Once upon a time, long, long ago, when I was running for a seat on the Columbia Association Board for Oakland Mills. I had the opportunity to meet with some residents at the Forest Ridge Apartments and listen to their concerns. I was very nervous in advance of the event, but I needn’t have been. It was a truly educational experience and the people who turned out that day were very kind to me.
Something that has stayed with me since that day is a few of the requests they made. In particular, the ones they made about the Oakland Mills Village Center. When asked what other kind of businesses they’d like to see, the most mentioned were a laundromat and a dollar store. Also mentioned were any decent businesses where young people from their community could get jobs.
When I mentioned their requests to other folks I knew from Oakland Mills, many were squeamish. A few visibly winced. To them a laundromat and a dollar store were the equivalent of living in “the wrong part of town.” It was almost a “what will people think?” sort of response.
”Don’t those apartments have washers and dryers?”
It turns out that they do have washers and dryers but they are very small, so they aren’t truly adequate for many of the residents’ needs. Want to wash a large comforter? Nope. Have more than two in your apartment? Or an infant? Tough luck.
I think there are far too many instances where people have actual needs that aren’t being met and those of us with privilege just don’t get it. Where some imagine a laundromat with horror - - there goes the neighborhood - - for others it would make the realities of daily life significantly less of a burden. And we don’t see that.
“Don’t those apartments _________?” is just a step away from “Don’t those people_________?”
And that’s a special kind of ugliness that Howard County doesn’t particularly want to look at.
This memory is on my mind today after reading the article in the Columbia Flyer about the Horizon Foundations’s 2020 Visions for Health in Howard County report. The piece, by Ana Faguy, is entitled “Report: County’s black infant mortality rate twice that of white”. I’ll be writing about this more tomorrow. As I read the disparities between White and Black citizens horrified me. Yes, I knew in some vague way that we don’t all have equal health outcomes, but this report spells it out clearly.
Sadly, I can imagine this report being read through the lenses of the better off and that makes me wince. “Why don’t those people______?”
- Eat better
- Get more exercise
- Go to the doctor once in a while
- Take their medication
- Etc etc etc
Those are the wrong questions, because they are questions whose purpose is to judge, not to help.
The Horizon Foundation is providing us with an opportunity to change outcomes by first looking at the truth of where we stand. We have to want to understand why things are the way they are, and we have to value our neighbors as much as ourselves if we want to create viable solutions.