Howard County leaders breaking the mold

Howard County in Maryland is the third richest county in the country - and nearly 60 percent white.
Yet four of the top county leadership roles are held by African Americans. All four are the first African Americans in their roles in county history.

The county's top cop is among them, and she's making history in more ways than one.

As a little girl growing up in Baltimore, Lisa Myers didn't see many African American women in positions of power.

After 27 years rising through the ranks in the Howard County Police Department, however, she retired thinking she'd reached the top of her career.

Then came a call from County Executive Calvin Ball, and Myers was chief.

She was sworn in Wednesday night, making history in two ways.

She's the first female, and the first African-American police chief.

"I think for many little girls and African American children it represents a breaking of the barriers that have kind of capped them off before," Myers said.

She's not the only one breaking barriers.

That phone call from Ball came from the county's first black chief executive.

"Every day I go to work and I drive in and I think I'm the Howard county executive," said Howard County Executive Calvin Ball.

Ball joined two other history-making winners in that county election.

Rich Gibson and Marcus Harris represent the first African-American state's attorney and sheriff respectively.

"We really have benefited from a community that's been open minded and welcoming," Gibson said.
Howard County is also diversifying faster than the rest of the state and the country.

The Baltimore Sun reports Howard's minority population has grown more than 30 percent since 2010.

What makes the representation of African Americans among its leaders even more rare is that the country remains majority white.

"I had to go to a meeting last week and I was looking around the room and I think there's 26 sheriffs right. I'm one of four minority sheriffs. I never thought I would be in my position," Harris said.

Harris' role as sheriff comes after his last elected predecessor, former Sheriff James Fitzgerald, resigned over an investigation finding he made racist and sexist comments.

Gibson and the other county leaders see being the first African American in their positions not only as an achievement, but as an opportunity to empathize with minority communities and inspire officers to confront implicit bias.

"I myself have been the victim of racial profiling. I've experienced racism in our society," Gibson said.

"I understand that there are certain communities of color that have legitimate concerns and rightfully so and I think it is our role to find that bridge to kind of work together and make sure that we are conducting ourselves in a professional manner," said Myers.

For the four county leaders, they hope their firsts will inspire other parts of the country to embrace diversity in leadership, and to show young people that race doesn't have to be a barrier to their dreams.

"If it's in a bubble then your dreams are only possible here and I hope for the sake of this country that that's not the case. That what is the exception now becomes the norm later," Gibson said.