As a small-business owner on Clay Street, the rough-and-tumble Annapolis community where he grew up, Michael McFarland was keenly aware of the need for mentors for the neighborhood's youth.
In the early 1970s, when he owned a laundromat there, he began an athletic club that allowed hundreds of low-income kids from the area to compete in organized sports like basketball and flag football.
As a coach, McFarland, nicknamed "Little Buck" for his short stature, not only taught sportsmanship; he exalted the importance of education. Over the years, he quietly helped dozens of African-Americans through college, giving his own money for tuition and books.
"I just always tried to help and give back what I can," said McFarland, 64, a retired federal worker who lives in Eastport. "The Good Book said, if you have an abundance of something — not that I have a lot of money — you're supposed to share."
McFarland is one of 10 people who will be honored for their contributions to the community Friday at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards Dinner. This year's event will also feature King's daughter, Bernice A. King, the executive officer of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violence in Atlanta, as the keynote speaker.
The annual dinner, in its 24th year, has helped create memorials to honor King (on the campus of Anne Arundel Community College) and his widow, Coretta Scott King (on the campus of Sojourner-Douglass College in Edgewater). Anne Arundel is the only Maryland county that has memorials to both Kings.
Carl O. Snowden, director of the state attorney general's Office of Civil Rights and the chairman of the dinner, said the event is attended by over 1,000 people each year.
"It's important for us to be able to preserve his legacy and for the younger generations to know who he is," said Snowden. "His impact on society is continuing. Most heroes or great men are remembered for one thing they did. Dr. King's legacy just goes on and on and on, whether it's for gay rights, labor rights or Latino rights."
McFarland, one of nine children, graduated in 1964 from the segregated and now-closed Wiley H. Bates High School. He worked as a materials engineering technician for the federal government, retiring in 2005 after 36 years.
He began the CLM Athletic Club, which sponsored scores of youngsters in the city's summer recreation sports program and won several championships, beginning in the 1970s. As the youths went on to college, he would chip in with money when they needed it, and he often provided rides to and from the colleges, in places like Pennsylvania and West Virginia, during holiday breaks.
"He has not only mentored young people, but has served as a surrogate dad for young boys whose fathers were missing in their lives," a statement from the awards dinner committee says. "Over the years, he has assisted many young people in their quest to attend college. He assisted them with tuition, books, transportation and moral support. His only request is that they succeed."
McFarland's brother, Robert Eades, a well-known Annapolis civil rights activist, said his brother never sought to publicize his good works.
"He just quietly goes about doing what he does," said Eades. "He coached these boys — they're teachers and politicians, they're all across the country. But they all came though his athletic club, and he pushed them and told them education is No. 1."
McFarland, who now owns and operates a lawn care service, said he's honored to receive an award in King's name. He remembers marching against segregation in Annapolis in his high school years.
"I just couldn't believe it," he said of the award. "I was wondering if they had the right person. This would be the pinnacle of all awards that I've ever received. It's one of them nice things."
Other honorees are: Laurie Sharp, president of Anne Arundel Women Giving Together; Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown; former Anne Arundel County NAACP President Alva Sheppard Johnson; Lou Aymard, a psychology professor at the local community college; Capt. Stephen B. Latta, director of admissions for the Naval Academy; Geraldine Queen-Lippman, a community activist; Joanna R. Hanes-Lahr, a community activist; Shuaib Bin Neel of the Concerned Muslims of Annapolis; and U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen.
The dinner will take place at 6 p.m. at La Fontaine Bleue, 7514 Ritchie Highway, Glen Burnie. Tickets are $60 and can be purchased at the door.Copyright © 2015, CT Now