Editor’s note: Due to a production error, text from a previous column was accidentally republished in December’s issue of The Business Monthly. This is the correct version.
In 2016, Columbia Association (CA) had the privilege of hosting two distinguished, accomplished speakers: UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski III; and Rob Breymaier, executive director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center.
Both spoke as part of CA’s Community Building Speakers Series, which seeks to stimulate us to discuss, engage and build our sense of community. Both speakers touched on topics related to diversity, which is one of the cornerstones of our community.
From the time Columbia was founded, it was intended to be based on equal opportunity for people of all races and any socioeconomic status. “It is important for all of us who are selling houses or lots or renting apartments in Columbia to understand that Columbia is a truly open city,” Jim Rouse, Columbia’s founder, wrote in August 1967, at a time when Howard County’s schools had only recently been desegregated.
Rouse wanted Columbia to not only be a city where everyone could live; he also wanted Columbia to be a place where we all lived together — a true community. And so his vision, which became reality, also included interfaith centers, where numerous religions and denominations could share the same roof, and combined mailboxes, where neighbors would meet and engage in conversation with each other.
His vision was one reason why Columbia has long attracted so many people to move here, then stay here. Our diversity was one of the many reasons that Money magazine named Columbia the best small city to live in.
CA continues to contribute to Rouse’s vision, helping to facilitate a community that is diverse in its makeup and needs.
CA’s International Exchange and Multicultural Programs provide several shining examples.
Every year, CA hosts Culture Fests that celebrate cultures from different countries and regions of the world. These events often are held in a partnership with the Howard County Library System. It’s a chance for residents from those countries to show what makes their country and culture unique, and for the community in general to learn about and enjoy elements of those cultures.
Over the years, the Culture Fests have reflected just how diverse Columbia and Howard County are, with spotlights on East and South Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Western and Eastern Europe, Russia, Ghana, South America, Central America and Mexico. On Jan. 22, CA will host HaitiFest, which follows the recent signing of a sister city agreement with the community of Cap-Haitien.
Every month, CA hosts the World Languages Café. As you walk through the room at the East Columbia 50+ Center, you will hear conversations in languages from around the world. The speakers may be recalling their childhood languages or they may be people who are learning a new language, trying to improve their fluency or just enjoy meeting new people from different cultures. For information on these and other programs, visit ColumbiaAssociation.org/multicultural.
In addition, Columbia Art Center’s galleries have included exhibits spotlighting art of a wide spectrum of cultures. The center also hosts its Salon Series, monthly presentations that occasionally cover multicultural themes.
Fostering a diverse, inclusive community goes beyond race and religion. CA continues to offer programming for all ages, and we are focused on ensuring that CA has ADA-friendly facilities, making reasonable modifications to enable people with disabilities to participate in CA programs and activities. The improvements to our pools and other facilities are ongoing.
CA’s summer camp options include Access to Nature Camp, an inclusion program for campers with disabilities or other special needs, that has modified versions of camp activities while also ensuring that campers participate with their peers in the usual Nature Camp activities.
Columbia residents all live together. Our community is not just homes in neighborhoods and villages; it’s a place where we walk, run and ride alongside each other on the pathways; where we play in pools, on athletic courts and fields, and in the open space; where we watch movies and concerts next to each other on summer evenings; and where we have come to appreciate all that we have here — which includes who we are.
E-mail Milton.Matthews@ColumbiaAssociation.org with questions and/or comments.