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.  PBS.org 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: impactnow.eventbrite.com.


Ubuntu Happens Here.