Dear Mr. Elrich,
I must say I was shocked and disappointed by your response, quoted below, to a question posed to you on the Moses African Cemetery:
“Laurel from Rockville:
Why haven’t you called a meeting between HOC and Macedonia Baptist Church to discuss memorialization of the Bethesda African Cemetery? Both HOC and MBC have asked you to convene a meeting, and it was your campaign promise to find an expeditious solution to this issue. After seven months, why hasn’t a meeting been called yet?
I have not called a meeting yet because I am waiting on information from members of the Macedonia Baptist Church, who offered to explore alternative entrances to the garage so that we could consider how the property could be memorialized. My staff and I toured the garage with HOC staff, Reverend Adebayo of the Macedonia Baptist Church, engineers that Macedonia had engaged, among others to see the garage and allow the engineers to assess what might be possible. Subsequent to that tour, we provided the engineers with the architectural information they requested. I am now waiting to hear from them what they believe is possible, at what cost, so that I can then convene a meeting to discuss their proposal with HOC; I will also participate in that meeting. I strongly believe we must honor the people who are buried there, but I cannot in good conscience, make that building unavailable to residents who need that affordable housing. I look forward to further conversations and am hopeful we can resolve this concern.”
For you to ascribe the lack of progress since your assumption in office to Macedonia Baptist Church and me by asserting: “I have not called a meeting yet because I am waiting on information from members of the Macedonia Baptist Church, who offered to explore alternative entrances to the garage so that we could consider how the property could be memorialized……. I am now waiting to hear from them what they believe is possible, at what cost, so that I can then convene a meeting to discuss their proposal with HOC…” is beneath the dignity of your office. We expect you to lead and not react! You owe our community and me an apology for casting aspersion on us.
Rather than ascribe a motive to your inaction since assuming office, I had decided your delay in convening the meeting that you promised seven months ago, between the parties to resolve the Moses African Cemetery crisis, was due to the budget process or the pressure of your new position. I decided to respond openly to set the record straight in view of your public mischaracterization of our interactions with regard to Moses Cemetery. However, because of this erroneous statement, I now question whether you ever intended to call the meeting in the first place.
At the end of the day, you are engaging in dog whistling by your attempt to blame the church, our community and me for your inaction. Your statement discredits the efforts of the very community that launched the social movement to bestow dignity and honor upon people that the county has described as “alleged” and quite content to allow the desecration of their memories and bury their history under a parking lot.
Kidnapped African citizens that were enslaved for upwards of 150 years in “death camps” in Montgomery County and the once-vibrant River Road African community deserve to have their lives recognized.
To further link the memorialization of Moses Cemetery to affordable housing is beyond the pale. This hearkens back to the absurdity of some who had claimed we advocated for the demolition of the Westwood Tower to make room for memorialization of Moses Cemetery. What insanity and ignorance would conjure up such falsity! For you to suggest that a proposed remedy to the garage access will “make that building unavailable to residents who need affordable housing” is ludicrous and you know it. Nothing intended or proposed by us would have hindered residents from accessing their dwelling.
You will also recall that HOC senior management, Ms. Shauna Sorrels and Mr. Stacy Spann, have both requested that you convene a tripartite meeting between the county, HOC and MBC. To my increasing dismay, your ignoring all three principals in this matter tends to confer legitimacy to the pervasive rumor currently circulating that you have ulterior motives for delaying this most necessary meeting — you have alternate plans to put an African Museum in downtown Bethesda.
As for your concern for affordable housing, may I remind you that the HOC building (Westwood Towers) only offers 43 affordable units out of 212 units; you should and must in “good conscience” demand that HOC double the number of affordable units in Westwood Towers. We have made the call and hope you would use the power of your office to make similar demand. Again, for the record, Macedonia Baptist Church and BACC are fully committed to the goals of providing affordable housing to residents of Montgomery County. It is MBS’s divine duty to champion the cause of the “least of these.”
With respect to our visit to the Westwood Towers garage, the group consisted of yourself, your special assistant, Ms. Debbie Spielberg, Ms. Shauna Sorrells of HOC, Dr. Tim Willard of BACC, two civil engineers and I. The goal was to explore the feasibility of designing alternate access to the HOC multi-level unconnected garage space to prevent further desecration of and ensure the conveyance of the cemetery for memorialization and not to provide a working design. What other rationale would interest us in the proposing alternate access into the HOC parking garage?
Truthfully, HOC does not need me to assist them with design alternatives and cost parameter to ameliorate their building access dilemma. They have the means to address the issue without our involvement. Regency Centers had suggested a visit to the garage with a view to address the disjointed access problem. It would seem our good-faith effort to find a way forward is now being used against us!
Adebayo is pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church.