Is Montgomery County Ready to Invest in Long Branch?
Systemic inequities are everywhere, and they are no less evident than right here in our own communities, especially Long Branch. The reality is that the community of Long Branch has never gotten the attention it deserves. Like many other similar communities across the country, communities with high immigrant populations and low median incomes frequently lack public services in proportion to the needs that they have.
This reality has been reinforced by the temporary loss of the Long Branch Community Recreation Center. At a time when all the community centers in Montgomery County have reopened, the Long Branch Community Recreation Center, and the Coffield Center in Lyttonsville remain closed. They have been converted to homeless shelters. This issue was covered in a CHEER blog post in July.
The closure of this recreation center has brought criticism and concerns from a range of community members — from homeowners to renters, from recent immigrants to longtime residents.
“What’s really happening is a symptom of the whole illness we have here [in Long Branch],” says Vanesa Pinto, CHEER’s Empowerment and Leadership Director.
This illness that Pinto refers to is structural inequity, a situation Pinto says is “absurd.” Unfortunately, people don’t understand the pernicious impacts that this sort of inequity can foster. She reminds me that it can leave people feeling that they don’t deserve a good quality of life, or that they simply do not belong.
Pinto mentions that there are both psychological and societal implications here. Persistent inequity can erode people’s sense of self-worth.
“Long Branch is an incredibly diverse community but has also faced significant hardships for years and even more so during the pandemic. It is vital to remember that our community has been significantly and disproportionately affected by COVID-19,” says CHEER’s Director of Health Programs Kelly Umaña. “While many others are in recovery, we are not. We are still facing inequity due to the historical underinvestment,” she notes.
In recent times, there’s been talk of compensating the Long Branch community for their recreation center being unavailable. In an interesting turn of events, that discussion has taken on a broader and more significant turn.
There’s now talk of Montgomery County making a much bigger investment in Long Branch. The idea would be to turn a proposal summary into legislation that the Montgomery County Council could incorporate as a special spending provision. We’re talking about assistance that currently stands at $1.3 million and that number may go higher. “This is significant,” says Bruce Baker, CHEER’s Executive Director.
The proposed agenda is wide-ranging. Priority topics include gathering spaces for youth; facilitating spaces for programming; providing safety and security throughout the neighborhood; parent engagement; and expanding services at the Silver Spring Consolidated Services Hub.
There are also plans for economic development, exploring rural-urban partnerships, small business development and workforce readiness.
As conversations between community members, other stakeholders and local elected officials continue, CHEER has been well-positioned to facilitate these discussions.
The news coming out of Long Branch is undoubtedly encouraging. Nevertheless, as sometimes sensitive political talks continue, transparency is of paramount importance. Moreover, it’s important to understand that this issue should not be viewed through the lens of partisan or electoral politics. After all, this is about community-building, promoting inclusion and helping people in need; we’re talking about issues that go to the heart of CHEER’s mandate.
Pinto sees community leadership developing right now.
This is an exciting moment for Long Branch, although plenty remains to be done. Now’s the time for big, bold ideas to gain steam, and for promises to move from rhetoric to reality.
CHEER will continue to play a positive and transparent role in this process. There’s really movement in Long Branch, finally. In the coming weeks, let’s hope that there’s more good news. This community has been underserved for far too long.
*This piece first appeared in CHEER’s blog.