Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Hope with an Edge: HCLS Opens New Equity Resource Center


Yesterday afternoon found me on the second floor of the Central Branch of the Howard County Library for possibly the second or third time over the past twenty-ish years. I was there for the opening of the new Equity Resource Center, which will also be home to the Undesign the Red Line exhibit until February 22nd. Here is HCLS President and CEO Tonya Aikens making a few last minute notes before the the event:

(Yes, you’ll be glad to know that professional photographers were on hand and I will add a link here as soon as I have one.  I’m no photographer, despite my good intentions.)

Update: photographs by Geoffrey Baker, courtesy of Howard County Library System.

Most important to me about yesterday’s event was learning that the impetus for an equity resource center came from the community. Ms. Aikens described the process that led to the creation of this new space and the library’s subsequent investment in a collection of over nine thousand items. She outlined the many partners that participated in the project. The Equity Resource Center is response to a need. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, which disproportionately impacted people of color, and following the murder of George Floyd, the community began calling for spaces where they could come together to learn more about people different than themselves (e.g., race, culture, belief, gender identity) as well as more about their own cultures and histories. They wanted a place to share ideas and formulate solutions. The new Equity Resource Center is in response to those needs. It provides space for ideation and for people to talk about how to build a better Howard County. (From the press release for the event.)

I’m going to be returning to the space to learn more in the near future, so there will definitely be another post about the collection itself. Today I want to focus on my impressions of yesterday’s event.

The inclusion of music was a meaningful choice. Through both the powerful rendition of “How Great is our God” sung by Donna Lakins and the achingly beautiful simplicity of a piece on ocarina played by Jingya Liu, music was a reminder of how human beings use music to express cultural heritage and how music can transcend those boundaries and reach hearts and minds beyond the divisions we make for ourselves.

The County Executive’s speech spoke to my heart. Often speeches at such events are a collection of Very Nice Words and the most one can say is that there was not a thing wrong with them. This was different. Ball spoke with honesty and sincerity about the needs in our community for a space to come together and learn and interact and grow in a way that will make Howard County a more equitable place. He spoke to the deep challenges that have come with COVID but also to the deep hurts which long pre-existed the pandemic: hurts caused by inequity and injustice.

It was a simple yet eloquent reminder: if you wonder why we need this? This is why.

Each speaker brought to light a different and valuable facet of why the creation of the Equity Resource center is important and of the possibilities it brings for our community. Two that stood out for me were the remarks from Jennifer Goldberg of the Howard County Jewish Federation and those from Meina Lu, the director of the Howard County Chinese School.  The former spoke of her own concept of equity with a definition that was both comprehensive and clear on the particulars. She affirmed that working for justice is very much congruent with the Jewish concept of tikun olam, or “repairing the world.” The latter spoke with heartfelt gratitude about the members of the Howard County community who came out to stand with the Asian community at the solidarity vigil at the Columbia Lakefront in March.

Something you should know: there were a lot of people there yesterday. More than you might imagine and certainly more than could be expected on a Monday afternoon. I suspect that’s because many of the people  present had been actively involved, in one way or another, in bringing this project into being. And there were also a good number of those, like me, who really care about this issue and/or are committed supporters of our library system.

I sensed a feeling in the room yesterday which might be described as hope. Not a casual hope like “I hope it will be sunny tomorrow,” but an earnest and watchful hope. 

If I could put that feeling into words it would be this:

We start here. We are building on what has come before and we move forward with hope. Each step is important. Each person we invite along on the journey is a bridge to more conversation, more learning, more connection.

There has been so much hurt. There has been so much injustice. We see how hurt and injustice will go on ceaselessly if we do not take a stand against them. And so we must. 

It might be hope I felt, or determination, or purely the belief that it is within our power to do better. Hope with a backbone. Hope with an edge. Hope on a mission to repair the world


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