Wednesday, July 15, 2020

I Don’t Buy It

I am puzzled by the Governor’s new book release. Of all the things he could be doing right now to make life better for Marylanders, a memoir that paints his years in office as the exploits of a tough guy against the lawless is not remotely useful.

I gave Mr. Hogan credit for his work at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. But that was because I made the assumption that he was going to follow through. He hasn’t. Hogan just seemed to...lose interest. He started strong and then - - boom! - - he made decisions that essentially threw county executives around the state under the bus. After that it was back to Hogan as usual, criticizing and passing judgement on anyone whose choices differed from his own.

No collaboration. No teamwork. No attempt to lift up local leaders to lend credibility to their efforts.

Did he get bored? Did someone in Washington tell him to lay off? I have no idea. But Mr. Hogan started with so much political capital on this issue and squandered it. I’m embarrassed to say I thought he was truly going to take care of the people of Maryland. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, despite my many disagreements with his political views and past decisions.

I sure look foolish now.

Perhaps at the height of making those pandemic decisions the Governor got sidetracked by putting the finishing touches on his book, or planning the upcoming publicity campaign. It’s hard to say. Perhaps he decided that it’s not my good opinion that matters but rather those good ol’ folks who think that the coronavirus is a hoax and that removing statues of racists is un-American. They’ll probably buy his book. 

I won’t.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

How He Got Famous

This is the story of a meteoric rise to fame in a local Columbia Facebook group. This story is true, only the names have been omitted to respect the privacy of the members of the group. 

It all started on July 6th, on the Buy Nothing (Columbia East) Group.

Gift: blue tutu

No size listed, but banana for reference

Would prefer to have it picked up within the next day or 2.

And then, following in quick succession:


I love your banana for size. It makes me laugh.
That banana is going places.

On July 7th:


I’m wondering who that banana’s agent is... I hope he has a lucrative contract for all of his modeling work this week 

July 11th:


That banana is getting rough.
He’s waiting for his day to shine!

And then, yesterday:


He looks so dapper! 
Googly eyes! 
This banana is my favorite thing.
Omg, that banana!! His agent is definitely doing their job!!

Finally, on July 13th:

Gratitude: thank you to everyone who chimed in and commented on my banana antics (banantics?) this past week. It definitely helped to brighten my day. 

However, it was finally time for the banana to move on and realize his full potential today, so this will be his last post.


I've loved your banantics!
I agree, they certainly had appeal! 
He decided to make like a banana and split. 
Omg this banana post keeps getting better and better. Love your sense of humor! 
He was sad though, because he realized he was no longer appealing.
But now I have no idea how big this is!

And yet, it wasn’t exactly the last word in the banana-tastic saga. A little while later came this tribute from another member, complete with a photo montage and a virtual award:

To gift ... I’m veering off the typical post in that i want to gift to a specific person. I know this is not our normal way of doing things, but i felt that a personal gift of a virtual Emmy award for Best Spokesperson is deserved for Mr. Banana and his hardworking talent agent. Mr. Banana, you put Billy Mays and Ron Popeil to shame. Thank you for brightening our days with your many spokes-person appearances. You will be missed as you enjoy a well-deserved sweet retirement.


I love you all! What a great group of people this is!
But most of all, I hold the memory of Dear Mr. Banana close to my heart. 

He was so young looking back on his blue tutu days! I was shocked at his bold move to add the googly eyes in his glass bowl days. He just looks so majestic in retirement. This look suits him well.

I love him!! I’m so happy that you are honoring him as he enters his golden (brown) years

Another one bites the dust. I'm sure he had a sweet and smooth journey. We loafs you Mr. Banana.

Standing ovation!

How could such a beloved character meet such a dark end? 

Thanks for the laughs!

Thanks a bunch!

Another member posted this photo as a tribute, perhaps the very first piece of Mr. Banana swag?

The mission of the Buy Nothing Project:

We offer people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide network of hyper-local gift economies in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people who are real-life neighbors.

Their website encourages members to “give freely and share creatively.” The unexpected rise to fame of an unassuming banana seems to me to be a prime example of both. Years from now, if someone asks me what helped me hold it all together during the pandemic, I’ll probably tell them about my Buy Nothing Group, and about a small-town superstar named Mr. Banana.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Don’t Be Fooled

Today is Monday, July (checks calendar) 13th and this is your periodic reminder that the reason that COVID-19 has not completely decimated Howard County is not because it isn't all that bad. It’s because our local government chose to handle it responsibly, and many local institutions are backing them up. A lot of local citizens are choosing to follow suit. 

It takes a lot of work to do all this, whether at the county governmental level or the hospital or in local businesses. You’ll forgive me if I’m beyond frustrated when people look at the successes brought about by these coordinated efforts and say, “See? It’s not a big deal at all!”

So let’s open all the businesses! Let’s send the teachers and students back to school! All these restrictions are inconvenient and unnecessary!

That’s not how this works, folks. As the advert says, “That’s not how any of this works.”

I’d like to give a shout-out today to the Howard County Health Department. They have been running information about how ordinary people in Columbia/HoCo can respond to the COVID-19 pandemic on their Twitter account for quite some time now. They have helpful links to online events. They use humorous memes to communicate public health information. They respond to questions in a timely manner!

If you don’t already follow them on Twitter, you should. Over the last few months they’ve become my unofficial pandemic buddies on social media. For a small example, check out this thread on contact tracing:

I just discovered that this quote, which I’ve loved for years, is attributed to actor Michael Caine. Who knew?

Be a duck, remain calm on the surface and paddle like hell underneath.

When it comes to assessing the seriousness of COVID-19 in Howard County, there are clearly some people who are fooled by how calm things look on the surface. This is probably because they are not remotely connected to how much paddling is going on underneath.

If you want to see what “no big deal at all!” looks like, I’d suggest you take a look at Florida.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Big Drawback

A local realtor I know posted about a dozen houses and asked, “Which one is your favorite?” Strangely enough my top two were in Oakland Mills. Probably my very favorite was a house on Wandering Way. Wandering Way is exactly as the name suggests; it meanders along at a rather casual pace until it comes to a suitably Columbian cul de sac ending.

One of the reasons I have come to adore Wandering Way is that there are a number of “original” Columbia homes which have been updated and customized by subsequent owners. It’s almost the laboratory for new thinking about our older houses. Most people in Columbia wouldn’t even know they exist, because Wandering Way is off the beaten path. You’d have to try to find it.

In the end I had to admit that this house had a drawback I couldn’t get around: no sidewalks. 

To me a neighborhood has to have sidewalks. Otherwise you are saying everyone must drive or walk in the street. It suggests that you aren’t expecting neighbors to be connected to neighbors. Sidewalks can be for roller-skating, trick-or-treating, canvassers encouraging you to vote in the Village election, people out walking for exercise, beginning bicyclists, a trip to the grocery.  I can’t understand why any neighborhood in Columbia wouldn’t have been built with sidewalks as an essential. 

I’ve heard that not everyone likes sidewalks. Somewhere in the back of my mind is a story about a neighborhood that actively fought sidewalks, but I can’t remember which one. Columbia Hills? Allview? If you know, fill me in. For that matter, if you don’t like sidewalks I’d be interested to hear your point of view. 

My little house, a quadroplex on a road dominated by single-family homes, remains my top choice because it is so easy to walk anywhere in the Village I want to go. I don’t have square feet, I don’t have acreage, but I have sidewalks. Sidewalks make for connections. Interestingly enough, our slogan in Oakland Mills is: We Value Connections.

What about you? Are you connected? Do you wish that you were? Share your views in the comments.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Rescued in the Nick of Time

This was almost the story of the terrible, horrible, no-good day. It started when I was cutting the end of a loaf of crusty sourdough bread from Wegmans and my very sharp bread knife sliced into two of my fingers. It was then that I discovered that I was out of bandages save for two teeny tiny ones and one enormous one.

Wait. It gets better.

I cut the enormous one in half and that would’ve been just dandy but one of them was bleeding with great enthusiasm. So I ended up having to concoct my own back up bandages out of paper towels and medical tape. Several times.

Still, I didn’t have much time to waste as I had a follow-up doctors appointment and I didn’t want to be late. I arrived with time to spare only to discover I had driven to the wrong office by mistake. The buildings are near the hospital and the driveways are next to each other. The interiors of the buildings are identical too, dagnabbit.

Back in the car. Arrive at the correct doctor’s office and, at the check in, I see a puzzled look from the woman at the desk. She looks at her computer screen. She clicks. She types. She pauses.

“I’m so sorry, but your appointment is next Friday. You’re a whole week early.”

Dear readers, at this point I thought of many things. Some of them were not printable.

But this is not the end of the story. As I sat at home in my comfy chair, nursing my wounds, I got a delivery.

It was an entire box of Momma’s Gingerbread Cakes hand-delivered to me From Momma’s Kitchen. I had ordered them as a special treat for myself because I adore gingerbread. I had no idea how much I would need it when it arrived. 

I wasted no time in the unboxing and the tasting.

The top sparkled with plentiful sugar crystals and the cake was light and tender with flecks of fresh ginger. I almost cried, it was that good. I made myself eat it slowly so as to appreciate everything about it: the flavor, the texture, the fragrance, the moist and tender crumb.

This is not your mother’s gingerbread. This is Momma’s Gingerbread cake and you could serve it to company or the Queen of England. But it would be very, very hard to share.

Want your own box? Or something else equally delicious from a local, Black-owned business in Columbia/HoCo? Look up From Momma’s Kitchen on Facebook and take a look at her website, too.

I don’t wish on anybody the day I had yesterday, but, just in case it happens to you, it would be a good idea to have “Momma” on speed-dial. 

Friday, July 10, 2020

New Beginnings

A bit of purely light-hearted fun this morning. I need some and I’ll bet you do, too. 

There’s a new business opening in the old Cheeburger Cheeburger space. It’s called Neo Pizza & Taphouse. You can checkout their page on Facebook and their website. It looks like they will be doing fundraiser nights for area groups, just as their predecessor did. That’s good news for local PTAs and area non-profits.

I really know nothing about them, but, after a look at their menu, I’m eager to try their salads. They’re not the same-old, same-old. From their Facebook page:

The best artisan pizza in Columbia. Handcrafted delicious food and a wide selection of Self Serve craft beers in a comfortable, casual atmosphere. Food to go, Happy Hour Specials. Subs, Sandwiches, Wraps, and more. N.E.O. Never. Expect. Ordinary.

Self-serve beer? Hmm.

Neo is not a part of a national chain. There are exactly four so far: Annapolis, Bel Air, Mount Vernon Marketplace, and Columbia. I’d suggest you go here to learn more but you’d have to have an extemely high tolerance for reading narrative text


It looks like owner Leho Poldmae also owns the Green Turtle. Wait, isn’t there a Green Turtle right next door to the new Columbia location? Interesting.

Something else I’m excited about is the opening of the newest venture from Lee Andersen at ManniqArt: DoodleHATCH. Oh, my goodness, this is the first thing that has made me want to leave the house in months.

DoodleHATCH is a one-of-a kind destination for kids, adults who wish they were kids, and visitors seeking something new and different to do.

A pretend store for the mythical creatures of fairy tales, ghost tales, and other worlds, it is an interactive walk through fantasy realms. Stop at the fairy village, visit the hobbit house, and check into the Dead and Breakfast.

They are open by appointment right now to ensure appropriate physical distancing. Wondering about the cost? It’s ten cents an inch: get measured to find out. I did an approximate calculation of mine and it’s quite reasonable. For those of you who remember the visioning work done in Long Reach to reimagine the Long Reach Village Center, this new attraction fits right in. 

Opening businesses in the midst of such uncertainty is a big risk. Neither one of these has the backing of big national chains, so, if we want them to get off the ground, we’ll have to support them. If you have kids, or, even if you don’t, both look like they will be worth a visit. 

If I find myself attending a restaurant night for DoodleHATCH (yes, it’s a 501(c) (3) nonprofit) at Neo Pizza some time in the next year I will award myself cool points for my prescience. 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Guest Post: Impossible Situations

Today’s post comes from Mindy Levene Spak, Howard County teacher and mother of two children in the Howard County school system. There’s been a lot of talk recently about what going back to school should look like. Ms. Spak has penned a letter which, to my mind, speaks to the heart of what teachers and parents are wrestling with. I share it here with her permission. 


Here is my story both as an educator and a parent.

My 15 year old son has Down Syndrome. I have had an amazing HOCO special ed experience. He has attended Bollman Bridge, PVMS, and will begin Hammond High in the fall. He has been completely underserved during this time.....and his "people" have killed themselves to make it right by him. His support needs are great and his teachers (and mother) are limited in what they can give. And truth be told...I am 100% okay. Because he is safe and healthy. My greatest fear is that he will need to be hospitalized and not understand what is going on. That he will be alone or with just one of us in the hospital. That my entire family will be torn apart as we are split between my 13 year old daughter (rising 8th grader) who also needs two parents and my hospitalized son. I do not know if I am strong enough to live through my son being hospitalized.

For that reason, I am not going back to a brick and mortar building next year. If half the kids go one day and half another...I am still exposed to everyone. I work in a building with 1400 people. I spend HOURS asking kids to put their phones away, to not watch movies while I am teaching, and to keep their hands to themselves. There is no way, no way, I can go back to work. I will quit if I have to. I will homeschool or pay for private school. I am not risking our lives. If Americans cannot forgo 4th of July at the beach or wear masks....then I am not going to teach their children at a school. I just am not.

I am lucky. We don't need my paycheck to eat. I have tenure. I am a white, English-speaking, educated educator. I can walk away. But my ESOL students....that is another story.

My students, whose parents have risked so much so their children can have a better life....they are the ones who are now "essential". These families are doing the work that they have always done - washing dishes, cooking food, yard work, running nail shops or dry cleaners. These families are keeping our society going. And they are exposed to everyone. Kids have stopped attending school because their families need money to pay the rent. They stop attending because the technology is not consistent or easy to understand. Going to school in a 2nd language is hard enough, now you need to navigate a hard system. They stop coming because they were only coming to see their friends. Some have only a 4th grade education and are lost without their friends' cues and support.

Teachers and students are lost without each other. We need each other. I did not go into teaching because I love grading papers. I love the kids. I love helping them expand who they are and what they know. I love being that person who loves them up and cheers them on. And none of that is happening. And it break my hear and if I am not careful it will break my sprit.

BUT WE ARE IN A PANDEMIC!!! It's unprecedented in our lifetimes. We have to be safe. We have to protect ourselves. Let's live through this and then play catch up. We are going to miss out on some very important things. Everyone is missing out. But the reward of all of this is that we increase our chances of enjoying the rest of our lives.

I believe the question needs to be: how can we make on-line learning the best it can be? Not: how soon can we get back to the building?

I am hoping HCPSS does right by us. If they don't, I have an exit strategy that I hope I do not need to use. Because using it would break my heart.


The truth is that criminally bad management at the national level is forcing these kinds of heartbreaking decisions at the local level. Instead of weighing choices that are the best for children and teachers we are faced with nonsensical dictates that have nothing to do with education and everything to do with the storage of children so that their parents can make the economic numbers look better in an election year. This statement from Katie Adams on Twitter accurately describes the situation we find ourselves in:

It’s all true. What choices will we make in Howard County?

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Decisions, Decisions

What would it look like? Continuing on from yesterday’s post about the recent statement from the Board of Education, what would it look like to:

.....denounce any bias and racism towards any groups who have been ignored, marginalized, discriminated against and/or oppressed,  

.....and allocate resources in accordance with these values as a school system and a Board.

A reader suggested that this might be a way to approach renaming schools named after slave-holders and plantations. I wondered if it might somehow be used to fortify an “improve, don’t move” narrative. It depends on how you look at it.

The folks at CARY (Community Allies of Rainbow Youth) saw those words and made a connection of their own. They wrote a letter to Superintendent Martirano addressing the hiring of central office staff in the area of diversity and inclusion.

I’m sharing the letter in its entirety here, with permission from CARY. (It’s that good.)

Dear Dr. Martirano,
We understand that the hiring process is underway to bring on three more central office staff members whose responsibilities involve furthering the school system’s diversity and inclusion goals. We are here to urge that at least one of those staff members have strong expertise and familiarity with all issues pertaining to the LGBTQ+ community.

LGBTQ+ students are still a heavily marginalized group. Studies show suicide rates far above the general average and one of the exacerbating factors has been shown to be a lack of support for these students in their community. Often such students find themselves at odds with their own families who don’t accept their identities, and schools may be the only place they have to turn. Getting LGBTQ+ acceptance right is literally a question of life and death.
It is also an academic issue. Students who do not feel accepted or safe will not devote the necessary effort to their studies.
The needs of LGBTQ+ students are complex and multifaceted. Bathroom and locker room use. Dress codes. Participation in athletics and single-sex activities. Name and gender marker on school records. Issues faced by non-binary students. Students who are out at school but not at home, and vice versa. Overcoming resistance among staff members and proper briefing of substitutes. Identifying outdated and offensive content among curricular materials. Interacting with families of LGBTQ+ students and of their peers who refuse to normalize the presence of these students in our schools. Ensuring sufficient representation so that LGBTQ+ students see themselves among staff, administrators, and historical and contemporary figures being studied. These are only a sampling of the issues that these new central office staff will need to address.
There is no way a passing familiarity will do. Someone who has attended a few trainings on the subject will find themselves woefully unprepared to deal with the breadth of the issues involved. Nothing less than in-depth experience and knowledge gained from long-term immersion will suffice.
We wish we could say the track record thus far has been satisfactory. It is clear that our school system is eager to provide LGBTQ+ students with the supportive environment they deserve, but the lack of in-depth insider expertise has taken a toll. We were disappointed with the quality and thoroughness of the training materials provided to staff during the 2018-19 school year and the lack of follow-up during 2019-20. How some issues have been dealt with has proven to be problematic in ways that would only be clear to those with an immersive familiarity with the issues involved.
For these reasons, we strongly recommend that among the qualifications considered when choosing applicants for the three open positions, at least one of them needs to be an expert on how to accommodate and support LGBTQ+ students and address the issues they face.
Community Allies of Rainbow Youth (CARY)


If the Board is sincere in its intent to follow through on the allocation of funds to address previous wrongs towards vulnerable groups, then they will be willing to look carefully at these upcoming appointments when they are presented by the Superintendent. While Dr. Martirano chooses the people to add to this team, the Board must approve his selections. 

In a way, it will be a test of their resolve to see how they committed they are to ‘walking the walk’ and not merely ‘talking the talk.’ A statement such as theirs is not useful if it exists in isolation. It needs to be connected to decision-making in order to have any meaning whatsoever.

CARY states,

Students who do not feel accepted or safe will not devote the necessary effort to their studies.

I’d suggest that sentence could go farther. Students who do not feel accepted or safe may very well be rendered unable to devote the necessary effort to their studies. Existing in a state of rejection and fear is damaging. Rejection and fear sabotage the learning experience for our students. A failure to address this is a failure to make decisions that uphold the mission of the school system.

In case you think that’s a rather bold claim, I submit the following from the HCPSS web site.

The Mission of HCPSS is stated as:

HCPSS ensures academic success and social-emotional well-being for each student in an inclusive and nurturing environment that closes opportunity gaps,

and includes this Vision:

Every student and staff member embraces diversity and possesses the skills, knowledge, and confidence to positively influence the larger community.

The larger community can postively influence the Board by supporting them in their desire to do better. You can always send a note thanking them for making this statement. You can encourage them to make choices that will further this goal. You can remind them if it looks like they are in danger of losing sight of their commitment. 

They can’t go it alone. They’ll need partners if they hope to make any lasting progress. Let them know you’ll be there to back them up.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

A Beginning at the Board

Interesting goings-on at the Board of Education:

1.  Move the Howard County Board of Education denounce any bias and racism towards African American, Asian American, Latino American, Muslim American, LGBT community, and any other groups who have been ignored, marginalized, discriminated against and/or oppressed and allocate resources in accordance with these values as a school system and a Board.*

Motion by Chao Wu, second by Kirsten A Coombs.
Final Resolution: Motion Carries
Yea: Kirsten A Coombs, Vicky Cutroneo, Christina Delmont-Small, Mavis Ellis, Jennifer Mallo, Sabina Taj, Chao Wu, Allison J Alston

2.  Move the Howard County Board of Education and those candidates running for the Board in 2020 be provided an opportunity for unconscious and conscious biased training along with anti-biased and anti-racist training.

Motion by Mavis Ellis, second by Sabina Taj.
Final Resolution: Motion Carries
Yea: Kirsten A Coombs, Vicky Cutroneo, Christina Delmont-Small, Mavis Ellis, Jennifer Mallo, Sabina Taj, Chao Wu, Allison J Alston

3.  Move that all equity training include bias training on all disabilities.

Motion by Christina Delmont-Small, second by Chao Wu.
Final Resolution: Motion Carries
Yea: Kirsten A Coombs, Christina Delmont-Small, Mavis Ellis, Jennifer Mallo, Chao Wu, Allison J Alston
Abstain: Sabina Taj
Not Present at Vote: Vicky Cutroneo
(WiFi went out during storm)

This is good stuff, in my opinion. It will be particularly good if we see this influence future decisions by the Board. A statement of intent is a beginning, not an end unto itself.

Move the Howard County Board of Education denounce any bias and racism towards African American, Asian American, Latino American, Muslim American, LGBT community, and any other groups who have been ignored, marginalized, discriminated against and/or oppressed and allocate resources in accordance with these values as a school system and a Board.

This phrase intrigues me:

... and allocate resources in accordance with these values as a school system and a Board.

As we all know, the allocation of resources is a big deal. It’s putting your money where your mouth is. This year’s budget deliberations are behind us at this point. Would the commitment suggested by this statement have shaped those decisions any differently? Is it a commitment? Will we be able to look back on this as a turning point for how the Board views its responsibilities?

More questions than answers, I know. Well, it’s good to be curious.

I want to explain the asterisk* above: following the vote the Board realized it had omitted Judaism and that they will need to fix that. So look for that change in a future meeting.

Tomorrow I want to talk a bit about an example of how allocating resources can reflect these values. In the meantime, I highly recommend reading this letter to Superintendent Martirano from the folks at CARY. (Community Allies of Rainbow Youth) Some words to ponder:

Students who do not feel accepted or safe will not devote the necessary effort to their studies.

Creating an environment where all students can feel accepted and safe must be the highest priority for our school system. 

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Again With the Blamers

Every time I nodded off last night our neighborhood pyrotechnics crew set off another blast. Many were close enough to feel as though they were bouncing off of our house. It was not a good night for sleep. 


The past week has shown, yet again, that many people do not know what the Columbia Association does versus what Howard County does. This is a long-standing problem. I wrote a piece about this in 2013,

Sadly, one of my favorite links in this piece is no longer operational. It went to a page called, “Why I Pay CA?” If any of my internet savvy friends have a copy of that, I think it’s worth sharing. UPDATE: thanks to Ilana Bittner of HoCoMoJo for the link to the (now-archived) old page, “Why I Pay CA”. It may have been replaced by something superior and I’d be interested to see that, too. UPDATE: thanks to another observant reader I have the link to the new page, entitled “Who Handles What?

So many residents are woefully ignorant of the dynamics of CA as a Homeowners Association and how it differs from Howard County as a government entity. Many fruitless arguments could be avoided were this better known.

Of course, social media is the undisputed home of fruitless arguments, which is how I know that a subset of Columbia/HoCo thinks they are owed fireworks, pools, open malls, restaurants, businesses, and bars, schools/childcare so they can get back to work, and salons that don’t make them wear a mask. I’m not talking about being sad that we are living through a difficult time. I’m talking about people who are turning up again and again to say, “you owe me.”

This attitude is even more tiring to me than late night fireworks. I would rather be hanging out with people who are working to discover what the community needs and how they can offer to help than banging a figurative table demanding that they get what is “owed” them. 

In addition, our local demanders-in-chief have decided to assign ill intent to any decision that they don’t agree with. Eveything is crooked, or selfish, or mean-spirited, or a conspiracy. There’s very little room simply to say, “we are going through difficult times right now and I’m sad and disappointed.” The loudest voices are the blamers.

I wish I had a solution to this, I don’t. Even if we were all better educated about how the various facets of Columbia and Howard County work, there would be people who were angry that they weren’t getting their stuff. Or that it must be some kind of racket. There will always be people like that. They show up on the Internet, in letters to the editor, and at community forums. They have a whole lot to say and they do not want to relinquish the mic.

Let’s give them a run for their money. Let’s push back on misinformation. Respond to blame with reason. Gently redirect anger. Try kindness if at all possible. 

I’m going to try more of this today but, in the meantime, I need to go back to sleep. At long last it is quiet in my neighborhood and I think a nap is in order. No one owes it to me, but I’ll definitely be a nicer person later on if I can replace some lost sleep. It’s worth a try.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

A Rough Year for the Big Day

I regret to admit that I am not feeling any significant zest for the Fourth of July this year. It’s not due to the  pandemic lack of traditional activities, either. Between the outrageous behavior of the current occupant of the White House and his supporters, and the ongoing national reckoning of white supremacy and systemic racism, it is an extremely sobering time to be an American.

It is more a time of mourning than a time for celebration. There is no shame in grief if it means one is facing the truth. It still feels terrible.

Locally, in Columbia/HoCo, individual communities will find a way to make their own fun, and that’s a good thing. I am hoping that tonight will be the last gasp for all the random fireworks which have been plaguing my neighborhood of late. They don’t feel like fun to me. They feel more like we are under siege.

Over the years I have celebrated Independence Day at potlucks with friends, at the Longfellow parade, at the nearby elementary school, exploring Bridge Columbia, at the Lakefront fireworks, and at the top of the hill near my home. Probably my favorite was last year when I was privileged to be at an event which was truly integrated and my sheltered white self got a chance to feel celebration in an entirely new way. 

My world got bigger. My experience of Columbia was richer. And my picture of America was more complete. 

In our nation, and in our communty, experiences like that happen only through intentional effort. Without persistence the racial divides set in place for generations simply replicate themselves, even here in Columbia/HoCo.  We all have to work to make that happen. If we have any reason to celebrate at all this year it is that more and more people are seeing the ugliness of this truth for what it is: distinctly un-American. And they are willing to take to the streets and show up at the polls to bring about change.

At the risk of sounding hokey, that’s the best of America to me. That’s patriotism. That is love of country, when you believe its freedoms are so precious that they must be for all.

I’m not sure what sort of patriotic songs people will be singing today, but I’ll be reflecting on this one.

None of us are free.
None of us are free.
None of us are free, if one of us are chained.
None of us are free.

Friday, July 3, 2020

The Parade

The miracle of the week, if not the whole summer, is that there will somehow be a parade for the Fourth of July. Not just any parade, but the 50th Longfellow Fourth of July Parade. This announcement from the Village of Harper’s Choice made me smile:

The Parade is on! Rain or shine...50th annual Longfellow Friends of the Traditional 4th Parade  

The 50th annual Longfellow Friends of the Traditional 4th Parade will take place on Saturday, July 4, rain or shine, at 10:00 am. Don't forget your face masks! 

Lineup begins at 9:15 in the parking lot of Longfellow Elementary School. It will travel from one end of Hesperus Drive to the other, and return to the school via Eliot's Oak Road. 

This year we will be saluting the 25 Founders of this wonderful Longfellow tradition! All are welcome to participate, or just come and watch. No advance registration!

The Longfellow Parade is steeped in good, old-fashioned Columbia history. (You can see some great photos of previous parades here.) The fact that it is going forward despite current challenges does not surprise me. From a 2017 Sun piece about the parade by Libby Solomon:

A firetruck from the Banneker fire station leads the parade, which loops around the two main Longfellow streets, beginning and ending at Longfellow Elementary School. Cub Scouts follow, then the parade's two awardees, the grand marshal and Good Neighbor. Members of the Harper's Choice village board — who one year carried a wooden board reading "Village Board," according to The Washington Post — follows close behind.

One of my favorite, albeit newer, traditions connected with the Longfellow parade is the appearance of volunteers from Food for Tomorrow. The initiative began in 2011 through the efforts of student interns in Councilwoman Mary K. Sigaty’s office. This article in Patch describes how Rodrigo Futema and Dylan Goldberg were moved to action when they learned of the community’s increasing need for services from the Howard County Food Bank.

The Food for Tomorrow volunteers are a familiar sight at local Fourth of July events. This year will be no different.

If you want to make a donation during the parade, they ask that this year you give loose change or small bills rather than food items, as it will cut down on the amount of sanitizing that will need to be done at the Howard County Food Bank. These folks think of everything.

If you want to volunteer to assist Food for Tomorrow in the parade, fill out this form to let them know.

Food for Tomorrow’s Dylan Goldberg, now a graduate of the University of Maryland, works in the Maryland General Assembly for Delegate Shane Pendergrass. He was ready to spring into action as soon as he heard that the Longfellow Parade was on. I’ve heard that Goldberg thinks of July Fourth as the best day of the year because of its significance in America’s history. The fact that he has combined that love with a way to make the lives of other people in out community a little bit better is the kind of activism that makes my heart glad.

Remember, if you go to the parade: masks, adequate physical distancing, and plenty of loose change and/or small bills if you have them. Let’s help people walk away from this parade with no other last effects than the joy of celebrating with neighbors.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

I Was Wrong

At some point last week I stopped dead in my tracks and said, “Corey Andrews was right.”  I was reading this article from Maryland Matters:

Report Shows School Suspension and Arrest Rates Remain Highest for Black Students , Elizabeth Shwe

The Maryland State Board of Education presented a research report on school suspension and arrest rates at its board meeting on Tuesday. Although teachers cannot suspend students for insubordination, some continue to do so, state Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon said.

“The data is absolutely, unbelievably disproportionate for our Black and Brown children,” Salmon said. She later described the results as “horrendous”.

And then, I remembered. 

Way back in 2012 I wrote this post about school resource officers. Although the post doesn’t mention him by name, it was written in reponse to statements from Board of Education candidate Corey Andrews. At seventeen, he was very likely the youngest candidate ever to run for a seat on the board. Andrews had serious concerns about the SRO program being expanded to middle schools. 

I had spent a summer as a paraeducator in the summer school program at Long Reach High School. We had a great School Resource Officer. In my infinite wisdom, I decided that Andrews was young, over-reacting, and looking for an issue that didn’t exist. So I went in and sat down with my summer school colleagues to gather information for a blog post.

Yes, we all do things that make us wince later and this is definitely one for me. As dedicated as my former colleagues were, they were not going to be able to provide any perspective other than the one they were already committed to. Like it or not, they were representatives of the system. The fact that I liked and respected them did not change that.

Mr. Andrews ran for the Board several times. His commitment to this particular issue was unwavering. Here he is in 2016:

Andrews believes that this disparity, in addition to the "discipline gap," as he calls it, are contributing to the achievement gap.

"When you have African-American students being suspended at seven times the rate of white students, that is an equity issue," he said.

Yesterday, in an article by Jacob Calvin Meyer in the Baltimore Sun, this quote from a former Hammond High School graduate leapt off the page for me:

My first major concern was the presence of a police officer in the school who usually followed Black students around and made many of my peers feel targeted and under surveillance in a place that’s supposed to be a learning environment.

I have learned a lot since 2012. On this particular issue, the events of the last year have been particularly educational. It’s clear that the use of police in schools has resulted in a criminalizing of Black students because underlying attitudes prompt school personnel to view the behavior of Black students differently than that of white students. They view it differently, interpret it differently, and respond to it differently.

In many, many cases, the consequences for the same behaviors are wildly different depending on the color of your skin.

As State Schools Superintendent Karen Salmon says, the data is absolutely, unbelievably disproportionate for our Black and Brown children. It’s horrendous. Not just state-wide, but here in Howard County. The students who sent a one hundred page petition to the Board of Education had plenty to say about this and other issues which contribute to upholding structural and institutional racism.

Like Corey Andrews, they see school resource officers as an equity issue. And, like students all over the country, they want to see police officers removed from schools. 

I think they are right. No matter how good, or kind, or devoted any one individual resource officer may be, the institution itself threatens the educational opportunities for Black and Brown students throughout the system. That’s what makes it an equity issue.

And so, dear readers: I was wrong. At seventeen, Corey Andrews knew from his own personal experience something I, as an “adult”, did not comprehend. Today we are elevating the voices of students and paying a lot of attention to their concerns. 

I would have been wiser to have done the same back in 2012.