Reflections

May 11, 2018 – Voices on the Trail

Solar Panels and Green Energy Initiatives. While canvassing in Takoma Park, I spoke with a resident whose goal it is to install solar panels on her home.  She was concerned about whether it was possible to remove certain trees in order to install the panels and take part of the green energy movement. If you are interested in learning more about solar panel usage in our County, please click this link to learn about the Montgomery County Solar Co-Op.

Abandoned Houses. Several Silver Spring residents complained today about a handful of abandoned houses in their neighborhoods that remain unkempt and are considered eye sores within their neighborhood. Concerns were raised related to one abandoned house in particular because it is next to a bus stop.

May 2, 2018 – Voices on the Trail

Transportation. Transportation. Transportation. This by far has been the issue that voters in District 20 voice concerns over the most because of the forthcoming Purple Line and environmental issues.  Many fear that construction of this project will be prolonged and painful while jeopardizing our county’s goal to reduce carbon emissions.

Seniors. With limited incomes, seniors deserve the right to age in place gracefully with as little burdens as possible.  One Silver Spring resident voiced his concern that even a trip to the new Silver Spring library is burdensome when he has to pay for parking at the Wayne Avenue Parking Garage. He asked whether it was possible for senior citizens to have parking validated for library visits. Although some bureaucratic process exists, currently seniors do not have this option. I told him that I will work with local officials to see if this service can become a reality so our government doesn’t continue to empty the banks of our senior population at the state and county level.

Teachers should not have to spend hard-earned dollars on classroom supplies for their students.  But they do. Teachers in our public school system truly do care about students and make daily sacrifices to help students succeed. One Takoma Park resident at the Silver Spring Farmers Market was fed up with the lack of resources her daughter has to educate students. She went so far as to say that she would rather home school relatives than place them in classrooms where they do not receive the attention they deserve. We definitely heard her voice this past weekend and will fight to make our classrooms smaller and more equipped.

 

April 19, 2018 – WE STILL RISE

“Leaving behind nights of terror and fear, I rise.” These are the words we must always believe in and practice during times of uncertainty. When uncertainty is born out of fear, these words are even more critical to survival.  About five days ago, two gay men were walking in our nation’s capital in what most consider a “safe space” for everyone to be who they are.  About five years ago, I met a gentleman from Lebanon, Tennessee named Zach who does nothing more than offer his kindness to others.  I can’t ever recall a time when he wasn’t smiling.  Whether casually crossing paths on the streets of DC, socializing inside of Cobalt or JR’s, or hanging out near Stead Park during Sunday Stonewall Kickball games, Zach always greets everyone with a smile.  He is a model human being with the kind of demeanor that every parent should hope their child will practice. He is an interpreter, an avid gamer, and someone who believes that a little kindness goes a long way.  Unfortunately, not everyone practices what Zach preaches. This past Sunday, Zach and another gentleman named Michael were minding their own business after a night out when several desperate losers attacked them in one of the busiest intersections in our nation’s capital, on the same block as gay bars.  They were viciously beaten in the middle of a crosswalk as cars simply drove by and passersby recorded the incident, posted it on social media, and failed to inform law enforcement. Eventually, assistance arrived, albeit later than required.  This should never have happened, regardless of your orientation, gender, or religion.  Indeed, minority communities require additional protections as demanded by the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.  Unfortunately, not every lawmaker in Maryland maintains this belief. I remember being closeted in law school, advocating from afar, and monitoring the Marriage Equality legislation (sponsored by now Congressman Jamie Raskin) being debated in Annapolis. Sadly, the best argument in opposition to this bill was that “gay people” can hide who they are. Fortunately one supporter of this failed argument retired and did not seek re-election and Marriage Equality eventually succeeded. Not only did it succeed, but Maryland voters made sure that it did. “Hiding” who you are actually causes more damage because as scientists explain, being LGBTQ is likely impervious to change. Consequently, our state banned “conversion” therapy in Annapolis this session, paving the way for other states to do the same.  Don’t get me wrong, my campaign is committed to Social & Economic Justice, Cultural Awareness, and protecting the Environment. LGBTQ+ issues are only one of the issues we are addressing although some people might feel differently.  Being a gay candidate is difficult. I have been challenged and bullied by some, even in gay bars, as to whether I am gay myself (to those questioning, please privately contact me and I will happily provide you with references). So, there is a need for me to address LGBTQ+ issues when our community is attacked in what was designated as a “safe space.” I commend the DC Police Department for offering anonymous resources for witnesses to utilize in order to provide tips that will help locate the perpetrators of this hate crime. I urge Montgomery County and the rest of Maryland to do the same. So many hate crimes go unreported in our region and I will not stop until these crimes do.  To critics out there thinking this is a “dramatic” ask for help, obviously you are not on our team.   To the cowards who did this still walking the streets of the DMV, I invite you to come home to me. I and many others have been through too much in our lives to be afraid to stand up.  PLEASE DONATE TOWARDS ZACH AND MICHAEL’S GO FUND ME PAGE FOR MEDICAL AND OTHER EXPENSES.  In conclusion, I will let Maya Angelou sum up this Reflection:”When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

April 15, 2018 – Home of the Blazers: Support the “Blair Crew” 

In 1925, the Takoma-Silver Spring High School was founded with 86 students and five faculty members. After nearly a century of development, the high school today, known as Montgomery Blair High School and located on University Boulevard in Silver Spring, is renowned for a number of academic programs like the Communication Arts Program, as well as student activism.  Nearly 3,000 students attend the school and many student leaders form clubs to organize their peers around common interests. One such club is The Blair Crew, a group of students gathering for the love of rowing.  Today, I met a group of female students braving the rain (along with their parents) at the Takoma Park Farmers Market raising money for their organization.  These clubs do not receive public school funding, so students must work very hard to enable their passions to thrive.  Despite the rain, the students were excited to be standing outside fundraising and selling baked goods.  Their moms shared stories about environmental challenges that could jeopardize the location of the club’s rowing activities, and we talked about how we can work together to protect our waterways. Altogether, it was inspiring to see hardworking families standing in the rain in order to support the best interests of Blair High School students.  We need greater private-public partnerships that allow student clubs like The Blair Crew to succeed. Please visit their website and learn how you can help these students follow their passion of rowing. And, please take note of other student clubs that are in need of the same assistance.

April 10, 2018 – District 20’s Featured Citizen of the Day

Montgomery College, languages, cultural awareness, and economic theories by Marty Nemko, PhD (How to be Happier than a Millionaire on 20K a Year) were the topics of discussion when I met Chander today, a Silver Spring resident. (Chander admires Dr. Nemko’s work). Chander is a proud mother and full-time worker who encouraged her son to work hard, study hard,  and earn scholarships to Montgomery College. I told her that I hope community college could be free for students of all backgrounds; we then discussed how we could pay for such an initiative. We talked about our world-wide travels and her journey to the United States from South Africa. If one were to guess her ethnic background as I was doing internally, most would assume she is of Indian descent.  Although she indeed is of Indian ancestry, she considers herself not only Indian but African American who now has a son with Jewish ancestry as part of his DNA. The United States, Silver Spring, and Takoma Park are undoubtedly melting pots.  The lesson learned today? Never make assumptions about someone’s cultural background. Instead, ask questions. Listen. Understand. After our conversation, I realized that the symbol of the South African flag she displayed on her badge made perfect sense.  Today, we celebrate diversity and thank Chander for her service to District 20.

April 9, 2018 – What’s up “Dock?:”  A Dockless Bike Dilemma

Creating better transit alternatives is imperative to the carbon footprint reductions in our county and state. Many transit options have been proposed, including better bike and pedestrian investments. One such investment is our “dockless bike” system, which allows people to use GPS in order to locate bicycles within the dockless system to commute elsewhere. The resulting problem is that the current system allows for parking bicycles in the middle of a walkway, often obstructing passageways for persons with disabilities and families pushing strollers through their neighborhoods. Another issue is whether the current dockless system allows for the repair of damaged equipment and improvements to bicycles. I agree that this concept is a good start for better access to bicycles.  Yet, further conversations are needed in order to offer improvements to the program. What do you think? Do you plan on using dockless bikes? How can we provide better access to biking and other transit means? Dockless bikes are a good concept and we should brainstorm to improve this program but not in haste.

 

Apil 5, 2018 –  Life is a Beach

Many of you are aware that I started Stonewall Billiards, the DC area’s first LGBTQ+ Billiards league. I started the league because I wanted to play a sport that I loved, allow others to learn how to play, and create safer environments for folks in the DC area to do the same. Part of my mission was to include social activities within league activities in addition to league play. In the Spring of 2016, I asked our members if they would be interested in a summer beach trip to Rehoboth Beach during Labor Day weekend. Many replied in favor. I searched the internet for rental houses in Delaware and discovered a beach-front house with not only adequate space but with a pool table too. This was the perfect location and I immediately asked a league member to call the owner to reserve it. My friend called the owner and told him our league wanted to rent the property and then called me back only to tell me that the owner did not want to rent to us. So, I called Tim (the owner) myself. We started off talking in a civil manner and I told him why we wanted to rent the home and then revealed the backgrounds of each individual who would be staying in the house, including a retired firefighter from Fairfax County, Virginia who fronted the deposit. His response? “You’re not the type of group we want to rent to.” Now, it takes a LOT to make my blood boil. But after those words, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck and two weeks of shouting matches ensued during my unnecessary, extended work-breaks in Chinatown, DC.  There came a point in time where I made my final appeal to him and we agreed to a mid-June deadline for his decision-making process. In between the agreement and final decision, tragedy struck. At 8:00 AM on June 12, 2016, I was in my apartment asleep with the intention of volunteering for the Capital Pride Festival hours later in the day. However, my friend David woke me up in a state of panic earlier than expected and directed my attention to the television. Roughly six hours earlier, a monster entered Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida on Latino Night with a SIG Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol and murdered 49 people who were just trying to have fun on what should have been a normal Saturday night during Pride Month; 58 others were injured, including a member of Stonewall Sports who was visiting Orlando at the wrong time. David, myself, and other league members were concerned about whether we should attend Pride, but we overcame those concerns and attended Pride without fear. Despite feeling overwhelmed with sadness, we had the best time possible.  Two days later, Tim called me in a somber voice to let me know that he would rent his house to our league. I thanked him, but it shouldn’t have taken one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history to give permission for “our group” to rent his home. We ended up having a nice time on that Labor Day.  I messaged him afterward to thank him, but never received a response and have not spoken to him since. If I can put into words what I felt after the Pulse shooting and Tim’s lack of communication and dismissive, discriminatory actions, I would choose a quote from author Jeramey Kraatz:  “If you can’t wrap your head around a bar or club as a sanctuary, you’ve probably never been afraid to hold someone’s hand in public.” (The picture is from the Capital Pride Festival on June 12, 2016. The second is me playing pool in my parents’ basement circa 1985.)

March 31, 2018 – Moms Demand Action: Faces of Courage

Today I shared my story with Mom’s Demand Action, which is an organization demanding strict gun control laws. Many of you know I survived a home invasion in Baltimore City nearly 13 years ago. If you are not aware of this, please read my story below, which I shared on the Faces of Courage campaign:

March 31, 2018 – I moved to Baltimore, MD from Silver Spring in August 2005 for a new job working for Cardinal William H. Keeler in the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Office of Child and Youth Protection. As a survivor of teenage sexual abuse, I wanted to advocate for the creation of safer environments for children and youth, especially in the LGBTQ+ community. I met Cardinal Keeler for the first time one month later in September; having a conversation with His Eminence was a very special moment and gave me much hope. However, later that same day, hope turned upside down in a cruel second. My next-door neighbor invited me and a friend over to watch the movie Fight Club. Around 1:30 AM there was a pounding at the door. My neighbor went to answer, and three perpetrators barged in bearing weapons. They held a gun to our heads, made us strip, and sit down with our head down and hands up. Every time I raised my head I was looking down the barrel of a gun. I sat quietly praying to God and believed that meeting Cardinal Keeler was my final blessing on this earth. Unfortunately, my friend was pistol-whipped and badly injured because he did not provide the correct pin number for his debit card (I gave my correct number and had hundreds of dollars stolen from my account); he was also burned with candlewax and had cigarettes put out on his legs. After two hours, one individual left to steal my car (it was actually stolen months earlier in Silver Spring in a gang initiation ritual), another started covering the windows with sheets, put the dogs away, and started lining us up against the wall tied up, starting with my neighbor. The last individual went upstairs to steal jewelry. Suddenly, with only one perpetrator downstairs, I saw the gun laying on the floor as my neighbor was being tied up. In a matter of seconds, I looked up at my friend to see if he noticed, but he was bleeding and in shock. Even though I thought I would be shot, I bolted out the front door barefoot and, in my underwear, ran into the Fells Point square. I never looked back, but I believed I was being chased with a gun, so I zig-zagged when I ran. My friend ran out the back door, but there was nowhere to go; he was being chased so he dove through a closed window, slicing open parts of his body. My neighbor was then able to untie herself and escape. I called 911 from Hot Tomatoes Pizza Shop on S. Broadway and the police escorted me back to my neighbor’s home, but they never took a police report. My neighbor and I went to Johns Hopkins Hospital at 4:30 AM to be with our friend who was driven there in an ambulance. Later, with the assistance of nurses, the police arrived to finally take a report. After this horrific night, the Archdiocese insisted I seek counseling, which I did for the first time in my life. My family asked me to move out of Baltimore City. Instead, I stayed, organized a local crime watch group, engaged the Baltimore City police, joined the neighborhood association, and started writing for the community newsletter. By the grace of God, my friends and I survived. Although it took years to recover, I am absolutely numb and incensed about mass shootings which have become commonplace in American society. I left Baltimore to go to law school and I am now an attorney who advocates for the strictest gun control measures possible. We must continue to march with our students, our families, and our friends to demand change. Anyone with standing should have their day in Court to challenge the limits of the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution. I haven’t watched Fight Club since that night in September 2005, but I will join Moms Demand Action in the fight against gun violence. Let’s give new meaning to the phrase: Fight Club. Thank you for the opportunity to share my story.

March 27, 2018 – Engage Our Local Businesses with Neighborhood Cleanups

Tonight I met a small business owner from Silver Spring who is very passionate about businesses in District 20 doing their part to remove litter from both their property and surrounding property in our community to help better the environment. Specifically, he called out 7-11 on Fenton Street for failing to keep their side of the street cleaner than it is and for oftentimes condoning nuisances that disturb Silver Spring residents.  Sometimes we do not have a legal obligation to act, but we should have a moral obligation to do the same.  Addressing environmental issues contains both legal and moral obligations that I will encourage our local business community to exercise for the betterment and cleanliness of our neighborhoods.  Together, we will make our Silver Spring neighborhoods greener, whether you are a business owner, community activist, or both, like the gentleman I met this evening.

March 25, 2018 – The Montgomery County Election Ballot Ballet

The 2018 Gubernatorial Democratic Primary is unprecedented given the number of candidates for public office. This cycle will present District 20 residents with well over 70 candidates on the primary ballot.  No legal issues should result from the appearance of candidate names on the primary ballot. Hopefully, for the sake of all voters and candidates, the Board of Elections will produce a ballot where zero confusion exists so that voters of all socio-economic backgrounds may cast their votes in the most convenient way possible.  I hope that other campaigns join this conversation, regardless if it affects your campaign.  When asking for someone’s vote, we must guarantee that each individual can understand who the candidates are in all races, from the top to the bottom of the ballot. Accomplishing this requires a delicate dance.

March 23, 2018 – March for Our Lives, literally. 

Almost 19 years ago, I was a sophomore in college watching the aftermath of the Columbine High School shooting massacre in Jefferson County, Colorado where 12 students and one teacher were murdered.  Thirteen years later on December 14, 2012, a severely mentally ill being shot and killed 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7, six school faculty members, and his own mother just 11 days before Christmas in what was then the largest and most horrifying mass shooting in American history. On June 17, 2015, a white supremacist attended a prayer study at the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. He killed nine people (including a State Senator who was also the church Pastor) before taking his own life. One year later, on June 12, 2016, my friend (who previously lived in Orlando, Florida) and I were getting ready to work the Capital Pride Festival in Washington, D.C. He woke me that morning in a state of panic and directed my attention to the television in my apartment. Hours earlier, 49 people were murdered and 58 individuals were injured during “Latino Night” in Orlando’s LGBTQ Pulse Nightclub. The Pulse Night Club massacre became the deadliest mass shooting in American history, until roughly fifteen-and-a-half months later when the record of casualties from mass shootings was broken. On Sunday, October 1, 2017, at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, 58 people lost their lives and 851 others were injured because folks decided to attend a concert with family and friends. Since then, our nation has suffered from a number of other mass shootings, including murders in Parkland, Florida and most recently, at Great Mills High School in Southern Maryland.

If you do not support stricter gun reform policies, I only have one question: do these tragedies make you happy? Will it take losing your own child’s life or your loved one’s life from a gunshot wound in order to change your heart and mind? Our republican-controlled federal government has FAILED us. These mass shootings, which might be coming to a town near you very soon, happen because of republicans’ desire to serve personal, selfish interests at the expense of your children’s lives. Vote them out of office this year. The proof is in the numbers: every opportunity to change gun control laws is killed by republicans who need money to survive an election. Their campaign accounts are more important to them than your child presenting a science fair project in school without the fear of a mass shooting happening. Younger generations, regardless of being Republicans or Democrats, are now taking over to lead this fight against gun violence. Walking out of schools is the best thing that can happen in the absence of adults taking action to protect future generations. Congratulations to the new generations of American leaders with common sense. Let’s congregate tomorrow and March for Our Lives.

March 20, 2018 – One of the Strongest Women I Know

Today is my mother’s 73rd birthday. I wanted to take a moment to thank her for how much she has impacted my life. Even when we are apart her presence is always with me.  Thank you, Mom, for your faith, your incredible strength, and your sense of humor. People always told me that I have my father’s looks and my mother’s personality. I couldn’t agree more. Happy Birthday! I can’t wait to see you soon! Love, G

March 15, 2018 – Welcome to the Amazon Jungle?

Perhaps some of the most uncertain circumstances in Montgomery County rest upon Amazon’s decision to select a location for a new headquarters.  With Discovery Communications Headquarters leaving District 20, many residents are stuck between the frustrations of losing jobs and the price tag associated with gaining new jobs at a rapid pace.  Should Amazon select Montgomery County as the location of its new headquarters, locals won’t hold back concerns.  I’ve attended a number of public forums in the past months where Amazon dominated the discussion. Will our already traffic-congested community have the resources for transit demands if Amazon comes to our county? Will this affect the county and state budgets for Montgomery County’s overcrowded schools? Can we attract Amazon, create new jobs, and achieve success for all parties involved? These are questions that citizens want to be answered sooner than later.  Of course, with the departure of Discovery Communications from the heart of District 20, many residents suggest that Amazon can easily move into Discovery’s vacant office space.  Is this the right move? You tell me. Please contact our campaign and be on the lookout for an upcoming forum surrounding our strategy to bring Amazon to Montgomery County.

March 10, 2018 – A New Beginning

It’s late at night and, to be honest, I am finding it difficult to sleep because of my excitement.  I am about to take a big step later this afternoon and officially launch my campaign for the Maryland House of Delegates.  This is my very first blog post, or “Reflection,” related to this journey and I would like to share with you an essay I wrote earlier this year that was instrumental in my desire to represent the citizens of District 20:

Expectations With Uncertainty – January 19, 2018

By: George Zokle

Someone once told me that expectations are a breeding ground for resentments. Like many, I’ve experienced thousands of resentments between childhood and accumulating gray hairs (which I tend to pluck when I’m afraid to admit that I’ve aged). My resentments occur when I fail to become comfortable during times of uncertainty or when I try to have control over situations in order to make things “fit” when reality tells me the opposite. Managing uncertainty requires becoming vulnerable despite the risks associated with doing so. Vulnerability is scary; you might break your heart, hurt other people, or feel ashamed or embarrassed. However, shame and embarrassment should never prevent you from achieving the best version of yourself.

Below is a series of lessons I’ve learned about not having expectations during times of uncertainty. These are not new and novel concepts. If you’ve heard these lessons before, I hope that you practice them.

First, believe and actually practice the principle that what other people think is none of your business. Next, dance like no one is watching, but then create your own stage and pretend that everyone is watching while dancing even faster.

Rather than becoming stuck in situations that fail to deliver instant gratification, pivot and move forward in a different direction because you are always surrounded by multiple lights at the end of many tunnels to choose from.

Your only worry in the world should be what lies directly in front of you at this very moment. Have no regrets about your past, but wear your scars on your sleeve as reminders that the past was real.

Rid yourself of polluted pride because it gives others the wrong impression. However, don’t supplement pride with self-pity because self-pity is merely pride in reverse. Find the happy medium; this is called gratitude. Gratitude happens when you provide service to other people, including those who hurt you in the past, and even to strangers you may never see again. Always remember that people have long memories and acts of service tend to top their list of remembrances.  Don’t dwell on your bad memories, replace bad memories with good ones.

Apply these lessons within every aspect of your life. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re deficient in some areas one day, because tomorrow you can always fight back three times harder. Stop asking “why” and just “do.”

Love always comes first and hope comes second. When hope turns into failure, don’t panic. Sometimes you have to lose to know how to win.

When someone angers or humiliates you, take a deep breath, drop to your knees, and pray really hard so that person gets what they want out of life. Never maintain an instinct to humiliate other people. If praying isn’t your thing because you don’t believe in God, then you must always believe that something greater than yourself exists that wants you to thrive, succeed, and live.

Follow these lessons and your expectations with uncertainty just might become a little more certain.

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