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At MLK breakfast, 'Remember the Titans' coach urges adults to set example

In 1971, a black high school football coach guided a newly integrated team to a Virginia state championship. The coach's name is Herman Boone, and he was portrayed by Denzel Washington in the movie "Remember the Titans:" From those first tense moments before football camp, to becoming state champions at the end of the season, the Titans team became a symbol of unity in the face of deep-seeded division. Prior to coaching at TC Williams, Boone was vocal in his support of civil rights- and lost a job in North Carolina over it. On Monday, he gave a keynote address that was geared toward young people at the Martin Luther King Junior breakfast hosted by the YMCA of Greater Charlotte. WFAE's Simone Orendain attended the breakfast and prepared this report. Herman Boone spoke to the crowd of hundreds at the Westin uptown. Elderly people, small children and everyone in between of different races, attended the breakfast. Boone started with an urgent call to support the YMCA. He's concerned about young people getting lost to streets controlled by criminal elements. "In order to gain enough respect to deter violence today, our young men have to have what they call the 'right look.' The baggy pants. Where their pants hang way below their below. Where the stylish clothes and jewelry seems to be the components of the right look," said Boone. With emotion in his voice he reminded the audience the significance of Martin Luther King Day as a day ON, not a day off. He called adults to action by urging them to mentor young people. "But ladies and gentlemen if we care enough we will not sacrifice away things that we believe in," he said. "If we care enough, yes, we the decent people of Charlotte, NC, will continue to address these issues that forces many of our young people into the criminal justice system, mainly drugs, violence and crime. We will show them the way. We will overcome." At a table for teenagers from the McCrorey YMCA, about 10 young African Americans listened. Eighteen year old Jerry Bowens wore a shirt and tie to the event. His ears perked up during the part about appearances. "You can't go somewhere looking the kind of way that you may look when you're with your friends and expect to get that same respect from an employer or someone. So it's always important to look the part, act the part and be that part," he said. Bowens goes to West Charlotte High School and says he's not ashamed to be known as "the smart kid." He has been involved in numerous programs at the YMCA since he was eight and recently got accepted to UNC Chapel Hill. Another long-time YMCA member, 17-year old Raven Hoskins is trying to decide whether she'll attend Davidson College. She was glad Boone's message focused on teenagers. She was also impressed. She said, "It was very inspiring just to know that I can do what I want to do and be what I want to be in life to see where he's come from with all the segregation and discrimination in his day. It just inspired me to be all that I can be." During one-on-one interviews with reporters, Boone emphasized the importance to cultivating young people. He said, "Kids are born out of love, as I said before you have to guide them into accepting the soul of an individual, rather than learning to reject an individual based on the color of their skin." Boone says this is a key ingredient once kids of different races start to talk to each other. He says it will make each one receptive to understanding something about the other. And trust inevitably grows out of this. Just the way it did for the original team members of the Titans.