BLM March Organizers

Friday evening’s Frederick March for Justice organizes shown in the bandshell from left are Isaiah Spencer , Gabrael Moore, Alijah Gee, Amiyah Spencer and Akiyyah Billups.

For a little more than two hours Monday night, multiple county officials discussed how their divisions and departments have dealt with issues related to racial equity.

Then, the last two panelists in a virtual town hall led by County Executive Jan Gardner — Alijah Gee and Akiyyah Billups — said that although statistics and information are nice, that's not enough. 

"A lot of people continue to speak about that June 5 event," said Billups, alluding to the March for Justice protest that drew thousands to downtown Frederick, which she organized with Gee and others. "As a team, our minds have gone beyond that because there's still work to be done."

Those were just some of the many comments Billups and Gee had for Gardner and other county officials Monday. Billups said she, Gee and others in the local Black community wanted to see actual change made in the coming weeks and months.

Some of the stories she described included her 12-year-old son being called the n-word in school, and waiting nine days for a medical procedure when a white man got treatment for the same procedure, the same day.

"I don't think we're having the uncomfortable conversations yet," Billups said — an observation she repeated several times during the town hall.

Gardner said she has been reaching out to members of the Black community, and has been advised to hold smaller conversations in order to hear from as many people as possible.

Gardner added long-term solutions are needed to fix some of the deep rooted issues in the community concerning racial equity.

"I haven't lived in your experience, I haven't walked in your shoes," Gardner told Billups and Gee. "Changing hearts and minds are really hard ... [but] people don't want sympathy, rhetoric and safe political steps."

Later on, Billups answered part of that by saying: "We don't have to change everyone's hearts and minds, just the right people."

Before those exchanges between the two March for Justice organizers and the county's top elected official, multiple other county leaders relayed information about how their county divisions and schools are working toward greater racial equity.

That included Keith Harris, executive director of Frederick County Public Schools' Accelerating Achievement and Equity office. Harris said that while some strides have been made on the achievement gap and hiring a diverse workforce — 21 percent of recent staff hires were people of color — more work is needed. One of the challenges, he added, is a national public school teacher shortage.

"When we think about the history of education, it was established for a very specific population," Harris said, noting school systems did not change overnight. "We're committed to keep working on it."

Part of the discussion Monday involved Dr. Barbara Brookmyer, the county's chief health officer. Brookmyer delivered a presentation showing how the coronavirus was impacting the county population, including people of color.

One of her closing comments, however was pretty direct: "Racism is a public health issue, there’s no doubt about it in my mind."

Helen Propheter, executive director of the county's Office of Economic Development, highlighted the work her office has done with minority-owned businesses. At one point, she fielded a question about how the county's procurement process is handled, and whether officials track if contracts are awarded to businesses led by people of color. 

Gardner did note the county is still trying to track down data on this, given recent software changes.

Propheter added, however, that it's important to consider how the county should "slice the pie" regarding awarding contracts to minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses, along with trying to keep those dollars going to local businesses.

Near the end of the conversation, Billups and Gee also noted how there were no law enforcement officers participating in the town hall Tuesday. They said given the history of policing in this country, it's important for the difficult conversations to happen with those public figures.

At one point, Billups noted what she described as a "disgusting" event where a Facebook video shows Black Lives Matter demonstrators at a recent rally in Thurmont being called "monkeys" and other names. Gee said more tough discussions need to happen between law enforcement and people of color, especially when officers fail to call out racism like at the protest in Thurmont.

"If we have police officers who are well-known around the community of being racist, we need to have a conversation about that ... the Black community is hurting right now," Gee said.

Billups agreed.

"If law enforcement cannot start the conversation, then we will not get far," she said.

Follow Steve Bohnel on Twitter: @Steve_Bohnel

Steve Bohnel is the county government reporter for the Frederick News-Post. He can be reached at sbohnel@newspost.com. He graduated from Temple University, with a journalism degree in May 2017, and is a die-hard Everton F.C. fan.

(20) comments

threecents

Please no more marches and even forums like this that don't respect Covid-19. Physical distancing and masks, please.

yogib

No listening just lecturing, no listening just "look What I have done."

bosco

Anecdotal stories are helpful, but without full information can be misleading when based on assumptions. For example, from the story, "waiting nine days for a medical procedure when a white man got treatment for the same procedure, the same day". Sounds terrible at first blush. What's the full story? Did the white man have a pre-arranged appoinment? Under HIPAA laws, how does the complaintant know what the white man's condition was? Were different insurance coverages involved?

Just because somebody butts in front of me in line doesn't mean they did it because I'm Black. Most likely they are an idiot and would butt in front of anybody.

Remove those racial goggles and you'll see not everything happens because of your complexion.

[ninja]

sdm817

[thumbup]

threecents

That's why we need single payer national health insurance.

awteam2000

Bosco, I think the point of her telling here experience was to share an example how she feels discriminated against based on color. What’s relevant is her “feelings”, how she felt she was treated.

For example: When a Black person gets out of their car in a grocery store parking lot and all around them they hear car alarm locks going off all around them by white people, maybe coincidental, but their perception may be to see themself as being seen as a threat, a criminal “at first sight”. They carry-on shopping, afterwards going home, but bring home that ugly perception of feeling being seen “as less” with them too, rightfully or wrongly.

bosco

Has that happened to you, awt, or are you sharing anecdotes? Would you have people not lock their doors if they see something that they are not comfortable with?

When I roll in on my Harley with my leathers on, I present a certain personna because of my appearance. I can't change that because I'm not going to ride in shorts, a T-shirt, and flip flops. The first thing I do is pull off my helmet and sunglasses. Then I make eye contact with those around me and offer a smile and a greeting. If that doesn't put them at ease, then they have more issues than I have time to deal with.

Now, on the other hand I roll in with an attitude, leave the sunglasses on, and offer a scowl to the world around me, the good citizens are going to be hiding their daughters, locking their doors, and holding a little tighter to their purses.

It what everybody does when they perceive a possible threat. To not do so puts you at easy prey for the criminals.

[ninja]

BunnyLou

Bosco [thumbup][thumbup]

awteam2000

You really don’t understand, Bosco. You have trouble comprehending. It’s about her perception of what’s happening to her “now” not about an “old guy” on a Harley, longing affection for the past. What she felt. Not your excuse not, not your lack of caring but what she’s carrying.

awteam2000

We turned the horn alarm “off” simply for that very point, so not to be offensive. Surprising, the doors still lock.

threecents

Bosco, I have an urge to knock on your helmet and ask if there is any empathy in there.[cool]

bosco

Why is it suddenly the Whites problem to try to solve for the Blacks? That sends the message that we are not capable of solving our own problems. What's wrong with us accepting personal responsibility for our own lives and our own actions. Sure, there are knuckleheads of every color, but when we keep looking at problems as a race issue and not a human issue, we will never make any progress.

Yes, there is some empathy under my helmet, but not much for people who won't take responsibility for their own actions and look to others as a excuse for their own bad decisions.

That's my para