Tuesday, June 30, 2020

News Day

Yesterday was a busy day for local news. The County held its first teleconference for Older Adults and caregivers, to “provide updates on the County’s COVID-19 response as it relates to older adults, including health tips, impact within the long-term care and assisted living facilities, available resources, and reopening plans.” Earlier in the day County Executive Ball participated in the announcement of Howard County’s Official Pollinator Plant: bee balm.

News from Macy’s had folks wondering whether they will or won’t be closing our local Mall store. Initial accounts seemed to suggest closure, while follow up from HoCoMoJo indicated that they intend to remain open at least for a while. That, of course, brings conversations of the economic health of the Mall model of retail to the forefront. The days of having the Big Anchor Stores seem to be over. Will that mean the death of the Mall in Columbia, or will replacements like Lidl and entertainment venues ease the shift to a different way of shopping in the Internet age?

At the end of the day the Columbia Association released word that CEO Milton Matthews will be stepping down at the end of his term, in April 2021. Mr. Matthews has served since 2014. Before this, Phil Nelson led CA for five years, leaving when the CA Board declined to renew his contract, saying he was “not visible enough in the community.” (I’m still mulling that one over.) Before Nelson, Maggie Brown served in the CEO role beginning in 2001.

Several things come to mind. Having seen how members of the CA Board and some community members treat the CA President, I can’t say that’s a job I’d want to have or recommend to anyone else. In addition, the financial model which has held CA together until very recently is challenged on a number of fronts. I’m not convinced that the Columbia Association as it exists today will survive the current pandemic challenges. Has the time come to discuss moving Columbia from an overgrown homeowners’ association to an incorporated city?

In some ways I have come to believe that the more we tinker with this Columbia Association thing, the worse it gets, as in the farm woman in James Thurber’s story:

Can it be done better? Probably? Are we capable of doing better? I don’t know. Most people who live in Columbia are completely unaware and the continuing trials, tribulations, and and drama of CA are completely irrelevant to them. Will a new CEO make CA relevant? That’s my question.

A tip of the hat to Ilana Bittner of HoCoMoJo for covering a lot of ground yesterday in local news stories. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter

Monday, June 29, 2020

The New Normal

Easing into Monday with some thoughts about young children.

Those of us who work in early childhood often joke about how we work in germ factories. It doesn’t matter how much you clean, the kids are massive cross-pollinators for every illness that is out there circulating. The first year you work with young children, you are as sick as a dog. If it doesn’t outright flatten you, subsequent years are usually better. This also happens when you change schools/centers. 

Ask me how I know.

Now these children will be returning on a limited basis to childcare settings which are desperately racing to provide accommodations to prevent the spread of COVID. These measures involve keeping children physically distanced while also cleaning everything they come in contact with every time they use it. They will limit who can enter classrooms and school buildings. They will require layers of safety protocol. Temperature checks, health checks. 

All of these things are now necessary but almost all of them run counter to the best practices for young children.  Good hygiene practices always have a place. Distancing and separation and a basic prohibition for collaboration in play activities do not. When you think about the best experiences that young children have in a classroom or on a playground, you are thinking of hands squishing together in a sensory table, heads bent together over a story book, a group clustered around a block structure. 

The true work of childhood is messy and collaborative. It feeds both cognitive and social emotional growth.

As we move forward from a period of isolation, I see a lot of discussions about how important it is to get kids back to school. I wonder if people truly understand what that school would have to look like to adequately protect students, parents, and faculty/staff. And what is “adequately”? What would constitute success?

If you have young children who will be returning to childcare settings, I strongly recommend that you supplement their classroom experiences with as much multi-sensory play as possible. Playdough, fingerpaint, sand play, mud pies, water play. In addition, make sure there are plenty of shared activities where they can experience physical closeness with you and other members of the family. Make a pillow fort. Snuggle in bed with a lot of picture books. Pile together like a bunch of puppies. 

The years from birth to five are a huge period in brain development. Whatever happens during this time will have profound consequences for our children. A sudden withdrawal of sensory input and physical closeness will take its toll both in cognitive development and emotional well being. These experiences are deeply nutritional for young childen. They are the sorts of things that are absent in situations where children fail to thrive. 

I know we all have a million things to remember as we try to stay healthy and respond to the many ways that the coronavirus has changed our daily lives. I realize that this may seem like a very small thing in comparison. But the small things, unattended, become the big things. Emotionally distraught young children become anxious, angry, disregulated students in classrooms that don’t adequately address their needs. 

Have kids? Get messy. Hug. Create your own group projects. You may discover how great it is for you, too. 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

He Came From Out of Town

It’s eight twenty three on a Sunday morning as I type this, which means that I overslept and have missed my time window for getting the blog out at the time most people are looking to read it. 

Oh well. Here goes, anyway.

My thoughts this morning? The news that Tim Walters, the leader of the Re-open Maryland movement has been diagnosed with COVID 19. No, wait, it’s more than that:

He’s been having symptoms for months.
He has been all over the place with no mask.
He refuses to take part in contact tracing.
He thinks it’s all about him.

Walters said he had long suspected he might have the virus but was surprised by the toll it was taking on him this week. “It was nothing like what I thought,” he said.

He didn’t think. 

You may recall that our own little Re-Open Howard County group brought Walters in to their (unwanted by Main Street) Ellicott City event. His thinking is the kind of thinking they espouse. At this moment it might be useful to read the article about Tim Walters and then call out the names of the locals who have been pushing a reopen narrative.


It makes a difference how we choose to act in tough situations. And these are people who have been more interested in pushing for personal/financial results than in caring for the well-being of our county. That they did it with a kind of gleefulness in attacking the County Executive and the efforts of County Government makes it even sicker, in my opinion. The sickness of trying to grab political traction when people around you are actually suffering and dying.

Just as the Re-Open Howard folks tried to distance themselves from racist signs at their rally, they may try to do the same with Tim Walters. Don’t let them. He’s their guy. If any of them try to convince you in the future that they have a place in local leadership, well, you know better. When others in Howard County were donating time and money and food for those who were struggling, Re-Open Howard County openly mocked medical science, county government, and community spirit. Right on Main Street.

Who do you want to see in positions of leadership? Those who care for others, or only for themselves? 


Saturday, June 27, 2020

Summer Daze

I overslept. It was lovely. 

Last night we celebrated the end of the teacher school year with food from Maiwand. HCPSS teachers are officially done for the year, and my students had their last Zoom meeting. My daughter has been finished with her college term for ages now, but, she’s happy to help us celebrate.

I bought myself a home snowball machine. It came in twenty-four hours and it was worth every penny.

This is not the kind that can supply your whole neighborhood. But, for someone in a high risk category who doesn’t get out much, it’s just about perfect. I made a simple syrup and added strawberry jam for flavor. Ooh...this means you can probably make a whole slew of snowball syrups with flavors from Neat Nicks Preserves. Tempting.

Oakland Mills entrepreneur Monica Rogers Williams has been combining her DJ skills (DJ Classix) with her baking business as she broadcasts Momma’s Treats and Beats. Her video DJ sessions are streaming at around one pm each day and come with a chance to win sweet prizes: baked goods From Momma’s Kitchen.  It’s a creative combination of her professional expertise and appears to be generating a steady stream of orders along with community goodwill. Who doesn’t need some music and maybe a free cookie?

I was happy to see the announcement for a new restaurant in the works at Clarksville Commons. 

We are excited to announce that Bushel and a Peck Kitchen & Bar will be joining the Clarksville Commons family this fall. Owned and operated by Rob Wecker, co-owner of The Iron Bridge Wine Company, and Joe Krywucki. Bushel and a Peck's menu will feature the very best that grows, swims, and grazes along the Chesapeake watershed.

Opening a new restaurant right now can’t be easy. It will take some time to get things right. I hope this will be just the right place for that space and be wildly successful. In the meantime, check out summer movie showings and other outdoor, physically-distanced events at Clarksville Commons  .

The library will be back (in a limited way) starting Monday and I am excited! Check out this video to learn more about Contactless Pick-up. I continue to be grateful for how engaged and committed our library system is to the community. 

I need a book about how to make yourself walk every day even if it’s hot. Wonder if they have one?


Friday, June 26, 2020

Rare Sighting

What a joy it was to see social media light up with rainbow photographs yesterday evening. As much as we lament how bad news travels fast these days, nothing moves faster than than color in the sky. My thanks to you all.

Another unexpected treat yesterday was a moment when the Columbia Archives account (via the Columbia Association) popped up on Facebook and Twitter to remind us of an important day in the New American City. On Facebook

The planned community of Columbia was founded on principles that enabled the growth of people. However, the realities of societal challenges have impacted this visionary community since its inception. Fifty-two years ago this week, those who believed in the founding principles of Columbia were faced with a physical manifestation of what this New Town’s existence denounced. This prompted a call to action! 

On Thursday, June 27, 1968, George Wallace, governor of Alabama and segregationist presidential candidate, held a rally at Merriweather Post Pavilion. The images below share the sentiments of Columbians and Mr. James Rouse's advocacy for the community's activism. Visit ColumbiaArchives.org to learn more about the legacy of Columbia MD.

And, the thread on Twitter begins here

I think it reads better as a series of Tweets in a thread, because it gives the reader a sense of dynamic events as they unfolded. This could be today, right now, in our New Amercian City that is new no more. Tired, but still fighting for a better way.

The fact that the Columbia Association and the Columbia Archives chose this moment to collaborate on a social media piece is significant to me. It has been quite some time since the feisty, perennially idealistic voice of the Archives has been given free rein. I truly miss the days when the Archives had its own social media account. Of course it is far easier for the Columbia Association to ensure a unified “message” if there is only one source of content. Probably less expensive, too.

Many see the Columbia Association as the pools, parks, and pathways people. We’ve learned a lot more recently about how school-aged childcare has long been the linchpin holding much of it together. But the Columbia Association as an active voice for anti-racism in the here and now has been less clear. Assumed, perhaps, but muted. Comfortable in pale, 1960’s era platitudes.

So, let’s talk about it. 

What role can the Columbia Association play in addressing current challenges to the anti-racist tenets that our community was founded upon? Can it? Are those years behind us? Does it play its best hand purely by pointing us to our history? Or can it take an active part in fostering conversations that encourage us to look at whether we are who we say we are? 

Interested? Your best bet is to interact with both or either of these posts on social media. “Like”, “share”, add a comment. CA will undoubtedly be assessing the traffic on these. If nobody cares, well...

...it will be a missed opportunity. 

A shout-out to the folks at CA and the Archives on this. I know I’m not the only one who noticed.  

And, one more thing. If the George Wallace’s of the world came calling today? We’d owe them no big-hearted, high-minded hospitality here. If we’ve learned anything since then perhaps it is that we don’t need to extend any modicum of legitimacy to outright evil.

Don’t agree? Add a comment.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Way We Were

So: Clyde’s. 

I’ve been going through old blog posts and sifting through my memories since yesterday, when the announcement came out. The Columbia component of Clyde’s restaurant group is to be no more. No Clyde’s down at the Lakefront, no Soundry. 

I don’t have any personal nostalgia for Clyde’s. As I’ve said here before:

But we don't really go down to the Lakefront all that often. It's a special occasion thing for us. It's where you celebrate a birthday or take folks from out of town.

It just wasn’t in our price range to be a regular hang out. But clearly, for many, it was just that special place, and will be missed. In fact, the wait at Clyde’s used to be so long that a local quipped that what the Lakefront restaurant scene needed was simply another Clyde’s. 

That was before the fits and starts of this newer go-round of Downtown development. Before the Howard Hughes Corporation tilted up the enormous bag of shiny new things that have come sliding out onto the landscape like ever so many futuristic Lego pieces.* 

Before the pandemic. 

I am sad about the loss of the Soundry because I thought it brought something to the community that was fresh and very much needed. A venue like the Soundry is going to be harder to replace, I think. If anyone is pondering this my daughter has ideas. The under twenty-one crowd is not going to be buying liquour but maybe a new iteration of this concept could include some time for outreach to local young people, open mic nights.

It’s Columbia. Everyone has an opinion.

I always wanted to be amongst the celebratory diners who enjoyed lobster and corn on the cob down at the Lakefront on the Fourth of July, surrounded by the famous patchwork quilt of families attending the fireworks. Alas, it was not to be. If you ever got to do that, I’d love to know what it was like. 

Clyde’s Restaurant Group is an entity far larger than our Columbia outpost. They are contracting to protect the outcomes of the group as a whole. To us it feels far different. Personal. I would think that for those who have lived here quite some time it may feel like yet another one of those beloved places of pilgrimage disappearing from the local scene. That’s hard. It’s hard to lose a place where people knew you the way you were. 

There will be new life to arise from this. At the moment it’s difficult for me to picture. And I’m still pondering the long-term effects of the pandemic on the overall Downtown development plan.  Friends of the blog will be familiar with my long held belief that almost any underused commercial area could be transformed into a haven for children's birthday parties. Yes, I know the liquor component is weak for a concept like this, but we’ve tried everything else. There’s no reason we can’t contemplate inflatable bouncy castles. 

Maybe just for a moment.

If you’d like to share your Clyde’s stories for a future blog post, please add them here.

*Not a criticism, just an observation. They do nothing by halves.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Nothing New

News story for the day, from the Washington Post:

Maryland House speaker wants to repeal Civil War-era state song , Ovetta Wiggins

Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore) said Tuesday that she plans to lead the chorus in calling for the repeal of the state’s Civil War-era state song, which has lyrics urging Maryland to secede and join the Confederacy against the “Northern scum.”

This may feel like a new story. In the context of leadership roles changing in the Maryland State Legislature, or in the wave of national uprisings against police brutality against Black citizens, this may pop out to some as just one more “spur of the moment” initiative to “erase history.” It’s not.

Maryland’s State Song has been known to be problematic for quite some time. And nothing has been done about it. Just like Aunt Jemima, or Unce Ben’s, or the face on your Cream of Wheat box, it’s been sitting there, right out in the open, full of its anti-Union message crafted by a Confederate Sympathizer. If anything is new it is simply a renewed wave of disgust that this undeserving monument has not yet been toppled.

This feels like a particularly old story to me because way back in 2012, longtime family friend (and Howard County musician) Jared Denhard won a contest to replace the Maryland State Song. Here he is with Tom Hall being interviewed on Maryland Morning:

And, in 2016, his song is referenced yet again in an article by Pam Wood in the Baltimore Sun. His composition stemmed from a competiton sponsored by the Baltimore City Historical Society. From the 2016 article:

About five years ago, the historical society sponsored a contest to drum up ideas for a new state song. It had two categories: one for new lyrics to the existing tune and another for new lyrics and music. 

Denhard won for the entirely new song. Dianne Lyday won in the new lyric category. Meanwhile...

According to Wikipedia, 

Unsuccessful efforts to revise the lyrics to the song or to repeal or replace the song altogether were attempted by the Maryland General Assembly in 1974, 1980, 1984, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2016, 2018, and 2019.

New story? I don’t think so. 

Now, I can’t say that Mr. Denhard’s version should automatically be given pride of place here, as it isn’t truly up to the Baltimore City Historical Society to make decisions for the entire state of Maryland. But it’s very existence proves that replacing the state song is no flash in the pan. This has been a long time in coming. 

In 2015 a panel from the Maryland State Archives came up with the following recommendations for a new State Song. It should:

  • celebrate Maryland and its citizens;
  • be unique to Maryland;
  • be historically significant;
  • be inclusive of all Marylanders;
  • be memorable, popular, singable and short (one, or at the most, two stanzas long)

It’s 2020. We can do this. If you need some inspiration, take look at this. Better yet, listen!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Neighbors for Neighbors

Today I’m giving you an assignment. It will take approximately nine minutes. Watch this video, made locally, about Juneteenth.

Hosted by the County Executive, it includes community members who each have something valuable to share about the history of the Juneteenth holiday and the experiences of Black people in Howard County. It is beautifully done, and it is worth your time.

Learning more about the history that most of us didn’t learn in school can make us better citizens and neighbors. This video is a great jumping off point for folks who may be just now realizing that there’s a lot they haven’t known. It’s positive, informative, thoughtful.

It feels like it was made by neighbors for neighbors. 

And I can’t wait for the opening of Harriet Tubman School as a museum and community center in 2021. 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Light it Up

I continue to be unimpressed by white people in Howard County claiming there is no racism here purely because they don’t recognize it. I am getting well nigh unto enraged by those who go on the County Executive’s Facebook page and call him a liar for speaking out about racism. There are people over there trolling daily as though it is their job. 

Still, it’s probably just a hobby from which they derive some sort of twisted enjoyment. In my opinion their time would be better spent opening their eyes to the lives and circumstances of people in Howard County that are not like them. 

But the kind of hate we see right now, abetted by the layers of denial that there is any hate at all, is all of a piece with a kind of dedicated ignorance that has taken generations to solidify in this country. 

“It’s not that bad.”
“I’ve never seen that.”
It’s hard for everybody.”
“They’re just looking for an excuse.”
“They must have been doing something wrong.”
“They should have just done what they were told.”

That kind of ignorance scares me. In a recent conversation with a friend on this very topic, she said:

That sentiment slapped me in the face today. It is scary. And I don’t know what to do about it. What do you do to combat it, especially when many of these people are proudly, arrogantly ignorant and have no desire to be better informed?

I don’t know. I know that there are people all over this county trying to turn the tide on that, from small coalitions to growing movements. Community leaders, like Calvin Ball, share the spotlight to illuminate the issues we need to face. All of those things give me hope.

This does not give me hope. According a local Twitter account, this poster is showing up around Ellicott City.

“They can’t make white babies.” 

The National Alliance, according to their website, asserts:

We believe that no multi-racial society can be a truly healthy society, and no government which is not wholly responsible to a single racial entity can be a good government. America’s present deterioration stems from her loss of racial homogeneity and racial consciousness, and from the consequent alienation of most of our fellow citizens.

Tell me there’s no racism in Howard County. Tell me we don’t have to talk about it. And I’ll tell you we have to fight the trolls who tell us to ‘pay this no mind’ with every fiber of our beings. I don’t know how to eradicate ignorance and hate but I do know that they thrive in the darkness. 

Keep shedding your light, Howard County. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Other Fathers

I received a response to yesterday’s post that felt a bit wistful to me:

Actually, I'd love to hear how other fathers juggle their family responsibilities. It's difficult and I certainly haven't figured out all the answers.

What a perfect segue into Father’s Day. Happy Father’s Day, Columbia/HoCo.

Fatherhood is hardly a purely local phenomenon. But I do wonder how it will be observed today, in a time of so many health and financial challenges. Some families, I suppose, will venture out to celebrate Dad at one of the newly reopened local restaurants. Some will bring in Dad’s favorite takeaway for a special treat. Some will be cooking up homemade delicacies. And some will be scraping together what little they have. 

The Father’s Day of the greeting card companies and retail establishments is naturally aimed at the consumer. And that means those with disposable income to spend on cards and gifts. Their commercials and print adverts and store displays paint a certain homogenized picture of fatherhood where buying Dad something nice is not only possible, it’s expected.

But fatherhood  (and motherhood, for that matter) exists across all economic levels. Howard County may be known for its affluence but fathers here are not only limited to doctors and lawyers, scientists at APL, and high level government workers. Fathers here are also store clerks and mechanics and food service workers, teachers and postal employers, custodians and landscaping workers. They are no less fathers than those depicted in the Hallmark stereotype. 

Their lives are different. Their opportunities are different. But they have families they care about. Children who depend on them. And, who knows? They may think that Father’s Day is a big commercial racket and want nothing to do with it. Or they may receive the one tiny gift from the corner store as a treasure beyond all measure, because of the love and pride in the eyes of the small person who gives it.

Over the last year or so I have seen a rift in our community grow wider. On the one hand: those who are so desperate to protect what is theirs that they see the struggles of others as a sign of weakness or failure, and, on the other hand, those who see the struggles of others as a reason to transform the things that hold them back and create new opportunities that can lift everyone up. We see it in how we view future development, in redistricting, in how we respond to the coronavirus. It has come to color much of how I view local issues.

And so, today: Father’s Day. I’m thinking not only of my late father, and fathers-in-law, and my kind and giving husband. I’m also thinking a lot about other dads around town whose lives are nothing like mine. As author Connie Schultz wrote:

Happy Father’s Day to every man who has loved a child. To those who are struggling, may the day land gently.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

No More Juggling

Here’s a piece about Amy Brooks of OMO (originally Oakland Mills Online).

Passionate About Community: Local Teacher Talks About The Transition To Distance Leaning For Her Students And Her Family , Anika Baty-Mills* for Columbia Lifestyle


Columbia Lifestyle Magazine has made its own transition from print editions to online publication during the recent Covid-19 crisis. I don’t know much about them other than that they describe themselves as a locally owned publication which is a part of the larger Lifestyle Publications Brand. I’ve seen them featuring a variety of interesting local people, Ms.Brooks, for instance. You can read their issues here.

You know I love local connections. And I’m always interested in learning more about the people who are active in our community. But I’m going to point out a pet peeve of mine, which turned up in a promotional tweet.

Why do we keep doing that? Why must the accomplishments of women continue to be framed in the context of “juggling” or “balancing” or “finding time for”, “squeezing in.” You don’t see these words applied to men. 

“Hear how Calvin Ball, public servant, husband and father, juggles it all, while he finds time to connect with our community online!”

It sounds awkward doesn’t it? 

The assumption is that men are fully committed to “do the big thing” while women must “do the big thing” only it they can successfully balance it with being a wife and mother. The whole kit and kaboodle of family responsibility is on them. That’s a whole heck of a lot of labor, emotional and otherwise. I poked fun at this concept back in 2018 when Elevate Maryland was about to do an episode with newly-elected Calvin Ball, Rich Gibson, and Marcus Harris.

3. On this International Men’s Day I hope Candace and Tom will make time to ask their guests how they balance their careers with fatherhood and/or home responsibilities. A few questions about clothing choices and or recipe recommendations for those busy committee-meeting nights would not be amiss, either.

As I recall my question drew a smile but wasn’t posed seriously to the podcast guests. We just don’t ask men those questions. 

Why are we still using that language with women? Probably because we are used to it. And because it takes time to change attitudes and how we see gender roles.

This is not a criticism of Columbia Lifestyle. I’m glad they are a part of the Columbia/HoCo scene. They’ve been doing some features on truly fascinating local women. 

Here’s my plea to you, dear readers. If you find yourself using language that saddles women with all the balancing, juggling, and squeezing in - - stop and check yourself. Think about what that means. It is so much more difficult for women to be accepted and respected for pursuing “the one big thing” if they are continually forced to justify themselves about the “women’s work” we expect them to be taking on, often unasked, often without credit.

So take a look at Columbia Lifestyle. And, how about this:

Hear how Amy Books, Howard County teacher, turned her transition to online learning into creating a hub for community connection! 

*Anika Baty-Mills is the publisher of Columbia Lifestyle Magazine

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Story

It’s true. I didn’t learn anything about Black history in school. But I did know about Juneteenth. Why? Because my mother told me.

My mother was born in Lowell, Massachusetts but moved to Dallas, Texas after her parent’s divorce. Her mother had accepted a position teaching at the prestigious Hockaday School. Among other Dallas stories she told me was the fact that she was cast as “the colored maid” in the school play because her (New England) accent was different from everyone else’s. Also possibly because everyone knew that she attended Hockaday for free because her mother taught there. The rich girls called her “plebeian.”

One day my mother heard something in the kitchen and when she went in discovered a Black man hiding under the sink. His eyes were wide with fear. “They’re going to cut me,” he said. 

It was Juneteenth, she told me. And she explained what that was. She described how the celebration in Texas was accompanied by drinking and carrying on, as many celebrations do.

But I don’t remember anything else. Who was that man hiding from? Had celebratory drinking turned to arguing and brawling amongst the celebrants? Or did the act of celebration make this man a target of angry whites? What did she do once she found him?

I was young. The accompanying details, if there were any, have faded. What was left gave me the notion that Juneteenth in Texas was not a safe day to be Black. And of course I learned nothing in school to shed light on that. Nothing.

This year many of us are taking the time to learn about the significance of Juneteenth. We’re making room for other voices and traditions. I hope this moment in time is more than a blip. I hope that we can receive new knowledge with the understanding that these stories carry with them power, and beauty, and generations of human suffering.

We have an opportunity to fill in so many missing pieces of our history if we are willing to listen.

Thursday, June 18, 2020


If you’ve been using the time during quarantine to binge watch television shows, you’re in good company. Without baseball, binge-watching could now easily be called the national pastime. I’m not much of a television watcher but I must admit a show on HGTV has caught my eye:  Home Town.

Home Town centers around a young couple in Laurel, Mississippi whose goal is to bring back their small town by connnecting people with older homes, which they then renovate. There’s something engaging about the hosts, Erin and Ben Napier. They are warm, genuine, and funny. They purposefully share the spotlight with local businesses and contractors/craftspeople. And they love the homes they are saving.

It’s on from noon to nine on Mondays and I have begun making my plans around it. I now want to live in a beautifully renovated Craftsman-style cottage.

Here comes the pitch: what if HGTV did a show saving older Columbia homes? They’re not as old, certainly, but they’re definitely “classic” in their own way. Bringing back original Columbia neighborhoods through supporting home rehab has been a goal of a number of local advocates. Going at this through encouraging governmental financial support has been a tough sell. 

Clearly it’s time for HGTV to step in. 

I can just imagine seeing an original Pacesetter model being given a new lease on life before our eyes. Throw in some shopping for decorating elements in Old Ellicott City, some interesting info from the Columbia Archives, scenic views of Downtown Columbia, and, we’re all set. I’d definitely watch. Wouldn’t you? 

Now we just need the perfect couple to bring the concept to the television audience. I don’t really know why it needs to be a couple, but, since Fixer Upper dominated the home renovation television market, it seems to be a thing. We must have the perfect pair somewhere out there in Columbia: devoted to home renovations, fascinated by Columbia’s original homes and older neighborhoods. 

If they could just take one of those houses and make it look like a Craftsman on the inside, that would be perfect. I’d never want to move to Laurel, Mississippi. But I would like a little architectural detail in my 1972 quadroplex. It’s fun to dream.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Some Unexpected Developments

I’m just going to be upfront about this and admit I was not expecting a Black Lives Matter event to pop up in Western Howard County. But people can surprise you. And stereotypes can be easy but give an incomplete picture. So, here we are.

The poster doesn’t say “wear a mask” so I’m just telling you: wear a mask. Period. If you are curious about the people behind the protest, it’s a group called HoCo United. From their Facebook page:

#WestHoCo4Change We are a group of Howard County residents and community members working toward making timely changes through community engagement and advocacy. Youth-led! 

The event page is here.

Changing gears, I want to direct you to a piece by my friend Marge Neal from her blog, Scribbles from the Margen that will start your day off right. It combines artistic expression, the love and support of parents, and, a rarity in this day and age, a boost of encouragement from social media.  

Have a wonderful day. Use your powers for good.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Ten Years On

Yesterday Candace Dodson Reed, co-host of local podcast Elevate Maryland, made the following observation on Twitter:

Please take a look at the @ColumbiaAssn board. And think about the diversity of Columbia. I talked about the lack of diversity on this board in 2010 after hosting a “beer summit”  & not much has changed. Please, please look at your boards & commissions. And speak up.

She linked to the Board page on the Columbia Association website.

The current CA Board is one hundred per cent white. I wonder why that is?

I attended that “beer summit” that Ms. Dodson-Reed hosted. I remember a piece by Larry Carson in the Sun around that same time:

In the past I have written about my concerns that Village Boards and the CA Board can be tough for newcomers to break into. I’ve been distressed by how a younger generation of Columbians feel unwelcome at meetings and dismissed in their interactions with leadership. By and large, the people in power are determined to stay in power and those CA Board Chair positions aren’t going to change hands unless the incumbents choose to let go of them. 

I haven’t written specifically about the lack of Black representation on the Board because I’ve  seen it as an old Columbia vs new Columbia vibe. That’s always been my framework. But, given the fact that old Columbia was deliberately integrated, it stands to reason that there would be a healthy amount of  Black representation on the CA Board.

There isn’t.

Why? Do people feel unwelcome? Have they experienced the same-old, same-old of pushback and microaggressions when they tried to get involved? Has the inbred quality of CA leadership served to lock out Black representation?

No matter what the reason or reasons, the fact is that there is zero Black representation on the board. That Board is supposed to represent a model community founded on principles of integration and inclusion. No matter how hard our board members work or how well-meaning they may be, that is a stumbling block they cannot overcome.

Every year I give my speech about running for a Village Board. Every year I talk about how important it is that a younger generation get involved and their voices be heard. In all those years I’ve never deliberately articulated how necessary Black voices are. My vision did not by any means exclude them. 

It didn’t invite them, either. 

From Larry Carson’s piece in 2010:

Ronald Walters, professor emeritus with the University of Maryland's African American Leadership Institute, said some blacks hesitate to volunteer — even in racially mixed communities — because of long-held perceptions that whites control society's structure. Only the most outgoing blacks step forward, he said.

"That means that it often takes an aggressive effort by the organizations to recruit and prove they are open to fair and diverse participation," he said. There appears no organized effort to recruit minorities onto Columbia Association boards, though individual people do sporadically volunteer.

Columbia can’t possibly live up to the aspirational goals of its founders without diverse represention. You might think that goes without saying. But, at fifty-plus years on, and with no Black representation on the Board, I think we need to say it.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Changed for Good

Even before quarantine made our world a good bit smaller, many of us lived fairly sheltered lives in Columbia/HoCo. We often live in neighborhoods with folks more or less like us, work with people like ourselves. More and more our children go to school with children who are more alike than different.  Even our places of worship can be islands of homogeneity. Our self-selected social media communities reflect that sameness.

Your individual case may differ. I know I am generalizing. And for those of you who say, “that’s not what Columbia is all about,” well, yes. I know that.

As long as we keep ourselves separate from people who are different we lack the life experiences and perspective to truly value them as part of our community. Ignorance, and the fear that comes with it, is what leads to “othering” and avoidance.

Right now in Columbia/HoCo there is an army of volunteers organized by founder Erika Strauss Chavarria to provide for families in crisis through Columbia Community Care. I have been wondering if this experience may bring about a change for those participating. Assisting families day after day, whether at a center or by shopping and delivering to those who aren’t able to get out, has put them in direct contact with people they might not ordinarily see. 

What happens when people who were once invisible to you become visible? When they become vividly human and not just an abstract concept?

I wonder.

I wonder if a charitable venture, created as a response to overwhelming need, may also be a changing force for those who are giving and working. Could their participation be a turning point in how they understand vulnerable groups in our community? 

Charitable activities can sometimes be associated with a sort of benevolent superiority which renders the recipients inherently unequal. I don’t get that feeling from Columbia Community Care. That’s why I think that it has become one of the best catalysts for community transformation in Howard County.  The website states:

Finding a common purpose in our shared humanity.

This could truly change things people. For the better. 

For more information about Columbia Community Care, visit their website .