Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Challenges Accepted: Jane Dembner

I had just found the following quote and was pondering what it meant when I got word that Jane Dembner had died.

Somehow the juxtaposition of events doesn’t feel coincidental to me.

Jane Dembner was Columbia Association’s Director of Planning and Community Affairs. I’m not sure there is any job title that could contain the combination of ideas, initiatives, energy, and deep thinking that her work in Columbia embodied. I did not know her well but she always took the time to talk with me with respect and interest.

The last time we spoke was at an event held on the Chrysalis stage. She was telling me about a venture she was involved in to actively promote and support racial integration in Columbia. I was struck by the difference between me, a blogger, who writes about local issues, and Jane, who saw the issues, made a plan, and worked the plan. Hers was by far the more challenging work, messier, and involving the building of many bridges. 

In his tribute yesterday, Tom Coale Of Elevate Maryland wrote:

She deftly fought back against the forces of selfishness and exclusion without ever appearing to “fight”.

In reading her obituary I noticed a request that, in lieu of flowers, people make donations to the Columbia Housing Center.  Here is their mission:

We aim to honor James Rouse’s legacy by enhancing racial integration so that all of Columbia 
is attractive and welcoming to all ethnic, racial and religious groups. The Columbia Housing Center will provide a one-stop locator service that helps landlords find tenants and tenants find homes that further racial integration in and around Columbia.

This must be the initiative that Jane was telling me about that evening at the Chrysalis. Reading about it and remembering her persistent work for good in our community made me smile. I made a small donation and hope that you can, too, in honor of her many gifts of time and talent to our community.

Returning to the quote I shared at the beginning of this piece. I’m going to guess that Jane would have seen it differently. More like this:

To survive as a productive and healthy society we’re going to have to find out a way to create equity, real equity, of opportunity and access, to good schools, housing, health care, and decent paying jobs.

She wouldn’t have seen it as a warning of gloom and doom. She saw it as a challenge. And it was a challenge she accepted.

Columbia will not be the same without her. She was an amazing spirit, an exceptional Columbian.

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