“Lift every voice and sing…Till earth and heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of Liberty…”- Lift Every Voice and Sing, James Weldon Johnson

Happy Black History Month!

A funny..or maybe a not so funny..I remember when I first talked about Black History Month with my daughter who was probably about five or six at the time. She’s now 15.  She asked me why we only had one month to celebrate black people..and I didn’t have a good answer for her.

And I still don’t.

I guess from my perspective, it’s good to, at least, highlight the contributions that African Americans have made to society some time.  And February is as good a time as any. (Peep the sarcasm?)

Jokes aside, I don’t have a good answer for her…or anyone else who asks the question.  Not sure why it’s only one month.  I will, however, take the time (during this Black History Month) to focus on an African American organization in Howard County that is doing some truly wonderful community work- the African American Community Roundtable (AACR).

And oh…quickly…some folks have asked why we need an African American Community Roundtable.  I’ll just say this. In a very non defiant, kind, non confrontational way.  Until we no longer have the need to point out a particular month for a particular minority group, we need groups like the AACR.

And oh…full disclosure… I founded the darn thing (The AACR not Black History Month).  Back in 2012, I was frustrated about turnout at a public hearing.  The issue (diversity on the Howard County Board of Education…not saying more about THAT right now!) was super important to me (and, in my opinion, to the entire community) and we only heard from a small group of people.  The group we heard from did not reflect the diversity of our great community.  That’s painful.

(Side note- If you know me well, you know that I think it is critically important to have ALL voices at the table when discussing community challenges. ALL voices.)

So because I belong to three excellent service organizations (who independently do some AMAZING work in Howard County and beyond), I thought it made sense to get these organizations (and several of the churches and civic groups and museums) together to talk about our collective influence.  How can we work TOGETHER on challenges to affect positive change in our community?  Where are the gaps?  What are we missing as individual organizations?

And so here we are, three years later, with some really exciting stuff to share.  Not tooting my own horn but definitely tooting the horn of the wonderful people who make this thing happen.  Y’all rock.

Now..before somebody jumps all over me about putting one group before another, let me say this.  It’s not like that.  I LOVE Howard County.  All of it. I want to continue to make this place great for everyone.  AND I understand that there are some challenges related to education (#achievementgap) and health (#obesity) and economic development (#mbeprograms) and such that groups like the AACR need to come together on to discuss and act on.

So, the AACR.  Here’s what we’ve done thus far. (And I’ve said this before in a separate post but I want to mention this again!)

▪Received a $150,000 grant from the Horizon Foundation for outreach work with minority communities in Howard County

▪Launched an official partnership with the Howard County Public School System (more on this later)

▪Launched our website and our “brand”-   If you haven’t seen it, check out http://www.aacr-howard.org

▪Held a SUPER successful parent empowerment forum with HCPSS featuring Dr. Freeman Hrabowski

▪Bought Christmas gifts (lots of gifts!) for our adopted foster children

▪Supported each other at various events that the individual member organizations host and grew our membership to 28 orgs/churches/civic groups (unity y’all)

▪Launched a partnership with the Howard County Police Department to focus on hiring practices, cultural diversity training, and proactive community outreach

▪Partnered with various health organizations to host several Affordable Healthcare workshops and seminars

▪Announced our Parent Academy (check the website for the schedule)

Good stuff, right?!  And still more to do.  And to highlight. Even if it’s not February.

Finally….so last night I participated in a discussion that the Columbia Democratic Club hosted.  The discussion was called “Law Enforcement and Community Relations” and I was invited to be a panel member as the founder/president of the aforementioned roundtable (Did I mentioned we announced a partnership with the Howard County Police yesterday? Yay.).  So, it was me, the deputy police chief, and the deputy state’s attorney.  Discussion was good and the audience asked some really great questions.

One particular conversation stuck with me. The conversation was about the peaceful vigils that happened on Howard County street corners after the Ferguson/Eric Garner situations.  Remember the #blacklivesmatter vigils?  Well, the deputy chief of police expressed that he felt offended because (and I’m paraphrasing) HC police would never handle things the way that the Ferguson police did and therefore he did not feel like people here needed to protest anything.  The audience member said (something like) we were protesting in solidarity.  We were standing up for people.

Both of them were expressing their personal views/opinions.

It was no longer us/them.  Police/citizens.  It was people talking and sharing their perspective in an effort to understand each other.

I’m not saying anyone was right or wrong.  I’m not making that call.  I’m not even saying we solved anything yet but I would bet money (a very little bit but still) that both of those folks are revisiting that conversation in their head and thinking about what they said.

What I am saying is that it’s important to have the conversation.  To talk.  To form partnerships. To reach out.  With people who don’t look like you. Or who may have a different perspective than you. Or who may wear a badge and you don’t.  And it’s important to invite ALL voices to the conversation and highlight the richness of diverse perspectives.

You know, I’m no expert (at all!) but I really think we should try to do things like this year round.  Again, not just in February.

What say you?

Let our rejoicing rise…High as the listening skies, Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.  Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,  Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us…”

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