Taking part in the group conversations during Harford County’s inaugural “The Longest Table” community gathering meant Alison Kennedy had to step out of her comfort zone, but it was worth it.
“It opened my eyes — some of the good things that I see in Harford County and some of the challenges I see in Harford County were shared by my fellow participants,” said Kennedy, 59, of Perryman.
Kennedy, who works as a contract manager for the Lennar homebuilding company and is a former EMS worker for the Aberdeen Fire Department, was one of about 100 people who participated in The Longest Table, an initiative of the Choose Civility Harford County campaign.
The event, which lasted for about two hours, happened Saturday morning at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen. County government coordinated with the Harford County Public Library, the Aberdeen IronBirds and many other community organizations, local businesses and educational institutions to put on the event.
Library system CEO Mary Hastler urged participants to have fun, be civil, “enjoy others’ company and above all else, delight in the conversation.” The library system is the lead organization for the county’s Choose Civility campaign, which kicked off last June.
The Longest Table participants sat at tables, placed end-to-end in a line stretching along the third-base side of the stadium concourse.
“Someday I hope that we go around the bases and fill up this whole concourse,” County Executive Barry Glassman said.
Participants were organized in groups of five to six people, all of whom did not know each other prior to the event. Their discussions, led by a facilitator, covered matters such as the biggest challenges facing Harford County. People talked while enjoying breakfast buffet items such as pancakes, waffles, bagels, fruit, bacon, sausages, juice and coffee.
Kennedy’s group was led by Daria Parry, chief operating officer of the county libraries. People shared their concerns about issues such as affordable housing, quality of local health care, self-segregation within different geographical areas of the county, the opioid crisis and crime, but they also talked about what they enjoyed about Harford, such as good personal experiences at local hospitals and the quality of their neighborhoods.
“I wouldn’t trade Perryman for the world ... it’s a beautiful area,” Kennedy said of her community.
She later said that she enjoyed “being able to understand what’s important to other people, as well as they heard what was important to me.”
“I think it’s important to share ideas about how we can make [Harford County] more cohesive, tackle the opioid epidemic and get to know people I don’t know,” Kennedy said.
Wayne Greenleaf, 58, lives in Conowingo in Cecil County and works in Harford as the operations director for the Harford Mall in Bel Air. He was also part of Kennedy’s discussion group.
“Cecil and Harford seem to be so connected, and I wanted to meet other people and see what this event is about,” Greenleaf said later.
He said he loves the concept of Choose Civility and would like to see the campaign and events such as The Longest Table in Cecil County.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for people to see what is going on in Harford County, what’s going on with people,” Greenleaf said.
Cindy Mumby, director of governmental and community relations for the county government, was a facilitator for a group that included a high school student, a school teacher and a woman originally from Nigeria.
“Our conversation was remarkably productive for people who have never laid eyes on each other,” Mumby said.
She noted each member of the group brought different perspectives because of their different backgrounds, but “good ideas came simply from listening to one another and the feeling that, when one of us would speak, we would truly be heard.”
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For more information on Choose Civility Harford County, visit the library’s web page, https://www.hcplonline.org/choosecivility, the Choose Civility Harford County page on Facebook or your local library branch.