Thursday, March 28, 2013

Resident Remarks, or Mom Goes to the Mat for an Awesome Columbia

I am here tonight to represent people who can’t be here. They are parents, feeding their children, reading to them, putting them to bed. They are young professionals who are working late at their jobs to try to get ahead in a difficult economy. Let’s not forget high school students enjoying the first moments of Spring Break, and younger children who can’t stay up past their bedtimes. These are some of the people who asked you to support the Inner Arbor Plan and Trust. They wrote letters, sent emails, signed petitions, and came to meetings. They spoke for themselves, and in many cases, parents spoke on behalf of their children.

They thank you. I thank you. I am here tonight to remind you that they have complete faith in the work that you are doing, and they trust you to keep moving forward.

But I am here for another reason as well. Lately I have been seeing what I can only describe as bullying behavior aimed at this board. Negative letters in print, nastiness online, separate meetings whose publicity aims to inflame and confuse. As a parent and a teacher, I know that one of the most important things we can do to stop bullying is to stand up and call it out for what it is.

Make no mistake: whether it is a letter to the editor, online rants, rumors and untruths spread behind your back, or a veiled threat to your face—it’s bullying. And this kind of bullying in Columbia community affairs is not going to stop if residents stand by and let it happen. So I say the time for it to stop is now.

The future of Columbia must not be decided by bullies, or for that matter, by one generation alone, but through the inclusion of all generations who belong here.

So I am here to say: it gets better. It gets better when you stand by your convictions, and when we stand up to support you.


Monday, March 25, 2013

What Makes Partnerships Successful?

Since I declared my candidacy for Columbia Council Representative in Oakland Mills, I have been thinking a lot about partnership. Columbia could not be the amazing community it is without it.  My two years on the Village Board confirmed this for me.

Knowing how to create and foster successful partnerships is even more important today.  Look at some of the challenges we face:

Fulfillment of the Downtown Plan will require the cooperation of multiple stakeholders.

Realization of the Inner Arbor Plan will be possible thanks to successful partnerships between the Columbia Association, the CA Board, the Inner Arbor Trust, and Howard County.

Inclusion of newer residents and newer generations into the workings of Columbia
will demand ongoing partnership between Village Boards, the CA Board, and the Columbia Association.

Online research into successful partnership brought me to some unlikely inspiration: an article on the Badminton Central website, of all things. ( Although the writer is talking about playing doubles badminton, the description of what works and what doesn't is refreshingly clear. I highly recommend that you read the article, while keeping in mind the role of CA Board member.

What makes for a good partnership? The author touches on these points:

Not to be so dominant
Training Together

Of all these areas, I believe that Trust and Communication are key. Oakland Mills residents need someone they can can trust, and who will communicate with them openly. The same holds true for the Village Board. In addition, the Village Board needs to know that the CCR will be a trustworthy communicator for the Viilage to the Columbia Council and the Columbia Association.

But that's not all. The CCR must be willing to use these skills to engage in the variety of partnerships necessary for the successful functioning of our community.
This is not a place for information hoarding, or suspicion and conspiracy theories.
Partnership involves power-sharing. Power-sharing requires communication and trust.

I found this statement by Alanis Morisette. (Again, an unlikely source.)

"Partnership is the way. Dictatorial win-lose is so old-school."

Our future in Oakland Mills and Columbia depends upon successful partnerships. I am excited by a trend on the Ca Board towards recognizing their role in making this happen. I want to see Oakland Mills be an active part of that work.

Do you see areas where partnership is needed? Do you want to be a part of making things better? Do you want to stay better informed about all of this?

That's what this election is about.


Sent from my iPad

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Challenging Our Assumptions

As a newlywed, I adored my food processor. Back then I cooked everything from scratch and it was one of the wedding presents that got frequent use. So, I tried to talk my mother into getting one. She was still chopping everything in a wooden chopping bowl. Her resistance amazed me.

"How do you make sure that the plastic pusher-thing doesn't get sliced off by the blades?" She asked, doubtfully.

"It doesn't! Trust me! And besides, do you think they could successfully market something that got sliced up as soon as you used it?"  I wasn't very patient with her line of thinking.

She got a food processor. But she never really used it. It sat on the kitchen counter looking sparkly and new. And she continued to use her wooden chopping bowl.

I won the battle, but I lost the war.

In Columbia we are proud of recalling that our community was founded with racial, ethnic, and economic diversity in mind.  But on days when things go horribly wrong, our assumptions about how Columbia is supposed to be are challenged. I was deeply distressed to read the story of the recent arrests of four Oakland Mills teens. But I was angrier to read many of the online responses. As ugly as the description of events sounds in the news articles, the comments were uglier.

We may believe that people who live in Columbia are here because they share the founders' beliefs in integration, equality, and cultural diversity, but how could anyone possibly guarantee that this is true? There is no test one must pass to live here, no education that one must complete. Time passes, life goes on, the world changes.

Who have we become?

Several years go I attended a beer summit event hosted by twentyfivefortyfive on issues on race. Our host, Candace Dodson Reed, chose Frank Eastham as the facilitator for the evening. I came away with a realization that I knew very little about how my own race colors my views, or how our community really deals with issues of race. I learned that it is a good thing to acknowledge that you don't know everything, to be willing to say, "I am at the beginning."

The most important knowledge I gained from that evening was how perfectly suited Frank Eastham is to be the principal at Oakland Mills High School. His ability to share insight, to help us look at the truth, to challenge us to move out of our comfort zones are all crucial skills in addressing the needs of our high school students. In Frank Eastham they have mentor, guide, and advocate.

It is all to easy for us to stay in our own little bubbles of how the world works, and complain that others are messing things up. Like my mother and I years go, we have a failure to communicate. She refused to venture out of her comfort zone. I refused to put myself in her shoes.

When that happens, nothing changes.

The schools in Oakland Mills, and schools everywhere, are on the front lines of What's Happening Now. We can shrug our shoulders, or pass judgement. Or we can stand with them and admit that we don't know everything, but we are willing to be at the beginning.

Let's get to work.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Why I am Running

We need to make Columbia meaningful to all residents. We need to make Village life, along with the mission of Columbia, relevant to newer residents, younger residents, and residents whose economic or ethnic backgrounds make them feel disenfranchised.

In Oakland Mills, the revitalization process helped us focus on our strengths and establish priorities through a Village Master Plan. The Street Captain Program, the weekly e-newsletter and the Village website have built on that process. We still need to do more, because within every resident we reach lies the future of our village.

The Columbia Association has also done an excellent job in recent years of reaching out through email, newsletters, blogs, social media and informative community events. My own understanding of and appreciation for CA has been positively influenced by their efforts. And yet, we still need to do more.

I am running for Columbia Council Representative in Oakland Mills because I believe it is an ideal position to seek out, nurture and extend opportunities for outreach in the Oakland Mills Community. The more we can share knowledge and foster a sense of ownership, the more we can assure a healthy, vibrant community for the future. The same goes for making a positive contribution to Columbia as a whole--communicating what is working well for us and listening to Representatives from other Villages for what is working there: a sharing of best practices for the benefit of all, and working together to benefit Columbia as a whole.

But our biggest challenge today is educating residents about what CA is and what it is doing. Looking at the low percentage of Columbians who vote in Village elections is a good indicator of the challenge we face. It is our responsibility to connect, educate, and empower. We are rooted in the history of Columbia's beginnings; we will include present day residents; we must build for future generations.

I need your support. If you believe this message, share it. If you have questions, ask them. If you want to follow my campaign, click here.

Columbia belongs to you: vote.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Just Breathe

My dad died in 1984, at the age of 57. He didn't live to see any of his grandchildren. He died of COPD, or what had been known before then as emphysema.  He had smoked since his teen years. My grandparents smoked as well. Both had emphysema, though lived much longer--my grandfather to 84, my grandmother, 79.

Perhaps my father's allergies, asthma, and childhood bouts of pneumonia predisposed his lungs to weakness. Perhaps his workaholic nature wore him down as he put in crazy-long hours in the early days of computers: coffee and cigarettes and nothing but a candy bar from the machine for dinner. These were computers that took up whole rooms, punch card machines...He moved to IBM, selling computer systems to newspapers and magazines in the early 70's, then to developing IBM products for newspapers and magazines...working on the early and cigarettes, long hours, long commute from Stamford to White Plains. Frequent travel. Trips to Japan, England, France...

He barely made it to my college graduation and later that same year was unable to climb the steps into the chapel where I was married. He sat in the car while I was taking my vows. He lived from medication dose to medication dose, from hospitalization to hospitalization, until he died.

I asked my father's doctor once whether, if I were prone to this same illness, there were any careers choices I should avoid.  I was a teenager.  He smiled wryly. It's hard to be a doctor of the irrevocably gasping, dying. It's hard to be questioned by an unknowing, radiantly healthy teenager...

"Don't be a toll taker on the highway, " he said.


On Saturday, April 20th, CA is sponsoring Breathe Deep Columbia--a Lungevity Foundation 5 K Walk and Lung Awareness event. While this foundation raises money to stop Lung Cancer, and not COPD, the words "Breathe Deep" really spoke to me.

Now, April 20th is also CA Village Election Day.  I'm going to be rather busy.
So, instead of walking, I'm making a donation to Jane Dembner's Best Team Ever! sponsoring Barbara Kellner.  I'm giving in memory of my grandparents, Byron Edward and Hazel Cornell Jackson, and especially my dad, Byron Cornell Jackson, who thought he couldn't be productive and support a family without his coffee and cigarettes.

For all that he missed, and for all that I missed, I am giving.

Maybe you have a reason to walk, or to give?  Remember, if you can breathe deeply, be grateful.


Monday, March 11, 2013

The Power of the Pen

Have you written any thank-you notes lately?  My Mother drilled into me the importance of writing them as a child. I don't think I write as many these days as I should. People just don't write letters anymore, right?  But even though technology has changed how we communicate, it shouldn't change our need to express thanks.

And there is one thank-you note that I really, really need to write.

Dear Columbia Council Representatives,

Thank you so much for your recent vote in support the Inner Arbor/McCall Plan for Symphony Woods. It was just what I wanted!  The best part is that I can share it with my family, friends, and neighbors.  It's a really thoughtful gift.

The Symphony Woods project is a gift that will keep on giving. I am so excited to be a part of something new and beautiful for Columbia. Finally we have found a way for other generations to contribute to something lasting and meaningful for our community. We love Columbia, too. We want to build on its great beginnings.

Columbia--long a supporter of the arts--will have a dinner theater, a children's theater, a tree-house amphitheater for outdoor performances. The Columbia Association--our advocates in fostering a better quality of life--will have a much-needed new headquarters in an appealing setting. (I think it will encourage more community participation.) Our community--home to schools, charitable groups, and other worthy non-profits--will have a space for proms, fundraising events, and other large celebrations.

Symphony Woods--meant to be a place for the people--will be cared for, beautified, treasured.

I was so energized by the work you did on this project that I decided that I want to be a Columbia Council Representative, too. I hope that I will be able to work with you and contribute to this and other projects that help make Columbia awesome.

Thanks again,

Julia McCready

Friday, March 8, 2013

Walking the Walk

It wasn't too long ago that I wrote this:

"Are you willing to put your hopes, your values, and your time into the ongoing, living being that is Columbia?"

And this:

"We can't be static. We need to keep reaching, striving, working so that more people and visions are included."

Yes, only a few days ago I said this:

"The People Tree in motion...looks like participation in your neighborhood, your village, and in the ongoing plans for Columbia."

Well, I must be pretty persuasive, because I convinced someone to run for Columbia Council Representative for Oakland Mills.


I love Oakland Mills, and I love Columbia. Exciting things are happening in our community and we have the chance to bring our friends and neighbors into this process, to share knowledge and a sense of ownership. That's what makes a community awesome.

Serving as Council Representative means creating a positive working relationship with both the Village Board and the other Council members. It means being a good communicator, a good listener, and someone that people feel they can trust.

So I decided: if Columbia is a verb, I'd better start walking.

Join me?


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

19 Closest Friends

Years ago, my sister's high school boyfriend came to her with a story of a nightmare. He dreamed that she had died and had left everything to her "19 Closest Friends." He spent the whole dream trying to find out if he was one of them. For some reason, the story of the 19 Closest Friends became legendary in my family. It still means something to me, many years later.

I thought of this story this morning when I read Dennis Lane's response to a comment on Tales of Two Cities,

"Finally, is important to note that the vast majority of Columbia residents don't really care about this. If you combine the people who opposed the (Inner Arbor) plan with the people in support it wouldn't number over 500. That's less than 1% of the lien paying population."

The people who know, and who really care = less than one per cent of the lien paying population.

I'm having trouble getting my mind around that. What it means is that, whatever Columbia's successes, it has been a monumental failure at creating citizens who know, who care, and who do something about it.

(The numbers I don't have, of course, are the ones that show a general relationship between any government and the folks who are involved in a meaningful way. Is the ratio higher? Lower? More or less the same? Columbia Compass or Frank Hecker would be helpful here.)

This is MY question:

Are you one of Columbia's 19 Closest Friends?

Are you willing to put your hopes, your values, and your time into the ongoing, living being that is Columbia? It isn't always easy. It doesn't always feel that the door is open for you. But good friendships take work. And time.

For example, Columbians talk a lot about the People Tree. Remember the uproar when CA gave it a new look? Was it a struggle to see things in a new way?

The People Tree is a symbol for what Columbia was meant to be. But it is a statue--frozen in time. We can't be static. We need to keep reaching, striving, working so that more people and visions are included.

The People Tree in motion--what does that look like? It looks like participation in your neighborhood, your village, and in the ongoing plans for Columbia. It can look like this.

Columbia needs more friends. Close friends. What can we do to make the case that Columbia is a good friend to have?


Monday, March 4, 2013

A Reading from the Book of Rouse

In the beginning it was all good. We were all the right sort of Columbians. The world was wholesome and fair. We understood that all we needed was our own Village Center, and the great good Mall to unite us.
It was all forming into a beautiful utopia, just for us. Just to meet our families' needs. Everyone was involved in making Columbia a better place.  Participation in self-government was enthusiastic. Lifelong friendships were forged at the community mailboxes.

The world was safe; it was easy to find a babysitter.  But mostly, Moms stayed home and made our neighborhoods welcoming. Oh, mom took a painting or ceramics class now and again, for fulfillment, you know. But we knew she'd be there when we needed her. 

Once upon a time we were pioneers in integration and multiculturalism.  We had just the right kind of diversity, you know: nice upwardly mobile middle class integration and nice university professor sort of multiculturalism.  

God Bless Jim Rouse, he wanted there to be economic diversity too, so he made apartments and townhomes for the just out of college folks. They don't have a lot of money, you know. And they might need to walk to the Village Center until they saved up enough for a car.

He even thought of Interfaith Centers for all the right sort of religions, and everyone felt included and no one was left out because they could all worship the very same way, only different, if you know what I mean.  

We had lovely man-made lakes and public spaces and pathways and tot lots, and people appreciated them and didn't carp about wanting something different.  It was all new so people didn't clamor for change.  We were the change.

This was our Genesis.  This was our Garden of Eden. You can't have one.  Everyone knows miracles only happened in Bible times. Those were our times.  We get to live in the rosy garden of our memories, and you?  Well, you are what happened after the Fall. You wanted to taste of the Tree of Life, didn't you? 

That Tree is not for you.  But you can dance in its shadow. Just as long as we get to pick the music.