawyers and doctors. Look at history. British, French, Greek, African American – every ethnicity takes its turn.”
For Congressman Elijah Cummings, the bond between Greek and African Americans is built on a shared sense of empathy, and acting upon this empathy is the key to a bright future for both parties.