“So it’s gonna be forever…Or it’s gonna go down in flames…You can tell me when it’s over…If the high was worth the pain…”- Blank Space, Taylor Swift

This song doesn’t exactly fit with the theme of this post BUT Taylor Swift was one of Barbara Walters’ 10 Most Fascinating People in 2014. And this song is the most popular song on Billboard’s Top 100 list.  And I love it.

For those of you who are not friends with me on Facebook or who may have missed the post, I decided to do a Most Fascinating List.

My status read: “You know how Barbara Walters does a “10 Most Fascinating People” list? Well, I want one of my next blog posts to be about the “10 Most Fascinating People in Howard County-2014 Edition”! If I get enough responses I’ll do it! So who makes the list? And why? I’ll add my own commentary too of course!”

Because this is Howard County, the response was overwhelming (Thanks!). And so, I came up with categories.  It’s not perfect..but it’s mine. And some of yours.

So here it is…My Most Fascinating People in Howard County-2014 Edition List Avec Categories! I had fun writing this, although it stressed me out a little!  Hope you enjoy it…

Note- This is not an endorsement of anyone or anything…This is about fascinating people/things.  You know I had to say that, right?!

Politics

Ken Ulman– I mean. Come on.  If you know me, you know why he’s on the list.  Innovative, creative, smart, cool, and down to earth.  I think EVERYONE in Howard (actually everyone in the state) was waiting to see what he was going to do next.  And now we know. #margravestrategieswillkickbutt

Dylan Goldberg- This guy.  Besides being a politically savvy twelve year old (just kidding. He’s like 19, though, right?), he routinely quotes West Wing, never sleeps, saves random dogs, and collects political paraphernalia.  If you need tickets to ANYTHING or information about some obscure political fact, call this dude.  No, seriously.

Mike Davis– I’ve known Mike for a number of years as he was the chair of the board of The Columbia Foundation (what is it called now?) when I was the associate director.  I knew him then as an estate lawyer slash philanthropic community advocate but later found out that he is also a political guru.  He has quietly headed up transition teams for two County Executives…without seeking the limelight.  Impressive in my book.

Maureen Evans Arthurs– Maureen took a shot at school board this past year and I truly believe that voters missed the mark by not electing her.   She worked her butt off and her message resonated with so many in our community.  She’s also a super talented writer and she’s not afraid to speak her mind.  Oh..and she’s sharpening her skills in this year’s Emerge, Maryland class.  So she’ll be ready.  For whatever she chooses to run for.

Alice Giles- The League of Women Voters’ guide and recorded forums were a lifeline for many during this election season.  If you couldn’t make the forums (kids!!!), you could certainly learn a bit about the people who were competing to guide our county and state.  Alice led this organization through Election 2014.  Someone also told me that she’s a NAMI advocate and she definitely writes some hilarious FB posts about her experiences as an employee of the library (is she still there?).  And then there’s the hair.  Fascinating indeed.

Calvin Ball– One of my FB commenters said it best…”He was out there rallying votes for candidates when they were running for office and he’s worked tirelessly to get the revitalization of Long Reach going (in addition to having a full time job and being a family man). Another fascinating dude!”  What more can I say? (Name that tune! Hint- The artist is married to Bey.) Go ahead, CBall.

Courtney Watson and Allan Kittleman– Executive candidates from Howard County- check.  Graduates of our public school system- check.  Smart and witty- check.  Paid their dues as county council members- check.  Super cute kids who look like they stepped out of a magazine- check.  The County Executive race was fascinating for so many people in this county.  These two leaders had to make this list.

Rich Gibson– During the election season, someone said to me, “Where did he even come from?! I like him”.  He challenged a strong incumbent for State’s Attorney in HoCo and made folks pay attention.  He’s a smart prosecutor for Baltimore City and a family man who lives in Ellicott City.  Can’t wait to see what’s next for him!

Vanessa Atterbeary- Ran for and won a delegate seat in District 13 while parenting two toddlers and pregnant with her third child. Oh and she’s super smart and fly.  Badass.  Can’t wait to see what she does in Annapolis as an advocate for working mamas.

Education

Dr. Renee Foose- In 2012, Renee became the first female Superintendent of the Howard County Public Schools.  Two point five years later, she’s shaken things up a bit as she tries to ensure that our public schools educate all 50,000 plus children and have them prepared for college and the workforce.  She implemented the first strategic plan for the system (Vision 2018) and launched the (often talked about!!) Elementary School Model.  Many folks are interested in her efforts to close the achievement gap and hire a more diverse workforce (me, me, me). She was picked as one of “50 Women to Watch” by The Baltimore Sun.  And people are certainly watching to see what she does next.

Evening in the Stacks– If you don’t know, you better ask somebody.

Cindy Vaillancourt– I don’t know Cindy well so I will be making a point to sit down with her sometime in 2015 to get to know her better.  Someone once told me that people either love or dislike Cindy.  There’s no in between.  Say what you want about her, Cindy kicked some rump and was the top vote getter in the 2014 Board of Ed Race after a very interesting public year for her.  One commenter said, “She faced crazy obstacles to re-election, stayed true to her objectives, was top vote-getter despite everything.” She is definitely one of the most fascinating people in education.

Frank Eastham– I can’t tell you how many friends reached out to me when Frank left Oakland Mills High to become the executive director of school improvement and administration.  People with kids who were going to attend OMHS were freaked out.  People who had kids who had attended during Frank’s tenure were near tears.  Sara Toth wrote an article about it (that doesn’t always happen when principals leave a school).  If you don’t know Frank (or his story), it may help to read this article…http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/howard/columbia/bs-md-ho-principal-eastham-20130410-story.html).  I also know Frank from his great work on the Human Rights Commission and he was the moderator for our Beer Summit that I mentioned in a previous post.  Frank is not afraid to talk about and address issues head on.  Good dude.

My mom, Patricia Dodson– If I got a dollar every time someone mentioned that my mom taught them, I’d be a rich lady (money rich…of course, I’m thoroughly blessed because she’s my mom).  She’s taught a pro golfer, the new head of the Olney Theatre, the communications director for the public school system, a former pro soccer player, and the sports doc for the Eagles and 76ers..to name a few.  I’m not saying they wouldn’t have been successful without her but I’ve been told that it certainly helped that she taught them reading…and believed in them.  Love you, mom.

Community Activism

Ian Kennedy- You might hear him talking around town about Oakland Mills and bikes and paths and drinks with sugar.  Ian is the smart, communications director of the Horizon Foundation by day and the bearded, family man, extreme biker by night.  He’s a great writer, used to have a blog that a lot of people read (come back!) and he once played Merriweather with his band (They sang one of my favorites tunes that night…”Use Somebody”)…  He believes in our community and the community listens when he talks.  Hope he runs for some political office someday. Hint, hint.

Candace Avent Montague– Candace is not on this list because she shares her name with the author (although it’s awesome that she does and spells it the right way).  She’s on the list because she is a talented writer and educator who flies under the radar in Howard County.  Candace is a self-proclaimed introvert who drops knowledge and information on FB and in her published works.  And she’s funny as heck.  Check her out.

Bill Woodcock– I didn’t know Bill well when he ran for office back in the day but I added him to this category because of his passion for this community.  Bill pays attention to the hyper local races and uses his blog to weigh in on hyper local issues.  If you want the real deal, go read it. Bill is another person who people seem to have a “love-dislike-no middle ground thing” with but I can’t knock his genuine love for his community.  Keep on, Bill.

Tom Coale– You thought I was going to place Tom in a different category, didn’t you?  Yes, I know that Tom ran for a delegate seat in District 9B but what made Tom most fascinating to me this year (besides that beautiful new baby girl, Harper!) was that he continued to advocate for the folks in Ellicott City even though he didn’t win the elected seat.  Umm…what?! Tom showed up at Executive Kittleman’s first hearing a couple of weeks ago to testify on behalf of the folks on Main Street.  And I have a feeling he’ll be back.  He’s got a new baby at home and it’s the holidays.  He didn’t have to show up.  But he did.

Jason Booms– Anyone who has a strategy whiteboard in their house and uses words like bupkis in their blog posts deserves a nod on this list.  I met Jason a couple of years ago when my friend was running for a Columbia Council seat.  I find Jason to be interesting, smart, and thoughtful.  And I’ll admit it, sometimes I have to read his blogposts twice to make sure I understand. I’ve said it to him before and I’ll say it publicly, I sure hope he runs for something.  And yes, yes, I know he used to be a Republican.  And?

Larry Walker– Husband, father, grandfather!, mentor, preacher, community advocate, and appointed Board of Ed member (his term just ended in December).  Larry loves Howard County and truly tries to lead by example.  The only knock I have on Larry is that he’s a Steelers fan.  Geez.  Regardless, I hope we see Larry again on the Board of Education.  Heck, I even wrote his name in this last election.

Julia Jackson McCready– If you don’t know what community Julia lives in or what/who she advocates for you may be living in a barn.  Julia is a talented, outspoken writer and teacher who stands up for what she believes in.  More than once, Julia has made me think about things I’ve felt strongly about.  And that doesn’t happen often for me.

Health/Medicine

Dr. Donna Neale– Dr. Neale was my neighbor, back in the day! One of my commenter’s reminded me that she is a “former record-holding track star at OMHS, current assistant professor in the Johns Hopkins Medicine Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics and director of the Center for Maternal and Fetal Medicine at HCGH. Dr. Neale serves as a reviewer for medical journals including, Ultrasound in Obstetrics & Gynecology, American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine.”  And she runs triathlons and is on the board of Better Bed Rest.  Can someone say rockstar?

Deneitra Hutchinson– Gonna try to type this one without tearing up.  Dee inspires me.  Period.  She is beautiful (stunning!), kind, smart, and funny.  And she’s battling her second round of cancer with a grace and strength that cannot be put into words.  Check out her blog at http://losingalifelongfriend.blogspot.com/.  She’s fighting AND educating. You may recognize her as the face of the Columbia Association’s show, Columbia Matters, but I just recognize her as my friend.  Continue to kick cancer’s ass, lovely lady.

My brother, Dr. Christopher Dodson- So, my brother doesn’t live in Howard County but he’s from here..and this is my blog…and he is another rockstar doctor so I’m adding him.  Product of Howard High School, Ivy League educated, awesome husband and father, former Dove model, team doc for the Phillies and Eagles, and a partner at Rothman Institute Orthopaedics.  He is only 38 years old! (I’m allowed to brag, I’m his sister…)  He’s also an incredibly nice guy (read- not arrogant).  I’m really glad Philly folks realize what a gem they have as they named him one of the Top Docs in the area and awarded him with one of those Best 40 Under 40 things.  Love you brother.

Law Enforcement

Chief Gary Gardner– Howard County’s new chief  He’s a great officer and a really good guy but I’m going to tell you what really stands out as fascinating for me.  After the Ferguson ordeal, the Chief met with the African American Community Roundtable (his idea) to talk about how the Howard County Police Department could initiate more community conversations with the black community. A partnership is blooming…Umm. Model for the country?  Perhaps.  Stay tuned.

Chief Bill McMahon and Sherry Llewellyn- One of the FB commenters said it best, “Sherry for her masterful, human-centered communication skills that set the tone for Howard Countians to respond as they did to the Mall shooting.”

I added the Chief with Sherry because there was just a way that the two of them (with Ken) made us feel good after such a local tragedy.  I don’t have words for it so help me out if you’d like.  I know it’s their job to respond to these incidents but I think our community and our country, perhaps, felt like we really got really lucky to have such wonderful people in those positions.

Sergeant!!! Stephanie Wall– If you haven’t met Steph, you should.  Community police officer, community advocate, volunteer extraordinaire, and a diva.  As one FB commenter said, “she is a female leader in a male dominated profession who is a graceful role-model for all us (battling sexism and racism with a smile on her face). Talk about amazing!”  Yep, I agree.

The Howard County Police Department and Howard County Fire and Rescue– The men and women of these two agencies do a lot of great stuff. True heroes. They will forever be known for how they handled the Columbia Mall Shooting with skill, grace, transparency, and class.

Sports

Zach Lederer- If you haven’t heard of “zaching” you also may live in a barn.  This Howard County kid was a leader and an inspiration to people across the country…even world.  I came across this quote from a 2014 Baltimore Sun article, written by Frederick N. Rasmussen, ”It is clearly evident in the response to his passing that he was a truly unselfish and giving person who committed his energy to the kids, programs and the school. He took tremendous pride in our school and never stopped demanding that from others,” said Chad Hollwedel, who coaches Centennial’s varsity basketball team.  Pretty sure his lesson on pride and courage went far beyond Centennial High School. Rest in Peace Zach.

Tatyana McFadden– This may seem lazy but click here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tatyana_McFadden.   You’ll see lots of Olympic gold.  Lots of awards.  And she also won the woman’s wheelchair division of the New York City Marathon recently. I don’t know Tatyana but I truly admire her courage and resilience.  Beast.

Michael Campanaro- You could hear all of Howard County cheering when this River Hill grad turned Baltimore Ravens wide receiver scored his first professional touchdown.  Nothing better than a homegrown sports guy playing for the local pro football team (yes, I know there are two local teams.  I’m talking about the one with the winning record and who are headed to the playoffs (whew!).  Go Ravens!

Arts

Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission– Downtown…arts….culture…Merriweather. Period.

Deborah Ellinghaus– This Wilde Lake grad is the newly minted managing director at the Olney Theatre Center and the chair of the previously mentioned Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission.  She is smart and talented and very cool.  She is set to reinvent the “theatre world” in Maryland. Oh..and go check out The Little Mermaid at the theatre and tell Debbie that CDR sent you.

Coleen West–  Coleen leads our Howard County Center for the Arts/ Arts Council really, really well. You can’t talk about the arts in Howard County without talking about this advocate.   And she is super flexible and creative.  I remember calling her on a Tuesday to talk about something big that was going to happen in less than two weeks.  I needed her help. Coleen hopped right on it and got it done.  The thing I called her about?  Reinventing Long Reach.

Denee Barr– Denee is awesome.  She’s a talented singer, photographer and artist, and all around neat lady.  Denee keeps me abreast of “all things art related” in Howard County.  Her talent sometimes flies under the radar but her radiant personality definitely earns her a spot on this list.

Wylene Burch–  You cannot talk about African American culture/history in Howard County without mentioning this beautiful, fabulous, eccentric gem.  Wylene was legendary and her passion for the Center of African American Culture inspired generations.  May you rest in peace, Ms. Burch.  (Note- Please consider supporting the Howard County Center of African American Culture #legacy- http://www.hccaac.org)

General 

Sang Oh- Not sure there are many developers (and no, that’s not a bad word) in Howard County who haven’t sought out Sang’s guidance.  Sang is a smart, super witty real estate lawyer who previously worked in County Executive Robey’s administration.  What people generally don’t know about Sang is that he is incredibly philanthropic.  The Altholton grad is a former Columbia Foundation board member, a longstanding supporter of Columbia Festival of the Arts, and a generous donor and celebrity bartender for the Howard County Library System.  Oh..and he can cook.it.up on the grill!

My dad, Cloyd Dodson– You probably saw the article in Her Mind Magazine about my dad and what he’s taught me.  I added him because he’s simply awesome.  And fascinating. And a teacher, listener, animal whisperer, and all around best Papau around.  (You see what I did there. If you missed it, I included almost my entire immediate family in this post.  The last one gets a post of her own on her birthday.)

Mission BBQ- One of my FB commenters said, “I can’t remember a restaurant opening that had such an impact.”  And I agree.  The lines were out the door and just about every event that I attended after the opening was catered by Mission.  The food is great, the people are nice, and they give back.  In a major way. I can’t even list all of the organizations that Mission supports so click here http://mission-bbq.com/giving-back.  You go, Mission BBQ. You go.

Howard County Citizens- After the Columbia Mall shooting, our community came together in a big way and rallied to support the Mall and each other as The Mall reopened just days after the shooting. We provided comfort to one another after our local world was shaken. Don’t get me wrong, we are not perfect but we’re better than many.  THIS IS Howard County.

Jessie Newburn-  What word do you associate with Jessie?  Say it with me: blog.  Jessie put the Howard County blogging scene on the map in her own, very unique way.  And because this is small world Howard County, Jessie was my neighbor when I was a toddler.  Crazy.  (Jessie, I WILL be submitting my blog to your site!)

Michael McCall– In 2014, the word “downtown” became legendary in Howard County. I’m fairly certain we said that word about 546,986 times in our office.  And you can’t mention that eight letter word without mentioning Michael McCall.  As one commenter said, He is the“driving force behind a new vision for Downtown Columbia. Just thinking about how much of 2014’s conversation centered around Inner Arbor.”  Inner Arbor..yes.  More legendary words.  As my friend and fellow blogger, Spartan, says, “Stay tuned, as more will follow”.

African American Community Roundtable– Ok so, disclaimer.  I founded the AACR and I’m the current president, so, of course, I love it.  However, this two year old group, of 20 plus member organizations, (we are sororities, fraternities, churches, museums, and educational groups) is quietly doing some really great work in the community.  And it’s the members who are doing it.  This year, we:

  • 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
  • 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 for our adopted foster children
  • Supported each other at various events that the individual member organizations host
  • Launched a partnership with the Howard County Police Department
  • Held several ACA workshops
  • Announced our Parent Academy                                                                       And this doesn’t even include the wonderful work that each individual organization is doing!  Check us out.  Fascinating? Yep. #totalbiasandthat’sok

Special category– Jess, David, Sam, Mark, Elizabeth, Josh, Jeremy, Wendy, Buffy, Wendy, MCat, Kim, Regina, Ginnie. Hearts.

Hope you enjoyed the list!  This is waaayyyy longer than it needed to be but I had fun.  Who would you add?  Take away?

“Nice to meet you…Where you been?…I could show you incredible things”

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

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“You ain’t gotta feel guilt just selfless…Give a little help to the helpless…Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?”- Do They Know It’s Christmas, BandAid

Remember that song? Wow.  That takes me back.  And, for some reason, I always thought the song was called Feed the World.  Anyways…

I heard the song a couple of weeks ago when my daughter and I had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe in Baltimore.  She thought it was hilarious that I was singing along.  I explained the message for a few minutes and then we were on to the next thing.  Food.  Which was actually pretty good!

Hopefully, however, the message stuck with her. It is important to me (and our family) that she understands the importance of giving back to those who are less fortunate than she is.  Growing up, my parents made sure that Chris (that’s my brother) and I had many opportunities to be charitable.  With that they also taught us to be respectful of all people (well, most people…you know whatimean) regardless of what they look like or how much money they have.

So every year, we adopted a family or donated to our favorite charity (my dad always chose a police or military charity) or bought presents for kids through our church or one of the many organizations to which we belong.

I’ve tried to keep that tradition going but this year (even with all of the end of the year challenges), I wanted to do something a little different.  Something more…as we’ve already donated a toy and money to foster children in Howard County.  (Sidebar- Thank you to the African American Community Roundtable members for coordinating the adoption of foster children through our Department of Social Services!  More about the AACR in another blog post.)

So tomorrow, my daughter and I are going to pay off someone’s layaway bill!  We are going to pick a store, go in, and pay the bill off.  I am super excited!

And I hope my daughter gets the message.  Because this type of hands on experience is better than me trying to explain what the lyrics of Feed the World….I mean…Do They Know It’s Christmas…mean, while waiting for burgers at Hard Rock Cafe.

And so I challenge you all to do something for the less fortunate this holiday season!  Donate your time or money or talent to help someone.  Stock some shelves at the Food Bank.  Pick up a few extra Christmas gifts for some kids.  Sign up to volunteer at a school.  Join a nonprofit board. Do something.

“Spare a thought this yuletide for the deprived…If the table was turned would you survive…”

Oh..and…I haven’t blogged in a couple of weeks because I had midterms..well, my daughter had midterms.  I had the anxiety and nervousness. For.no.reason.  But hey, that’s parenting.  And, in addition to all of the fabulous holidays (Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy New Year!!), our family also has three birthdays in December and January.  Whew.

I’ll be back in 2015 for sure.  And I’m thinking my blog post might be somewhat related to this post as I digest what I think one of the biggest problems facing Howard County (and perhaps our state..even country) is—the widening gap between the haves and the have nots.

Be safe this holiday season everyone!

“You love this town…Even if that doesn’t ring true…You’ve been all over…And it’s been all over you…”- Beautiful Day, U2

I just love that song.  Hum along with me… and please continue to read.  I need your help.

I heard one of the best homilies I’ve heard in a long time at Mass yesterday.  The priest started by asking “What’s your good news?”.

At first I didn’t realize where he was going with this.  And, I admit, though, I’m trying to be patient, I was thinking…well…It’s been a rough couple of months and I’m staying faithful and hopeful but I’m not sure what to say about “good news”.

He continued and said (I’m paraphrasing) with all of the bad in the world: Injustice (he mentioned this a few times and we all knew what he was talking about), pain, war, fighting, etc…we need to do what we can do to change the story. And report our good news.

He went on to talk about not caring about whether you’re a Democrat or Republican (he used those exact words…which made me sit up to see if he was looking at me), gay or straight, black or white.  He’s not interested in your age or how much money you have.

He challenged each of us to do what we can to change the story.

And then report on our good news.

I thought about what he said.  And I changed my attitude.  And while I’m hoping and praying for some personalkindof good news as this year comes to end, I thought about this blog and our community.  And then about how I can help use my voice to change the story and report the good news.

Last week, as you may recall, I wrote about having a community conversation.  If you missed it, please click this link https://isthisthingon1.wordpress.com/2014/12/05/44/.

I was nervous to post it.  But soon after I posted, people started to comment…and text..and call…to express interest in a community conversation.  And then a few elected officials called.  And they too expressed interested in a conversation.

People want to talk.  And figure out what it takes to change the story in our neck of the woods.  (I mean, we don’t have war..but hopefully you get the drift.)

Now, I don’t want to be some lady who just helps start these conversations and then nothing changes.  I don’t want to be labeled but truly this stuff keeps me up at night (Well, this and a few other personal things…). And I also think we need to figure out how to invite folks who generally wouldn’t come.  What good is it to only chat with people who think exactly like you do..or look exactly like you!?

So what do we do?  What do you think?

A few years ago, I came across this program:  http://www.innovating.com/mosaic-partnerships/.  Other communities are talking!  Could this be it?

A friend of mine mentioned that she was a part of this initiative:  http://daytondialogue.org.  Maybe this it?

I don’t know the answer.  But I want to do my part and then tell the good news.  Help me out?

“It’s a beautiful day…Don’t let it get away…It’s a beautiful day…”

“Mother, mother…There’s too many of you crying…Brother, brother, brother, There’s far too many of you dying…You know we’ve got to find a way, To bring some lovin’ here today…”- What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye

Brene Brown, in her brilliant TED Talk in March, 2012 said this, “We heard the most compelling call ever to have a conversation in this country, and I think globally, around race, right? Yes? We heard that. Yes? Cannot have that conversation without shame, because you cannot talk about race without talking about privilege. And when people start talking about privilege, they get paralyzed by shame.”

Ms. Brown is probably referring to the Trayvon Martin tragedy but she easily could have been talking about Mike Brown or Sean Bell or Amadou Diallo or Eric Garner…

Yes, I’m soooo drinking her Kool-Aid right now but her point is valid.  We have many compelling reasons to have that difficult conversation about race. Right now.  In our neighborhoods. In our counties. In our state. In our country.

But in order to have open dialogue about race and culture, which in my opinion is the only way we become more accepting of each other, we must agree to two things: 1.  Honesty.  Honesty is paramount and we need to recognize it is going to be uncomfortable. And 2.  To Ms. Brown’s point, we must be prepared, regardless of what you look like, to deal with shame.

In her book, Daring Greatly, (I’m such the Kool-Aid drinker, I know, I know. This flavor is good, though…) she defines shame as “…the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”

I mean, break that down.  That’s deep.  And when you relate the feeling of shame to conversations about race, you might say that opening up and having frank dialogue is scary because what you say might get you kicked out of a “clique” you belong to.  You might be unworthy of belonging. You might even see that you’re flawed.  Someone may label you. GASP.  That is scary.

But here’s how I think.  If you choose to have regular, open dialogues (with some rules, of course) with people who do not look like you (or yikes, may even have a different religious or political ideology than you) and you really choose to listen to their perspective (ie- why they may be upset about Eric Garner or why they are not upset about Ferguson), and you embrace the fact that it is going to be uncomfortable, I believe that you become part of the solution.  Because, folks, we do have a challenge.  And we can either be silent…or complain…or riot and loot.

Or we can choose to work on it.

In 2010, I was on the board of a group called twentyfivefortyfive.  We were a philanthropic group and our mission was to “build a more caring, creative and effective community in Howard County by encouraging philanthropy among those between the ages of 25 – 45.”  Yay.

One day, after reading an article about the lack of diversity on various boards in Howard County, we decided to host a summit. In fact, we called it a beer summit.

Now..if you’re wondering why, we called it a beer summit, stop reading for a sec, and please click here immediately  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/07/30/beer-summit-begins-obama-_n_248254.html).

I was super nervous about it. (Thanks again to Ian and Josh for talking me off the ledge…multiple times.) Turn out ended up being great.  Conversation was good.  And no one had a heart attack.  No fights.  And, to my knowledge, no one was kicked out of their “clique”.

But you can read more about it here http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2010-08-26/news/bs-md-ho-diversity-meeting-20100826_1_columbia-foundation-diversity-abby-hendrix.

The only thing I regret is that we didn’t host additional community conversations with more people.  People who may not be drinking the same Kool-Aid we drink.

And so we stopped talking.

And that is shameful.

Picket lines and picket signs…Don’t punish me with brutality…Talk to me, so you can see…Oh, what’s going on…

“So to you all the kids all across the land…Take it from me, parents just don’t understand”- Parents Just Don’t Understand, DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince

I actually cracked myself up thinking about a song for this next blog post.  Took me back at bit.  This song doesn’t exactly fit but it works.

Not sure that I’m going to write daily. In fact, I know I won’t.  I’m thinking weekly but I had a little time today and was thinking about the Congressional communications director (Elizabeth Lauten) who recently resigned after making some terribly inappropriate comments about the President’s teenaged daughters.

If somehow you’ve avoided being on the ‘net in the past week, click this link http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/congressional-staffer-resigns-disparaging-comments-obama-girls/story?id=27277995 and then let us how you avoided the internet for a week.  If I could do that, I’d be finished with the book I’m reading.  But I digress…

If you watch the video that likely prompted Ms. Lauten to comment, you’ll notice that the Obama girls appear to be a little bored and perhaps very embarrassed to participate in their father’s “turkey pardoning event”

What is that event about anyways?  Never really understood that one. Anyways..

Lauten writes, ”Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re a part of the First Family, try showing a little class… And certainly don’t make faces during televised public events.”

Ms. Lauten. Really?  Come on.

Now before you comment about me picking her post apart because of her political party, let me just say this… I won’t do that.  I’m gonna pick her post apart because she is clearly not the parent of a teenager or must have forgotten what those years are like.

Ms. Lauten, my fourteen year old makes about 17,983 different faces each day.  And most of these she captures but taking selfies on her cell phone.  I can unintentionally embarrass her at the drop of a hat. And if she was followed around by people with cameras or had every event that she attends with me recorded, people would think that she is the most miserable person on the planet.  No, the most miserable person in the solar system.  And she’s really a lovely kid.

I don’t know if you’ve forgotten what it is like to be a teen, Ms. Lauten (Lots of folks are ready to remind you though…http://au.ibtimes.com/articles/574596/20141202/resigned-elizabeth-lauten-misdemeanor-teen-shoplifting-white.htm#.VH81SL43dlI) but everything your parents do is embarrassing.

“Well, parents are the same no matter time nor place…

About a month ago, I stood up at a volleyball game and apparently clasped my hands together too loudly and got the look of death from my daughter as she entered the game.  I was clapping. For her.

And remember, Ms. Lauten, these are young adults.  They are still trying to figure out exactly who they are.

Back in September or October, I posted something on Facebook about our two (plus) week long search for an appropriate Homecoming dress.  I still see my daughter as my cute four year old in overalls and she’s trying to figure out exactly who she is as she navigates this “image is everything/shorter and tighter is better for girls” world we live in. We eventually agreed on a dress.  One that Ms. Lauten, may or may not have approved of.  But my daughter, M, probably much like the Obama girls, tried to wear something that commanded respect and made her feel pretty.  And I’m sure she (like many teen girls) did not think she looked like someone trying to get “a spot at a bar”.  She believed she looked good.

The other day, I dropped her off at school and when she got out of the car, I said, “Babe, love you. Have a great day.”  She grunted, picked up her backpack, and closed the door.  So I rolled down the window and said, “Have a great day” (Apparently, I don’t learn…)  She crossed her arms and said, “Mom, really?  That’s embarrassing. I gotta go.”

Thank goodness no one recorded that exchange.

Later (over a pizza, water (for her), and red wine (for me)), I asked her why she thought I was embarrassing her.  Her response?  “Mom, you just don’t understand.”

I get that a lot.  I just don’t understand.  Maybe I do/maybe I don’t!! and that’s ok.  Together, we are navigating these wonderful (not awful) teenage years and all that goes along with them: folded arms, boys with shaggy hair, sighing (lots of sighing), ugly shoes, clothing choices, and the constant juggling of academic, social, and athletic pressures.

AND we are enjoying chats in the car, hugs and smooches at night (when no one is looking), thank you’s, awesome clothes shopping adventures, traveling together, and the mini celebrations that come along with academic, social, and athletic success (You should have been at my house when her first high school report came a few weeks ago!).

My guess is that the President (and First Lady) are going through similar things with their girls.  And Ms. Lauten’s parents probably did as well.  Maybe (hopefully?) they even told her that after she consulted with them during this firestorm.  Yes, she called mom and dad.  Read her “statement”.

I’m no parenting expert but I think criticism of people’s underage kids, whether or not, they happen to be in the limelight, should be off limits.

I mean, really, there are plenty of other things out there to criticize.

And shhh…please don’t tell M that I posted this.  Did I tell you about the eye rolling?

“Allow me to re-introduce myself…”- Public Service Announcement, Jay-Z

My first blog post. Numero uno! Appreciate all of the support as I look to find my voice in the blogosphere (is that a word?)… Not sure what I’m going to regularly write about but this was on my mind…

Today is technically my last day with Howard County Government. Less than one month after the famous (or infamous?) 2014 Gubernatorial Election. “It’s politics…” I get it. I know. If you’re a Republican, I guess? you can’t have the person who garnered 10,897 votes to win a seat on the Democratic Central Committee in your cabinet. (Sidebar- still proud about every last one of those 10,897 votes. Thanks again, Howard County.)

So yeah, “it’s politics…”

My love for this community, and the work I was able to do over the last seven years, though, is more than just politics. I helped people (my people as I called them), regardless of their political party…their skin color, who they love, or how much money they happen to have in their bank account. Constituent services.

Yes, I belong to a certain party but, you see, for me, it was bigger than my party. The lady who called me because she couldn’t feed her kids, didn’t care about what party I belonged to. The community members who met me at their home in Jessup back in 2008 to address some serious, serious police related matters, could care less about who I vote for. And my friends in the trailer park on Route 1, who couldn’t get BGE (or anyone) to call them back to address the numerous downed wires that their kids were tripping over, didn’t care either. They just wanted me to help them.

(Note for the new constituent service folks in HoGo Government…It’s helpful to meet people onsite because I believe you meet people where they are so you can understand their perspective.)

Those are just a few examples of the “smaller” things. There are always potholes to fill, traffic calming techniques to work through, sidewalks to install, “crime” challenges to address, and community meetings to attend.

And then there was the bigger stuff too.

I have had the pleasure of working through challenges with the purchase of the Long Reach Village Center, community concern about a safe house off of Route 29, and the turf field installation process at Glenelg High School. And that’s just in the past two months.

I’ve learned about mulch, sewers, fields, septic tanks, libraries, parkland, and where your water goes when you flush the toilet (go visit the wastewater treatment plant. It’s awesome.)

And constituent services was just a portion of my job.

I’ve been on a few police ride-a-longs, advocated for nonprofits, worked on budgets, sat in some SERIOUS OEM briefings, and staffed one of the most prolific and innovative elected officials in the history of our great state (I know I’m biased..whatevs. Ken Ulman is wonderful.) Honestly, I could go on and on and write a book with all of the stories I have.

My amazing colleagues and I have served in snowstorms, hurricanes, a derecho (I’m still not sure what that is..), an earthquake!, and major flooding. I have slept on my office floor (ask me about that one day..funny, funny story), in the Emergency Operations Center, and in the Jim Robey Training Center. We have delivered food to people in need and set up water buffaloes for folks without power.

We shed tears with our community after a mall shooting, a tragic train derailment, bullying incidents, and many other situations that don’t make the papers.

And we did this together….most of the time while our loved ones waited (worried!) for us at home.

“Now before I finish, let me just say…I did not come here to show out…Did not come here to [try to] impress you…”

Thank you, Ken, for the opportunity to serve this great county. It’s been an honor. Councilpersons Ball, Fox, Sigaty, Terrasa, and Watson, it’s been a pleasure working with you and your teams on the complex… and the ordinary. Howard County Government colleagues, I love you. Thank you for teaching me everything I know about our great county.  Community, let’s work together to remain as one of the “top 10 places to live”in this country.

Change is good…yes, I know. And trust that I will put just as much energy and effort into whatever I do next!  But, for now, I will miss serving constituents in Howard County.

I will likely always have a D after my name.  When it comes to serving my community, though, it’s really not just politics.

It’s been real.

“Now back to our regularly scheduled program….”