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Howard County officials are committed to Asian American and Pacific Islander community | COMMENTARY

When reading the recent commentary, “Howard County elected leaders need to do better for Asian community” (June 24), I was taken aback and felt it necessary to provide a deeper look into how our local elected leaders have stepped up their support for our community.

The author, former County Executive Allan Kittleman, wrote “[O]ur Howard County elected officials have failed to provide principled leadership” for our Asian American and Pacific Islander community members, yet the strong showing of public and tangible support from our elected officials tells another story.

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As Howard County’s first chief innovation officer and a representative of the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders community in the executive branch, I’m proud that I’m not the only AAPI member of this administration. I have served for more than a decade in state and local government under former Gov. Martin O’Malley and current Gov. Larry Hogan. I have a track record of AAPI activism, starting with the establishment of the Asian American studies program at the University of Maryland, College Park nearly two decades ago.

I bring my experience and passion to the job and have had the privilege of working alongside Howard County elected officials to advocate and work on issues specific to our AAPI community.

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As the county executive’s AAPI liaison and the administration’s lead on COVID-19, we are working on the ground with our federal and state partners and our community leaders, striving daily and strategizing to do even more for our entire community. The county partnered with multiple organizations and faith-based groups and held 92 pop-up clinics, including our partnership with Hogan and the state’s Vaccine Equity Task Force to operate drive-thru vaccination clinics at Bridgeway Community Church in Columbia and Bethel Korean Presbyterian Church in Ellicott City. Together, we have prevented vaccination disparities across all races and ethnicities, with our AAPI community among the groups with high rates of vaccination.

Our local elected leaders worked together with federal and state elected leaders to support our business community throughout the pandemic, including the AAPI businesses that are so critical to the cultural fabric of our county. The county dispersed $20 million in CARES Act funds to more than 2,000 businesses, requiring our congressional elected leaders to secure funds, the executive branch to submit emergency legislation and manage distribution of funds, and our County Council to pass legislation authorizing the expenditure of funds. About 35% of these funds were dispersed to AAPI businesses. Also, through additional grants, several AAPI organizations partnered with government to provide services and outreach through the pandemic.

Our local elected officials have worked to invest state and county resources to support AAPI communities as well. Due to our partnership with our state delegation, we secured $500,000 in funding for the creation of a future AAPI cultural center. It was also our administration that made transformational investments in the international sport of cricket, opening the expanded field and cricket pitch at Schooley Mill Park last November. This project has made Howard County a national destination for this fast-growing game, with the 93 team National Youth Cricket League Tournament kicking off here in Howard County this past Friday.

When appointed by County Executive Calvin Ball, I pledged to be part of the administration’s commitment to open doors for all communities. This stands true for our AAPI community as we implement concrete policies and continue investments and engagement.

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This past year, Howard County’s first AAPI work group was established by executive order, activating AAPI business, organizational leaders and community members. The work group, comprised of 27 members of all major ethnic backgrounds, has not only programmed events but took an immediate stance on the burglaries that hit AAPI businesses around the Lunar New Year. The work group also listened to the testimony of a County Council staff member who was tasked with monitoring a recent Racial Equity Task Force public hearing in which a member of the community made racist comments against immigrants. However, an overwhelming majority of the work group determined the staffer wasn’t supporting the comments. The staffer’s character stood out, and the work group voted to provide a statement against Asian hate.

While we have more to do for our AAPI and all our communities that have experienced historical oppression, that stands true every day as change does not happen overnight. The long-term work of chronic disease prevention, implementing systemic change in our mental health systems, rebuilding business, combating isolation, increasing language access, keeping our communities safe and ensuring every resident has access to critical services is ongoing work.

Now is the time for us to unify and step away from divisive rhetoric and attacks against any members of our community — even our elected leaders who have worked tirelessly through the pandemic with their own family obligations.

I thank Howard County’s elected leaders who work with our community and have a deep understanding and commitment of the issues. We will continue to make formidable change and we need to do this together.

The writer is Howard County’s chief innovation officer and deputy chief administrative officer.

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