Saturday, October 29, 2022


On September 17th the Harriet Tubman Cultural Center marked its official opening after decades of hard work by determined graduates and former students. I visited the Center in late September and posted some snapshots, although I did say I’d be writing more about the experience. (It’s on my to-do list.)

One of the sights I wanted to preserve from my visit that day was this visual representation of the school’s history.

Every young person deserves the opportunity to learn. 

The Harriet Tubman School was the first facility built new - - from scratch, as it were - - which was dedicated to providing the opportunity to learn for Howard County’s Black students. As you tour the building today, you are struck with two things: 

1. What an incredibly joyful experience it must have been for these students and families to experience something brand new that was made for them.

2. How deeply committed Howard County was to preserving school segration. 

Every young person deserves the opportunity to learn.

Children flourish in the presence of adults who encourage and support their gifts, intelligence, and creativity. For the students of Harriet Tubman High School, the world reflected a reality of social and racial injustice. Substandard facilities, equipment, and resources were the norm in segregated schools. African American administrators, teachers, and students had a formidable task: to cultivate excellence, determination, pride, self-confidence, and a love of learning against a backdrop of discrimination. The legacy of Harriet Tubman High School lives on in Howard County.

One of the things I noticed as I toured the beautifully updated facility was that ample space had clearly been set aside for an early childhood classroom. Seeing that made me realize just how many opportunities the new/old space intended to provide - - not merely a museum dedicated to the beloved Harriet Tubman School but truly a community cultural center. 

I was excited. I’ve been waiting to see what would happen next.

Yesterday something happened. The Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks, which has been tasked with operating the facility, posted the following:

Did you know the new Harriet Tubman Cultural Center in Columbia is getting ready to offer an early learning center for your little ones? 

Photo from Howard County Recreation and Parks


Just - - no.

You’re announcing an early childhood program in the Harriet Tubman Cultural Center and you post (what looks like) a stock photo of three white boys playing with Legos.

Who made this decision? Who was in the room? Or, more to the point: who wasn’t in the room? Certainly the group of dedicated volunteers who worked for years to preserve this space and create something that would be an ongoing gift to the community were not in the room when this choice was made. This photo choice is honestly a slap in the face to their work and to the legacy of the Harriet Tubman School.

Either the decision makers were oblivious to the implications of their choice, as in:

Cute kids! That’ll work.

Or they were trying to communicate a message to families of potential (white) enrollees.

We know it says Harriet Tubman but - - don’t worry! - - there’ll be white people! 

Either way it is inexcusable. The fact the Rec and Parks doesn’t appear to employ even one person in a leadership position who understands racial equity and inclusion and/or hasn’t assigned such a person to work on the Harriet Tubman Cultural Center team speaks volumes. This isn’t just a careless mistake. It’s a desecration.

Remember these pictures?

Beautiful Black dolls of every sort line the wall of the Harriet Tubman library. More Black dolls than I have ever seen in my life. More Black dolls than many Black children saw in their lives. Until fairly recently, all dolls made for the commercial market were white. You had no choice. Even when Black dolls came to market, many Black children had been acculturated to believe that only the white dolls were beautiful.

The Black dolls were the ugly dolls, society told them. Because they, themselves, were ugly.

How dare Rec and Parks take a holy place like the Harriet Tubman School and think a photo of adorable white boys was acceptable to their mission? If you were a Black parent (or if you are a Black parent) would you trust your children to these people?

This is hurtful. Isn’t there enough daily hurt from ongoing systemic racism in our culture without piling on more in a place that should be safe, supportive, and celebrated?

Enroll your children with us. We center the white gaze. 

If you haven’t already, I’d recommend watching the four-part series “The Making of Black America: Through the Grapevine”, produced and hosted by Henry Louis Gates. Heck, maybe Howard County Rec and Parks can watch it, too.

Every young person deserves the opportunity to learn. And to see themselves: safe, supported, and celebrated.

Village Green/Town² Comments


Today’s Columbia Community Care Restaurant Week location Is The Periodic Table.

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