Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Real People, Beautiful People

I’ve been looking at some photographs this morning. Taken by Jeffrey F. Bill of Baltimore Sun Media, they show the recent rally to support funding for the renovation of the East Columbia 50+ Center. You can see those images and read about the event here:

‘It is time to reinvest in this community’: Hundreds rally in support of East Columbia 50+ Center renovation - - Ana Faguy, Baltimore Sun

Those photographs. Such beautiful photos, I thought. Dancers. Speakers. Those in attendance listening attentively, holding signs, spread out over the space like a well-planted garden plot. People of all ages. A diverse and feisty bunch.

Wait. It’s not the photos I’m noticing. It’s the people. It’s the people who are beautiful. Organizing to speak out for what they believe in. Helping one another. Believing that the community has a responsibility to lift up everyone.

From the article:

The Rev. Paige Getty of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, who is co-chair of People Acting Together Howard County, spoke about why funding the center’s renovation is an “equitable and just decision.”

“The East Columbia 50+ Center is a gathering place for members of this community who are often overlooked because of where they live, because of their race, because of limited resources or because they are otherwise vulnerable,” Getty said.

Getty said the East Columbia 50+ Center serves more older adults of color than any other 50+ center in the county.

“It is time to reinvest in this community and to fulfill the promise of a new expanded 50+ center in East Columbia,” she said.

All the other 50+ centers in the county have been renovated but, last year,  when the project was proposed for East Columbia, it did not receive enough votes. It was cut from the budget.

This all seems disturbingly familiar. Just last week OMCA Board Chair Jonathan Edelson presented testimony to the HCPSS Board of Education about the 2022 budget. In it he pointed out that Oakland Mills High School has nearly $111,000,000 in deferred maintenance costs. He went on to say that two of the schools in the Oakland Mills cluster account for 20 per cent of all deferred maintenance for the entire county. (A reminder: Oakland Mills is in East Columbia.)

There seems to be a pattern of postponing investment in East Columbia. The more it happens, the more it happens. And the less that East Columbia is considered worthy of investment, the less value the people who live there are perceived to have. (Or is it the other way around?)

A while back I wrote a post about how the location of where we live colors our perception of other areas in the county. What do we consider to be “on the other side of town?” Although the distances within the county are not all that great, they have a strong influence over what we consider to be our home base, as opposed to the areas where “those people over there” live.

Decisions about funding are often made by people whose home base is at a substantial distance from East Columbia. Do they have a clear picture of residents or is their perception made fuzzy and indistinct by that distance? Or are the needs of the people all the way across town diminished in their eyes due to something more than distance - - perhaps a lack of empathy brought about by a feeling of “difference”.

Whatever the cause, it is not an accident or a coincidence. It is an ongoing pattern of behavior which elevates some areas of the county while others are left wanting. When decision after decision reinforces an imbalance in opportunity and quality of life, it is crucial that the County examine those choices and make a conscious course correction to address the allocation of resources in a more equitable way.


  • All of the 50+ centers have been renovated but East Columbia. 
  • Deferred maintenance at OMHS is $111,000,000 yet it has not even been placed in the ten-year capital improvement plan.

These things happen only when we allow ourselves to think that “those people across town” aren’t real people like we are, don’t have the same needs, or dreams, or potential. This must stop. A successfully functioning government must have the ability to stand with people and respond to their needs, rather than contemplating them from a distance. This is true whether those people are school children or citizens over 50. 

Here’s where we are right now. The Council held a hearing on this topic yesterday. They will vote on it next week. The project went into budget season with two votes for the center (Jones, Rigby) but will need (at least) one more to move forward. Please reach out to the remaining council members and let them know that you support funding for the East Columbia 50+ center and that you are asking for their vote to make it happen. 

Deb Jung  djung@howardcountymd.gov

Liz Walsh  ewalsh@howardcountymd.gov

David Yungmann  dyungmann@howardcountymd.gov

If you need a little inspiration before you write, look at the photographs in the Sun. Have a clear picture in your mind’s eye of the very real people you are advocating for: real people, beautiful people who are a valuable part of our community. 

Even if they do live on the other side of town.

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