Friday, January 15, 2021

A Fresh Take in a Familiar Place


Yesterday County Executive Calvin Ball announced the appointment of Denise Boston as Howard County’s first equity and restorative practices manager. Dr. Boston is tasked with establishing this new position within the Office of Human Rights and Equity. This appointment is another significant step for County government and other leading local institutions to 1) acknowledge and articulate examples of systemic racism and historic inequity in our community, and 2) take tangible steps to create and enact solutions.

Howard County hires first equity and restorative practices manager to strengthen community relationships, Jacob Calvin Meyer, Baltimore Sun Media 

Yesterday’s event was a familiar scene to those of us in Columbia/HoCo. A podium set up down by Lake Kittamaqundi. An elected official making an important announcement, flanked by other local notables. This is the place where so many announcements are made, campaigns kicked off, important dates observed and celebrated. Down at the Lakefront, close to the People Tree which symbolizes for many what Columbia was meant to be, has long been one of the most favored spots for politicians and proclamations.

For me this one was different, for several reasons. This wasn’t a looking-backward sort of affair, as many of our Lakefront gatherings are wont to be. It wasn’t a campaign-button, sign-waving pep talk for the faithful. As the County Executive made his remarks he was both standing in a place deeply rooted in our local history but emphatically committing to carrying on the work we often say is at the foundation of Columbia’s creation  - - far beyond what its founders likely imagined.

If our community’s progress in pushing back against institutional racism can be seen as a sort of relay event where a torch is passed from one set of participants to the next, we can see that, along with our successes, there have been times of indifference, fatigue, times we just plain dropped the torch. The appointment of Dr. Boston is a sign that Howard County is committed to being “in the race”, as it were, and not just for a commemorative event, but for the long haul.

The fact that Dr. Boston’s family came to Columbia in the 1970’s and that she is a graduate of Wilde Lake High School will give her added perspective to the people and institutions she’ll be serving. Her background in counseling psychology and in the field of education will give her the tools to take on the challenges she will undertaking. Let’s face it: her presence and her newly created office are about bringing much-needed change.

We’re not always so good at change here in Columbia/HoCo.

With the water rippling behind them, and the Rouse Brothers clearly visible to the side, yesterday’s announcement looked strikingly familiar to many others. I somehow think that what it means is newer and more focused than what we may have been used to in the past. For one thing it’s about all of Howard County, not just Columbia. For another thing it’s a sign of action and not just intent.

Intent is nice. It fits nicely with ceremonial events and it is not likely to ruffle the feathers of general public. Action goes deeper and challenges us to go deeper, too. It may also make us uncomfortable. That’s good. Pretty words won’t bring justice. Catchy slogans won’t break down walls. All around us are the signs that it is action which is deeply needed in our county.

If yesterday’s announcement is the beginning of Howard County seeing the work of equity and restorative practices as being our work, not just Dr. Boston’s work, then this is the kind of action we need right now this minute. In truth, it’s been needed for a long time.

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