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