Saturday, August 30, 2014

Commentary on Ferguson

Speechless, except for this.

Heartbreaking image of Michael Brown, Sr. at his son's burial. (Photo by Richard Perry, AFP/Getty Images)

Profound lament.  Profound fatigue.  Profound rage.  Poised for action.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

An Opportunity to Get Equity Right: Redevelopment in East County

Below is a letter that Terrill North, (my Board Chair at IMPACT Silver Spring) and I sent to a bunch of folks who have input and sway over major opportunities to shape the future of Montgomery County.  The letter encourages decision makers (and our larger community) to take advantage of a monumental moment to address the issue of equity as it relates to large scale redevelopment that is being slated for the eastern part of Montgomery County, Maryland.

I applaud each of them for the hard work and negotiating to get the plan passed for one of the signature projects-- The White Oak Science Center.  The work continues as we now redouble our efforts to make sure that the largest group possible can "profit" from the economic momentum that will soon be set into motion.

Dear Mr. County Executive,  Mr. Council President, and Madam Councilmember Branson,

We are writing you this letter on behalf of the members of the IMPACT Network.  We are also copying other members the Council, County Government and private sector stakeholders.

As you know, it is not typical that we weigh in on specific political and/or policy issues; rather we build culturally-rich, neighborhood-based networks that support people in crisis, build economic momentum, and invite new civic participation -- particularly among Montgomery County residents who are struggling and most isolated.  We are compelled in this moment by the once-in-a generation opportunity before us -- the redevelopment of East County.

Each redevelopment plan and project has its own significance and impact on the life of particular communities; however it is our contention that the current plan for the White Oak Science Gateway stands as one of the most compelling social equity and economic justice opportunities of our time. The redevelopment of East County – from Long Branch to Burtonsville, is just the kind of scalable opportunity that could create catalytic economic momentum that changes lives and transforms our entire region. However, history and experience suggest that this kind of positive change will only happen if we, as a larger community, choose to act with a renewed level of courage, progressive will, and moral imagination. We believe that we have the capacity to make this kind of impact—now.

There are precedents.  For example, County leadership modeled these virtues in 2009 during the advent of the most recent economic downturn as you marshaled resources to develop the Neighbors Campaign (now known as the Neighborhood Opportunity Network).   The County Executive, County Council, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), faith leaders, along with foundation and other non-profit partners, rallied with us to make social service support more accessible to families in need.  As a result, thousands of otherwise isolated families received supportive services to help mitigate the impact of the social and economic crisis.  Given this precedent (and others), it stands to reason that the same kind of urgency, will, and creativity can converge again in this moment so that redevelopment in East County directly benefits the folks who have been isolated and most disconnected from this kind of economic opportunity.

Development of this magnitude, if targeted correctly, could not only change the physical character of the area, it could also make a lasting impact on persistent and perplexing gaps in health, academic performance, employment, income, wealth, and general well-being.  It is not an overstatement to suggest that this may indeed be the moment to finally and holistically address the inequities that have long plagued the residents and stakeholders of East County.  No doubt you are well aware of these issues and their root causes. There is no need to recount them in detail here, except to say that our entire County is negatively impacted as long as these inequities exist.  

As you make your final deliberations, we implore you to give as much attention as necessary to concrete efforts that ensure equity for everyone in our communities.  To be clear, the equity we are speaking of is measured in terms of targeted housing, jobs, income generation, wealth creation, and educational opportunities that are accessible to folks living specifically in East County. To be sure, there are many pre-existing examples from around the country and world that model this possibility.  As the project evolves, we’d be happy to share them with you.  Until then, rest assured that IMPACT Silver Spring and the larger IMPACT Network look forward to supporting efforts that better ensure direct benefit to existing residents and emerging entrepreneurs near redevelopment zones.

Justice, equity, hope and vision are waiting for our best response.  So too are the people of East County—perhaps even our entire County.


Ronnie Galvin  
Executive Director

Terrill North
Board Chair

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Love Letter. . .

Last week we Celebrated the 3rd year of the IMPACT Momentum Awards.  Congratulations to all of this year's honorees.  

During the fundraising portion of our event we launched our newest community building venue--crucial community conversations that we are calling "Are We There Yet Conversations."  These conversations are particularly targeted to connect with the established leaders in our community who are craving more meaningful dialogues about our future as a county.  The idea for these conversations emerged from a similar conversation that happened at the home of Joyce Newmyer, our Board Chair and President of Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park.  It was one of the most significant, challenging, and inspiring conversations I've had since coming to Montgomery County.  

Soon we'll be sharing more information about how you too can have this kind of experience-- while helping to build community and our organization and the same time.  Until then please allow me to share reflections about this seminal conversation from Joyce-- and my response.

This is Why I Love You:  A love letter to my board of directors—and by extension to the Montgomery County Family.

Chris, DeRionne, Joyce, Laura, Sterling, Terrill, Will (and soon to be Jeff!)—thank you for opening your hearts and souls last night—and Joyce—thank you for so graciously opening your home and your table to us.

I want you to know that I admired the care and courage that each of you brought to our conversation about white privilege--and how we should talk about it as a County.  Your wisdom is sage.  Your faith and hope for all that our County can be is profound and runs deep.

Here’s what I’m taking away from our conversation as we continue to work together (and with our whole community) to help Montgomery County get to its best and brightest future:

This is not going to be easy.  But nothing that is worthy of our deepest hopes and affections will come without effort, intention, and a willingness to work—especially when the task is daunting.

Yes, white privilege exists, and many continue to benefit from it and struggle because of it.  Indeed we need to be mindful of privilege in all of its forms-- and work as hard as we can to limit its negative effects on other peoples’ humanity.  

As we talk about white privilege—we are not just referring to the privilege that individuals have accrued in their lives, but rather the historical and structural manifestations of privilege that exacerbate the unacceptable “gaps” that we see in our society. 

Because this kind of privilege is less concrete and often intangible, it is hard to see and discern.  Consequently many of us are frustrated because solutions that might address the challenge feel elusive and beyond our reach and imagination.

Because our work is grounded in faith, hope, and love, we do not have to choose between agitating, convening, and building community.  We can be all of these as context and circumstances dictate.

People have a lot of fear about these kinds of topics like white privilege.  Perhaps we most fear what the solutions require of us?  What will we lose?  What will we have to sacrifice?  We are overcoming this fear, driven by the promise of what we might gain—together.

We will not allow fear to overtake us.  Love will liberate us.

Lastly, we cannot keep the moment we experienced around Joyce’s table to ourselves.  There is a bigger community that is calling for us, longing for the same kind of meaningful moment.  They are as hopeful and as stuck as we are.  At the same time, they want what we want (and vice-versa)--a community that we can boldly call Beloved.  While there is much for us to learn and do, there are two things that we already know—1.) there are more tables to be set as welcoming spaces where our community can experience what we have experienced—and  2.) we will not be governed by fear, but by love. Yes love will not fail.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Are We There Yet?

No, not yet.  What do you think?

Where is there?  Where is here?  Who are we?

Want to learn more?  Join us this Thursday morning at Impact Now! 2014.  7:30 A.M.  SilverSpring Civic Building.  It's free!  You can Rsvp at


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Social Justice: Our Council Weighs In

On Tuesday, 18 March 2014 the Leadership Montgomery Family visited with the Montgomery County Council.  To be sure, we were all very grateful that they could spend a full 90 minutes with us during this very busy season of their legislative year.

Leadership Montgomery engaging in Q&A with the Montgomery County Council
Council President Craig Rice facilitated the Q&A between the Council and the Leadership Montgomery contingent.  Somehow after a flurry of inquiries from the group I was able to ask the last question of the session-- simply:  "what is the greatest social justice challenge we are facing in Montgomery County and what role does a legislator have in addressing it?"

Time was very short, so only a few of the Councilmembers were able to respond.  Others who could not respond because we were running short on time seemed to resonate with the answers offered.  Here were the responses:

Councilmember Cherrie Branson (District 5) responded first and did so with notable enthusiasm citing the "school to prison pipeline."  Many of you already know about this insidious pipeline.  It refers to both the formal and informal process of tracking students of color during their academic career in ways that make it more likely that they'll end up incarcerated and/or in the criminal justice system.  Many of these young learners of color live in impoverished & otherwise challenged conditions, have learning disabilities, and/or are the targets of zero-tolerance school-policing policies. Councilmember Branson also cited that the confluence of these dynamics creates a type of domino effect that contributes to the widening achievement gap, income gap, and the rising incarceration rate that we have seen in our communities. has an interesting infograpic on the challenge of the school to prison pipeline.  You can find it here:

Councilmember Roger Berliner (District 1) responded next citing the issue of poverty.  As he offered this perspective he referred to the work that Dr. Bergel and his team is doing over at A Wider Circle.  They are pursuing the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) of eradicating poverty from our community-- (and if I know Mark well, he also wants to do the same for the entire planet!!!).  Councilmember Berliner went further suggesting that as we address the issue of poverty that we likewise must give attention to the national and local challenges we face as a consequence of income inequality.  He also offered that the Council has been working with intention to address these issues legislatively by raising the minimum wage & passing EITC supplement bill.

Councilmember Nancy Navarro (District 4) weighed in next, concurring with the two previous positions, but also suggesting that Montgomery County is "making up for lost time."  Councilmember Navarro highlighted the dramatic demographic and cultural shifts that we have experienced as a County, suggesting that we are in a state of flux as it relates to the narrative that shapes our County's identity and the operating systems that serve our County.  She challenged us to be more intentional in our efforts to transform the structures (government, schools, economy, civic organizations, public deliberation) that affect our quality of life and our prosperity as a County so that they better match the new socio-cultural context we have at this moment.

Councilmember Marc Elrich (At-large) replied last as time was running out.  He shared his experience as a teacher in the Montgomery County School System and the high rate of students who were on the free and reduced meals program (FARMS).  Councilmember Elrich resonated with the previous comments from his colleagues, citing that income inequality should be at the top of our list-- and that closing this gap would help address many of the challenges that we are facing in our community.

As we all know-- these are all very pressing issues and they are inextricably linked; thusly our response must likewise be equally linked, systematic, and forceful.  Echoing Councilmember Navarro, it is my contention that who we are, what we should do how we should work together, and ultimately the vision for where we are going are still emerging  our midst.  With all of this in flux the question then is what then are we to do in the meantime-- while we are trying to figure all of this out?

Well, this is precisely the question that we will be addressing at this year's IMPACT Now! 2014 event.  This year's theme:  ARE WE THERE YET?  Embedded in this theme are the questions of who are we?  Where is "there?"  Where are we going? How will we know when we get there? And what do we do with the feelings of angst and anxiety, potential and possibilities that we are experiencing as we take this journey together?

We hope you'll join us.  The event takes place on Thursday, April 24th, 2014 from 7 am -9 am at the Silver Spring Civic Building.  You know it's gonna be hot so rsvp soon!  You can do so here:

Ubuntu Happens Here.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Short Cuts (From Game Changer Blog)

Sharing from Game Changer.


"I recently read the Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam, which is an interesting analysis of how the biases that we are unaware of can lead to devastating conclusions and outcomes. Vedantam argues that we regularly encounter two types of experiences, those that are novel and those that are familiar. The conscious brain excels in novel situations. The unconscious brain excels in rote situations where the problem has been understood. In this situation, the brain takes short cuts to help us decide what to do. For this man on my flight, the problems of Anacostia were understood in that the people were the problem, and the solution was to keep your investments away from there."

Read more here:

Monday, February 24, 2014

White Privilege: The Biggest Social Justice Issue of our Time

On Saturday, February 22nd at the Silver Spring Civic Building (where else right?) the African American Democratic Club held the first annual State of Black Montgomery Conference.  To see who was there follow this link:
(Photos by Edward Kimmel).

I was asked to share my perspective on Montgomery County's biggest social justice issue.  To say it again-- my answer was white privilege.  It certainly was not easy for me to say something like that in a room that included a significant number of our white sisters and brothers.  Love and hope compelled me to do so.

As I uttered the words white privilege everyone (and I mean everyone!) in the room appeared to lapse into a momentary state of shock.  From where I was sitting at the front of the room I could see the look of sheer dismay and panic on the faces of folks in the audience.  I discerned that white folks might have felt indicted or attacked and that black folks might have felt unsteady and unsafe--primarily because the traditional power brokers in the room were being threatened.  After a momentary pause I then added a clarifying statement saying, "I'm talking about white privilege-- not white people."  Folks relaxed a little-- but not much.

When invoking this question about the biggest social justice issues of our time the response is typically something related to what I call "gapology"-- the achievement gap, the wealth gap, the health gap, the incarceration, gap, etc.  To be sure these are all serious issues, and if they persist, they will seriously undermine the cohesion of our community and the vitality of our democracy.

I will admit that white privilege is not a traditional social justice issue-- and certainly not one that we talk about openly in the public square;  however I will argue strongly that it is at the very root, and in many ways stands as the genesis of most if not all of the social justice issues that we face in our county and country today.  It is no coincidence (as I cited at the conference) that the two groups of color who have been in this country the longest (Native Americans and Black folks) are doing the worst across every measure of socioeconomic well-being.  The question is why?  We all know the answer-- as painful as it might be to say it.

Montgomery County is just the kind of place (I hope) where we can do something about this.  The first step is to courageously name this insidious threat-- and to do something about it.  To be clear however--it is our white sisters and brothers who will have to bear the primary responsibility of eradicating this enemy from our midst-- for the good of all of us.  Black folks can do no more to help you on this one-- indeed we've tried!  Know however that we will be cheering you on, and praying for you and your liberation from it.  To the extent that you are able to do so, we too, our county, and perhaps the entire country will also be freed.  Be informed though, while you're working on white privilege, we'll be working on what it has done to us.  This is work where black folks will have to play the primary role in healing ourselves.  No doubt there is work for us to do together-- but these things must be at the top of our respective lists.

Here's a suggestion to get you started.  Convene a State of White Montgomery Conference-- invite us and everyone else too!  Just like we did.

I'm also going to reach out to a few white friends of mine to see if they would be willing to share their own perspectives on white privilege here on the blog or via some other medium.  If you're reading this, and you would like to do so-- or if you know somebody else who will-- drop me a line.

In closing, many thanks to the African American Democratic Club and all of your partners for organizing such a tremendous event.  I know you said this will be an annual event, but based on the response I wouldn't wait until next year-- I'd do something sooner.

For the love of Montgomery County-- Ubuntu Happens Here.