Md. must nurture minority leadership

Black History Month reminds us that our diversity is the fabric of our nation. We recently commemorated the life and work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and we are reminded that this coming August marks the 50th anniversary of his "I Have a Dream" speech, where he called upon everyone to peacefully break down barriers of discrimination and separation, to integrate and unify every state, city, village and hamlet. As we walk through our streets, many of us can see what he could only envision: a kaleidoscope of ethnicities and races that live in harmony as neighbors, colleagues and friends.

According to news reports, the Census Bureau says that people of color now represent more than half of America's population under age 1. The Brookings Institution reported that people of color "accounted for 92 percent of the nation's population growth in the decade that ended in 2010."

Howard County is no exception to these demographic changes. In fact, while the Census reports only a 4.8 percent increase statewide in the number African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders from 2000 to 2010, Howard County has seen a much more significant rise. There has been a 39 percent increase in the African-American population and a 116 percent increase in the Asian/Pacific Islander population.

While our nation has in many ways become a fully integrated, multi-ethnic melting pot, these demographic changes have not translated into the same diversity of representation in our elected officials at the county or state levels. As the population of various ethnicities and races rise, so too does the need for elected officials of color who understand and represent the spectrum of backgrounds of our constituents.

After working in our community and across our state with other elected officials, I found that our state was lacking an organization that mentors and supports elected officials of color, or one that adequately represents minority interests on policy issues. I broached the subject with the Maryland Association of Counties (MACO) Board of Directors and received unanimous support from the board to move forward with the creation of a Diversity Caucus in collaboration with MACO.

Our goal would be simple: to support elected officials of color; establish mentoring opportunities for recently elected officials of color; promote the importance of supporting people of color to seek elected office; and support legislation that would align with our vision of education, empowerment and equality.

Since its inception in 2012, I have been honored with leading the caucus as its president. We have received overwhelming support from elected officials throughout the state. Our organization is developing and growing strong with representatives from jurisdictions including Anne Arundel, Charles, Harford, Montgomery and Prince George's counties. We are devoted to helping each other to ensure that the voices of our states' diverse population are represented and heard.

As President Barack Obama took his oath of office for his second term, I was reminded of those who came before me, such as Martin Luther King, who could only dream of the day when a person of color would hold the power of the presidency. King, President Obama and other leaders of color, including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, have inspired me and so many other people. My hope is that organizations like the Diversity Caucus encourage other people of color to enter public service, knowing that they will have a support network and voice in issues that impact every state, city, village and hamlet.

Calvin Ball, the elected president of the statewide Diversity Caucus, is a member of the Howard County Council and a faculty member in Morgan State University's School of Education and Urban Studies. His email is

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