Friday, July 31, 2020

Same Old Song

Maybe you’d be happier in Columbia.

It’s a paraphrase. Those aren’t the exact words. But the intent was clear.

Someone had posted the link to the petition to end the agreement between HCPSS and the Howard County Police Department, looking for signatures. The response?

Maybe you’d be happier in Columbia.

As Racism Watch Dog says,

I don’t think there’s much of a jump between that response and, “maybe your kind doesn’t belong here.” Clearly the writer is drawing a line. Suggesting we don’t need police in our schools? That’s not a Howard County sentiment. “Maybe you’d be happier somewhere else...”

Hmm. What could possibly be the rationale for this response? What makes Columbia different

I maintain that there still plenty of folks who believe that Columbia is not really Howard County, but more like a separate entity unto itself, which perhaps had no reason to be there in the first place. This is of course, a generalization, and doesn’t apply to all. And I’m sure some people aren’t even aware of these distinctions.

Columbia is well past the celebration of its 50th birthday. It’s not exactly new to the neighborhood.
What does it mean that we have people suggesting that issues that impact Black and Brown students won’t play well outside the Columbia bubble? 

It’s too bad that there exists a sentiment that there are “Howard County Values” as opposed to “Columbia Values.” You’d think after all this time the old racist tropes would have been replaced by something better.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Journey in the Time of Covid

It’s just a hop, skip, and a jump over the Howard County line to Montgomery County where:

It’s a quick, three minute listen from NPR by Daniella Cheslow. For those of you who don’t know, and I myself didn’t know all that much, Hajj is a time of pilgrimage each year where Muslims are encouraged to make the journey to Mecca to visit the Kaaba, the “House of God”. It is both a physical and a spiritual journey. All Muslims are supposed to make this trip at least once in their lifetime, if they are able.

Hajj 2020 began in the evening of Tuesday, July 28th, and ends in the evening of Sunday, August 2nd.  This year’s Hajj is different than in years past because the coronavirus has prevented travel. A Muslim community in Montgomery County took a creative approach and made a drive-through Hajj. You’ll note in the radio piece that the event is held on the grounds of Sandy Spring Friends School, which is a Quaker institution. 

So, some creative thinking and some help from neighbors brought about this unique observance of an important religious experience. It reminded me of the COV-EID event hosted by the Dar Al Taqwa mosque in Howard County. Sadly, that event was met with complaints from area residents. Members of our local Muslim community experienced negative pushback that clearly came from a place where to be a Muslim is to be “other”.

In Montgomery County, a Quaker school opened its grounds to help make a Muslim event possible. What a beautiful sign of cooperation and friendship. In Howard County, Muslims were made to feel like transgressors when their festival celebration was on their own property. 

What a difference. Maybe Howard County could stand to take some instruction from our Montgomery County neighbors on inclusion and basic human kindness.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Giving Thanks: Gabriel Zaldivar and Columbia Community Care

Columbia Community Care continues to serve our neighbors who are struggling due to the pandemic. The demand for food assistance remains high. Community members donate food and personal care items, give funds, or shop from the group’s Amazon list. Volunteers stock and operate two pantry centers, “shop” and deliver for families, run food giveaway sites five days a week in the crushing heat.

The energy with which this initiative began is still strong. Community support, however, has shown signs of waning. We are all so tired of this. We want to go back to the way our lives used to be. It is hard to sustain the dedication for an effort like this over the long haul. 

We are used to responding in a crisis. It’s a finite experience. We see the need, we give the gift, and then it’s over.

The need that Columbia Community Care is addressing is far from over. The Coronavirus is far from over. And the underlying issues that place so many in Howard County right at the very edge of being able to survive have not even begun to be addressed. Right now there is no end in sight.

People who have been giving faithfully may now worry their discretionary income may not be sufficient over the long haul. Those who have been volunteering in person may have gone back to work. Over time initiatives like this often experience a falling away of support. People lose hope that their small contribution is making a difference. The overwhelming need that once spurred them to help now makes them want to withdraw, to turn away.

Human beings become exhausted and yet the need is ongoing. 

I’m sharing a post today from Gabriel Zaldivar, a volunteer with Columbia Community Care. His words call us to think in a different way. He helps us see those to whom we are giving more clearly. He shows us that we have good reason to offer them thanks.

I want to take this opportunity and thank the people standing in line at our sites.

They try to help us set up when they are allowed because they appreciate that we are there for them in time of need.

They make masks for all of the volunteers. It’s the 5th regular at LEMS to hand me freshly sown masks in a bag to ensure we are protected as we help them.

They carry smiles when it’s their turn.

They say thank you and gracias as they leave. 

They bring extra things from their houses that others might benefit from.

Don’t underestimate how hard it is for some people to ask for help and always be gracious when they receive it.

I look forward to seeing them again soon but I can’t wait for them and others to be in better times ahead.

Mr. Zaldivar reminds us that it is in giving that we receive. Yes, it is hard work, yes, it feels unending, but this work is also building relationships of trust that change us for the good as well.

When I asked Mr. Zaldivar if I might share his post on the blog, he responded:

If it shines light on all the hard work of the founders, coordinators, volunteers and the community as a whole has done then I am all for it. 

I’m just a small piece of this wonderful organization and there’s a lot of voices that can tell its story.

Thank you for wanting to share.

You can learn more about Columbia Community Care at their website. There’s a lot of valuable information on their Facebook group page, as well. Take a look if you haven’t already. Or revisit if you haven’t stopped by in a while. Find a way to be a small piece of something wonderful in our community.  

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

On My Mind

My apologies, as yesterday’s post seems to have been the kiss of death for the baseball season.  I’m almost reluctant to write about anything else lest I have the same effect. 

On my mind this morning:

Josh Kurtz’ review of Governor Hogan’s new book. (‘Still Standing’ is Hogan’s Paean to Hogan, Maryland Matters)

The local discussion about a petition to end the relationship between the Howard County Schools and the Howard County Police Department.

This news from a meeting of the Howard County Board of Elections: Director Guy Mickley says he only has 102 election judges for 800 spots to staff early voting in Nov. He says that's "very troublesome." Right now each judge would have to work all day for 8 straight days.
(Emily Opilo, Baltimore Sun)

In the meantime, please keep wearing a mask, washing your hands, and observing physical distancing. Stay out of the heat if possible and drink plenty of water. Donate to causes helping those who are in crisis and please refrain from writing nasty things about other people on the internet. 

I think that covers everything. I’ll see you tomorrow.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Rooting for the Home Team

Orioles baseball is back. You know the drill. When they lose, you’re sad. When they win, you’re ... startled. In a good way, of course. 

At my house we celebrated the return of baseball with our traditional baseball meal: hot dogs, chips, soda, ice cream in little Orioles caps.

My husband watches baseball while making music. He’s done it as long as I have known him. This weekend we’ve had guitar and banjo. (In previous seasons we’ve also been treated to harp, lyre, mandolin, electric bass, and tuba.) He is able to follow every detail of the game while simultaneously choosing the right fingering and strumming to whatever tune he is playing. I don’t know how he does it.

In some ways it seems crazy to me that baseball is returning into our pandemic world where every day is marked with concern for illness rates, hospitalizations, and death. On top of that: national political turmoil, protests for social justice, fear that our upcoming election could be compromised. How does baseball fit in?

Of course that answer is simple. It reminds us of when things were “normal”. It reminds us of our lives “in the before times” as I have seen people write lately. Remember when we could all crowd together in a ballpark? Remember when all we needed to worry about on a Sunday afternoon was whether we’d get to see some Orioles magic?

Those were the days.

It must cost quite a bit of money to make baseball happen right now. Is it an unnecessary luxury? Perhaps that money would be better spent helping the thousands who are suffering and struggling. How would that look? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s just a pipedream. 

On the other hand, for those who love baseball, it’s a precious respite from all that ails us. And, if a bit of respite gives folks the strength to carry on, maybe it’s worth it. 

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Guest Post: We Are Responsible - - James Cecil on Educational Issues in Howard County

Today’s post comes from James Cecil, most recently a candidate for the Board of Education in District 2, and a continuing member of the Columbia Community Care volunteer team. His words are a response  to this article from Propublica Illinois:

Mr. Cecil responds to this story with empathy.  His words move us from the realities of the individual case to the immediacy of our own challenges in Howard County. He gives us a lot to think about.


This absolutely breaks me.  

Grace is a child like so many of our own or those that we know.  She struggled with the transition to distance education.  She was deprived of the support services known to help her through her challenges.  She missed one of the requirements for school.  She has been incarcerated for over two months.  

When we talk about the school to prison pipeline, this is it.

When we talk about systemic racism and implicit bias being harmful to BIPOC and students with disabilities, this is it.

However, this isn't just a Grace issue.  We see ALL of this in Howard County.  We see the data in our discipline reports.  We see it in our achievement gaps.  We see it in every story from our families and our students who absolutely feel the system they depend on is against them.

So what do we do?  

First, we stop pitting the need of addressing equity against the need of students with disabilities.  Being forced to do so is harmful and intentional.  Two sets of advocates, who both have merit, are often pitted against each other for the crumbs of the budget pie.  As a result, they tear each other down just enough so that no one really gets anything and those with privilege continue to get their piece.  Think I'm wrong?  Look at school choice.  Look at the federal relief funds disproportionately funneled to private schools.  Look at the millions of dollars of public funds supporting vouchers in Maryland.  Imagine our public schools with these funds.  These are schools that would often turn away students like Grace or have no accountability for her success if she was able to attend. 

Next, we need to stop taking out our anger on those least able to affect the relief we need.  There is so much energy spent attacking the Board of Education, Dr. Martirano, County Council and Dr. Ball.  We get so caught up in proving a point or playing gotcha that we're not moving our advocacy forward.  We are ripping each other apart over re-opening plans for our schools and before that it was over redistricting.  Just think of our community if funding to offset the impacts of concentrated poverty really did allow us to maintain wholistic community schools or re-open for every child in a way that kept them safe.  I worry about what the next issue will be and I hope we can work to prevent it.

Sometimes we have to let go of what someone's party is, the candidate they endorse and being afraid a victory for children is negative because of who achieved it.  We disagree on enough.  Education and our children should be something we can support universally.  We're responsible for children like Grace and we have failed too many times already.


We get so caught up in proving a point or playing gotcha that we're not moving our advocacy forward.

That line has stayed with me. What can we do to move our advocacy forward? Right now it often feels that we are at an impasse. While we are stuck, embroiled in every successive wave of disputes, children are paying the price. I’d love to see this post start a wider discussion. 

We are responsible. What are we going to do about it?

Friday, July 24, 2020


About a year ago I wrote a piece called “Careless” , describing a situation in which I came face to face with the thoughtlessness of my own white privilege. 

The other day I opened my front door to a young man who was making the rounds telling people about the Streets for All initiative. It was a punishingly hot day. When we were done talking I said,

Try to stay cool! You shouldn’t be out in this heat!

And he looked back at me, tired, and said,

Ma’am, I have to make a living. 

This post seems, if anything, more painful today as I contemplate who is being forced to go out in the workplace while others are afforded the freedom to work from home. Essential workers: hospital workers, restaurant workers, sanitation workers, cleaning crews, transportation workers. A high percentage of these jobs are held by people who are Black or other people of color. 

They are working because they have no choice. They are put in the way of catastrophic illness because they have no choice. Of all the delivery people who have brought my Instacart orders to me since March, only one has been white. The rest: Black or Latinx.

Last year I wrote:
When I closed the door and went back to my comfy chair in my air conditioned house I felt a sense of shame. What an idiotic thing for me to say to someone who doesn’t have the privilege that I have. To admonish someone for doing something that they must do, whether it is physically wearing or not. I have choices. It’s very likely that his choices are far fewer. What was I thinking? That he was doing it for fun? 

Even now, as we meet six feet apart while wearing our masks, I find myself saying something like:

Stay safe! Or, Stay healthy!

And I go back inside my house where I have been self-isolating since March.

I am so grateful to have had a choice. I struggle with how our society so easily sacrifices those we think are somehow less valuable. When I see some hold forth online about how teachers should be considered “essential workers” I bristle, because I know what that means. 

It means that they want to place teachers in the category of people who have no choice. 

Let’s be honest, our culture honors with money, power, and autonomy the people who are high up enough on the food chain to be exempt from the dictates of who will be required risk their lives. We may say lovely things about essential workers but I dare say that those of us who are not have no wish to be one.

Last year’s post ended like this:

Anyway, if you see people out working in the heat, maybe you can think about how some people have fewer choices than you do and why they are the ones whose bodies are punished by extreme weather while yours is not.

With only a few changes, it remains excruciatingly true today:

Anyway, if you see people out working during the pandemic, maybe you can think about how some people have fewer choices than you do and why they are the ones whose bodies are being sacrificed to the coronavirus while yours is not.

Just a thought.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

A Tale of Treasures and Trash

Once upon a time, I wrote a blog post about my mish mosh drawer. Really.

 Here it is, in all its glory. Our mish mosh drawer. Do you have one? 

Maybe you call it a junk drawer. It's in the kitchen and it holds any manner of one of a kind items, gadgets, coupons, missing pieces, and more. The mish mosh drawer pictured above could be a carefully constructed photograph for an I-Spy challenge. But it's not. This is our mish mosh drawer in its natural habitat, with no alterations.

I remembered this post yesterday as I went through the contents of our current mish mosh drawer, which is a good deal smaller. It turns out that the original was prime real estate and its contents were evicted to make way for new occupants. This is the size of the new one.

As my time in self isolation has lengthened, my willingness to tackle long-neglected household chores has increased. When this skinny little drawer stopped closing, I knew it was time. 

First, a purely unscientific rendering of what was in the drawer.

Next, an artistic assemblage of what was left.

It contains many things you would expect:

Twist-ties, chip clips, straws, skewers, wooden ice cream spoons, a singing birthday candle, a flashlight.

Some you might not expect: 

Emery boards, nail scissors, a Wegman’s gift card, a hot pink glitter crayon, a treasure/potion bottle, a tiny clothes pin, a tiny tube of white paint, a band-aid, a paint brush, and exactly twenty-six cents.

It also contains tiny clues of things that have been important to me through the years:

A postcard from Grandma and Grandpa from one of their many Ireland trips, the Arts Advocate pin I got at the Festival of the Arts moving sale, LGBTQ rainbow pin and ribbon, bright green wristbands from a Chrysalis event at Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods, pins from the late Community blogger Dennis Lane's memorial service at MPP, a campaign  button from when I ran for the CA Board from Oakland Mills.

Oh, and one fortune from Lucky’s China Inn that reads:

Your dearest dream is coming true.

Treasures. In a historical archivist’s world, ephemera. 

If you have gotten this far and wonder if there is a point to all this, this answer is: maybe. When I look at all the things that have piled up in this little drawer I think about the things that make us who we are. Things we value and treasure. Things you wouldn’t expect. The utilitarian things that help us function in the day to day. And all the junk that gets in the way and keeps us from seeing who we are. 

It’s a lot like the things I address when I write this blog. I ask a lot of questions. What do we value? What is just junk and needs to go in the trash? What makes us a better community? What holds us back? 

Reading a blog post is just a beginning. Rather like going through a mish mosh drawer. The real story is told in what comes next. What choices do we make? What actions do we take? Are we ready to face what we have learned or will we just stuff it all away like junk in a drawer? 

I’m not sure what I’ll do with my collection of personal treasures but I’m pretty sure I’ll put the fortune on my refrigerator where I’ll see it more often. 

What’s in your mish mosh drawer?

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Building Better Schools

For someone who writes about community issues seven days a week, I don’t get very many press releases. That’s okay. I’m perfectly capable of finding my own stories. This one, though, came to me via press release, from Matthew Vaughan-Smith. Mr. Vaughan-Smith is the president of Anti-Racist Education Alliance which was founded with the mission of:

... upholding the vision of a public school system where all Black and Brown students achieve their fullest potential and where educators of color are valued, supported, and given space to use their power. We will do this through service to our community, through advocacy, and through building relationships. (Vaughan-Smith, June 4th, 2020)

Here is the release in its entirety. I’ll add a few words of my own below.

The Anti-Racist Education Alliance, Inc. Endorses Police-Free Schools 

AREA says No to SROs (School Resource Officers)

Baltimore, MD- July 9, 2020- The Board of Directors of The Anti-Racist Education Alliance, Inc. (AREA) voted unanimously to endorse Police-Free school movements in the Baltimore Metropolitan Area.  In considering this endorsement, AREA considered the grim impact of police in schools on all students with careful attention paid to the disproportionate impact on Black and Brown students.  According to NBI #01-2020, 56% of students arrested in Maryland schools were Black/African Americans.  In light of this and their own 4-point agenda, AREA was compelled to take this stance against the fueling of the School to Prison Pipeline.

Of this bold stance, President Matthew Vaughn-Smith said “For an organization that is only two months old, this is a historic move. We have committed in a strong way to racial justice in our schools.  Our Black and Brown children deserve to feel safe.”  In addressing the method that AREA will employ in their endorsement, President Vaughn-Smith stated “We will work with area grassroots organizations to end the School to Prison Pipeline.”

As a part of their stance, AREA will be hosting a series of virtual teach-ins to liberate schools. The first will be on Monday, August 10th at 6 pm. The topic is Police-Free schools. You can RSVP for this and future events on AREA’s Facebook page, @AREAlliance. Press is welcome at this event, which is free and open to the public. Educators and community who are members of AREA will be available for questions.

About The Anti-Racist Education Alliance, Inc.: The Anti-Racist Education Alliance, Inc. is a pending 501(c)(3) organization that serves the Greater Baltimore Area.  AREA’s mission and vision is to actively work to dismantle the racist systems and structures within education and the greater community, and to build structures that promote equity of access for Black, Indigenous and Students of Color.  AREA commits itself to the following 4-Point Agenda which guides it’s work for FY 2021: Creating Space for Educators of Color, Centering Student & Community Voice, Decolonizing Curriculum, and Advocating for a Restorative Culture.


Despite whatever the official intentions may have been for instituting SRO’s, the data show that the results for Black and Brown children are abysmal. We have the numbers. What remains is our responsibility to change the system and make it bettter. As I wrote in a recent piece (I Was Wrong

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.

Want to learn more? AREA is hosting a teach-in at 6:30 pm on August 10th.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

For the Birds

Several times a week we hear an ominous “thunk” sound which tells us that yet another bird has flown into our front window. I don’t have any scientific evidence, but I think it has happened more often since we changed the color of our drapes from multicolored stripes to pale blue. I have been pondering whether that change in color has made our window appear more like “sky” to neighborhood birds.

We don’t think these incidents are fatal in our case (very small yard, no bird bodies) but I know they can be. Years ago I worked at a school in downtown Baltimore whose second floor was flanked on both sides by tall windows. I was regularly tasked with scooping up the remains of misbegotten birds off of the preschool playground before the children might happen upon them.

All of this serves as an introduction to this news:

Now this bill doesn’t pertain to my front window, or yours, and for the most part it won’t be applied retroactively. From the article:

“What [the bill] really is referring to is these big, glass buildings today that literally threaten the existence of birds because birds fly into the glass, unable to realize that it is glass, and they are dying by the millions as a result of these big, glass buildings,” said council Chair Deb Jung, who introduced the legislation.

Similar legislation was brought up in the Maryland State legislature in 2019, I believe, although it didn’t get any traction. I remember a discussion about this on Episode 54 of Elevate Maryland with Roughly Speaking’s Mileah Kromer and Luke Broadwater. I seem to remember that some legislators didn’t take this topic at all seriously.

Birds don’t vote, it seems. If they could they’d more than likely echo the concern of ecologist Mark Southerland, who testified that more than 1 billion birds die every year and there are 29% fewer birds in the U.S. and Canada than there were 50 years ago. It’s hard to believe that some Maryland lawmakers played this for laughs.

Even if this legislation hasn’t yet succeeded at the state level, I’m glad we are taking it seriously in Howard County. A shout-out to Council Chair Deb Jung and members of the council for making this happen.  

A sympathetic, although humorous, take on this phenomenon was written by James Thurber in the piece, “The Glass in the Field.” In his fable, the moral is:

He who hesitates is sometimes saved.

In Howard County birds can be thankful that there was no hesitation to do the right thing.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Item Number Three

Meanwhile, back to Saturday’s protest in Old Ellicott City. I’ve received some positive feedback from readers who were there. In reading Ana Faguy’s article in the Howard County Times, I noticed that a coalition of groups worked together to coordinate the event:

The protest was organized by a number of local social justice organizations including HoCo for Justice, CASA, Howard County Coalition for Immigrant Justice, Indivisible HoCo and Audelia Community Response Team.

Saturday’s event was the culmination of a number of similar actions held over the past months to call attention to this issue. Recently, two representatives from the County Council have lent their voices to the cause: Deb Jung and Liz Walsh.

This got me thinking.

I noticed that the young people of HoCo4Justice published a list of demands in advance of Saturday’s protest. 

It’s fairly comprehensive and speaks to far more than the Howard County ICE contract. Something on this list jumped out at me. Item number three:

Make Howard County a Sanctuary County.

The fact that Howard County is, at present, not a sanctuary county is through no fault of County Executive Ball, who, as a Council Representative, laid it all on the line in efforts to get the now-defunct CB-9 legislation passed in 2017. Despite a solid core of support in the County, the measure was defeated largely by efforts of the angry, vocal, matching-t-shirts-and-signs crowd. 

It was ugly. 

But wait - - now that we have Council Representatives Jung and Walsh stepping up to support social justice issues, this could be exactly the right time to get a sanctuary county bill passed. Now, I am making an assumption that Representives Jones and Rigby could be relied upon for their votes. No one expects David Yungmann in District 5 to vote yes, but that would still be a healthy 4-1 vote.

In March of 2017 I wrote:

As Americans we must have more than an unthinking acceptance of what some call "routine law enforcement." The laws are there because We, the People, have endorsed them. Looking at the spirit of the law and not just the letter of the law involves deeper thinking. It challenges us. And this particular issue requires us to see not just with our brains but with our hearts as well. Without empathy we are simply routine enforcers.

Are we nothing more than that? Are we not meant to stand up for what we believe is right?

I hope that Jung and Walsh will build on their social justice activism and get Sanctuary County legislation on the agenda as soon as possible. The opportunity to form a coalition with their other Democratic council members could not come at a better time, as descriptions of dysfunction plague coverage of recent council meetings. 

Of course, to the young people of HoCo4Justice it is only one item on a very big list. But for Jung and Walsh it could be career-defining legislation and evidence that they are truly willing to walk the walk in lifting up the vulnerable. It could be a win-win.

Couldn’t it?

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Our Turn

I spent most of yesterday mourning the passing of Civil Rights warrior John Lewis, and learning more about him. It was a sad day. Our country is in a perpetual state of loss. Losing this deeply good and brave man right now is almost too much to bear. 

I read many John Lewis quotes yesterday. This one spoke to me as I was wallowing in a sense of hopelessness:

I regret to say that I took a screenshot and didn’t write down exactly where this comes from. In searching for more information this morning I found this quote, which is similar but not identical:

But we must accept one central truth and responsibility as participants in a democracy: Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.

It is not just that we must keep working because we are living in such troubling times. We must continue the work because that is what Democracy requires. Some times may be better than others but Lewis reminds us that Democracy and freedom are not sit-down-and-rest states of being. They were always meant to be active. 

As the old saying goes, you can’t just talk the talk. You have to walk the walk.

Locally I am encouraged every day by people who walk the walk. These are people whose efforts are transforming lives and who, in one way or another, challenge us to expand our thinking and do better. Erika Strauss Chavarria and the amazing team at Columbia Community Care. Chiara D’Amore and her work at Freetown Farm. Bonnie Bricker at Talk With Me. The young people of HoCo4Justice. Every day around us are people who choose love as an active verb. 

Is this the Beloved Community of which Dr. King spoke? Or is it the way that we seek it?

If there is “some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest” then it is for John Lewis and all the warriors who walked toward danger in order to bring about justice. Let them now rest easy. 

Let us now carry on the work.