THE DAY KING DIED

Fight cynicism

I was moved by Syl Jones' memories and taken back to my own of 1968 ("4.4.68," April 4). To have all those deaths of those who had shown a light of hope and possibility on the development of our society and its ills was numbing and saddening. I am about the same age as Jones, and I remember my idealism of that time and the hits it took with those events.

However I wish to take issue with his conclusion that innocence was lost. If innocence is lost then all we have left is cynicism. We have seen enough cynicism in our current administration to know the damage that it can do in the world.

Innocence and idealism of childhood or of a culture needs to be brought into the real world. In this process it suffers and is humbled as it meets the difficulties of that reality. I have seen evidence of this in my general practice as a psychologist as well in the survivors of political torture with whom I have had the privilege to work.

To imagine that "innocence can never be restored" as Jones does is to give in to cynicism. It is our job to find that lost innocence in ourselves and in our culture. It must be met with and guided through the difficulties of reality.

JAMES MICHEL, MINNEAPOLIS

Still in the dark

"Hope hung like the scent of spring hydrangeas ..." Thanks for the remembrance, Syl. I do remember the tragedy that came in threes in those times; and the horrifying news that almost immobilized a nation momentarily at the death of that most charismatic figure, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

I watched the funeral procession from my mother's living room on a flickering TV. Three and a half miles; 50,000 to 100,000 bodies -- a diverse group culturally, politically -- bonding together. Racial divides merging in mutual grief, bonded by sorrow in the loss of this great man.

"Things will never be the same now, bless him. He has changed the course of history and may we never go backwards into that dark again. He has given us hope." My mother's words then. What would I say to her now if she were here?

Hope still? I don't know. We have allowed our leaders to lead us back into that "dark." The footprint of our guaranteed civil liberties shredded. "Patriot" and "torture" share the same page of acceptance in the vocabulary of many. Poverty sits, an embedded dinner host at too many tables. Homeless shelters can't keep up with the growing needs. Foreclosure leaves its stamp on all neighborhoods.

At least here's one positive: You can't look down on your neighbor anymore because he's poor. You may be there too, too soon.

BERYL JOHN-KNUDSON, DULUTH

EXTENDING DENTAL CARE

Bill should be passed

The Minnesota Senate Finance Committee recently approved a bill for a pilot project under which Oral Health Practitioners (OHP) are authorized to provide primary care dental services to underserved populations.

The OHP -- a dental hygienist with advanced education to provide a limited number of dental services with a dentist's supervision -- is used in other developed countries, such as Canada and New Zealand, and has greatly improved access and reduced costs. Research has found quality of care to be excellent.

The Minnesota Safety Net Coalition, a network of provider organizations and nonprofit agencies whose primary mission is to serve low-income, uninsured and disadvantaged patients, has supported creation of such a provider to facilitate the capacity and flexibility of the workforce and ease the access-to-care crisis. I urge readers to contact their senators by Thursday morning and ask them to support the OHP pilot program.

MARY BETH KENSEK, ANDOVER;

PRESIDENT, MINNESOTA DENTAL

HYGIENISTS' ASSOCIATION

STD RATES RISE

Can't combat nature

Katherine Kersten's April 6 column about the teen STD rate appears to be loaded with opinion and very slim on science. Although most teens are poorly prepared to raise a child in our modern society, our hormones instruct us it is time to get busy with the business of making babies at an early age. It was not long ago when 16 was middle-aged.

There is no amount of education, legislation and morality that will change this course of nature.

I will advocate the many benefits of abstinence to my two young children, and they will also be well educated about STDs, safe-sex practices, and how drug and alcohol use can quickly override the best intentions of anyone, teen or adult.

MICHAEL O'NEILL, CHASKA

GEOGRAPHY BEE

Everyone was a winner

I had the pleasure of attending the State Geography Bee Friday at Macalaster in St. Paul. It was an impressive event, and included around 100 students from all over the state.

In its April 5 article "Minneapolis 7th-grader knows his way around a globe," the Star Tribune describes the questions and answers given by the eventual winner, some of his background and then spends a lot of print focusing on the low representation of girls in the bee.

From my viewpoint, the real story was not just about the winner or a gender inequity problem, but rather the amazing knowledge and brainpower of this group of young people.

It was truly wonderful and inspiring to witness the depth of knowledge the kids had of the world around them. Although there was only one winner, every student there was impressive regardless of place or gender.

In a rapidly shrinking world, with many challenges ahead, we will need citizens of this caliber, with this type of knowledge, to invent, to lead, and to represent us.

Perhaps if we stop focusing so much on who wins and the percentages of a certain population participating, we can start focusing on the bright future our most talented and hard-working youth as a whole represent. The best and the brightest young people need to be recognized and encouraged at every available opportunity when they are on the right path.

DALE VAILLANCOURT, BURNSVILLE