BY KRISSI HUMBARD
A chance meeting at a coffee shop in March turned into a unique opportunity for a Hyattsville group of new moms to advocate for issues affecting families.
“We were having our regular weekly coffee at Vigilante earlier this spring with our newborns, and Rushern Baker [III] just happened to walk in,” said Jamila Larson, a local mom and executive director and co‐founder of the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project. Baker is the county executive of Prince George’s County. “He came right for the babies and ended up holding them and cooing over them,” she said.
Larson noted that the Curious Moms group, a subgroup of the Hyattsville Nurturing Moms, had just been talking about the child care gap before Baker walked in. She said the group was discussing how lower‐income mothers could manage child care expenses. When they mentioned this to Baker, he gave them his card and asked to set up a meeting. Baker added, “As long as you bring your babies,” according to Larson.
Fast forward to June 21, and the five moms — and their babies — who were able to attend the meeting had a two‐hour block to meet with Baker; they discussed issues like universal pre‐K, paid family leave, and affordable child care.
“We just felt extremely welcome,” Larson said, “like very special guests.”
Kristen Wares, who brought her 5‐week‐old daughter Josie to the meeting, said, “He obviously went out of his way to make it family friendly, with blankets and stuffed animals available, and told us our toddlers would have been more than welcome, as well.”
We’ve all seen politicians holding and kissing babies, but for Baker it seemed to be more than a photo opportunity. During the meeting, Baker went right for the babies again — holding each one, comforting them when they fussed, and even letting 4‐ and‐a‐half‐month‐old Harrison sleep on his chest.
“You can’t fake his love for babies,” Larson said.
Staff members said Baker had been looking forward to the meeting.
“I have been working in this office for over the past five years and have hosted governors, senators, and even kings and queens from around the world, but I can’t remember ever having such an adorable gathering of visitors,” Baker said.
Some of Baker’s staff members were also at the meeting, including Elana Belon‐ Butler, director of the Department of Family Services; Tehani Collazo, education policy advisor; and Gloria Brown, director of the Department of Social Services.
“I’m so pleased to have been a part of the meeting with the Hyattsville Moms. In addition to spending precious moments with their little ones, we had the opportunity to have some serious conversations,” said Brown.
The Hyattsville Moms spoke about the challenges they faced as new parents. They voiced concern over how those who are less fortunate could manage to find quality child care or pay for preschool. The group discussed resources available for low‐income families, including the Maryland Family Network. Baker weighed in on some of the struggles he remembered from raising his children. One summer, Baker asked his boss if he could bring his young son to work because it was so hard, emotionally, to leave him at day care.
“All parents should be able to take time to care for themselves and their newborns, and everyone should be able to access high quality child care,” Wares said.
Baker and his staff work to stay connected with their constituents, taking meetings like this, holding “Citizens’ Day” to hear from residents who want to voice concerns, and hosting high school and college students to shadow Baker for the day.
“Holding those babies helps public servants like us to remember why this work is so important,” Brown said. “We all want to ensure this county is some place to which our children will want to grow up and return.”
Baker agreed, saying, “All of these interactions with county residents help me understand what their priorities are and what the Prince George’s County government could do for them.”
The group of moms agreed that they would keep advocating for these issues.
“The meeting was just a first step, and I expect that our moms group and other parents in the county will continue to engage in a productive dialog with Mr. Baker and his staff,” said Carrianna Kuruvilla, mom to 7‐month‐old Theo.
The city council took a step on May 2, voting 7‐4 to direct the city administrator to implement a policy that would allow city employees six weeks’ paid time off for family and life events that qualify under the provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).