Colleen Ebacher (ee-Bash-ur) was just fourteen years old when she first understood the rewards of building bridges between people.
Her mother, intent on expanding her five kids’ horizons beyond the small Wisconsin town they lived in, had piled the family into a camper van for one of their frequent cross-country road trips, unloading them at their grandparents’ house in south Texas for the Christmas holiday.
When a Spanish-speaking neighbor appeared at the door on Christmas Eve with a plate of warm tamales (a dish no-one in her family of Wisconsin dairy farmers had ever tasted) the family called upon teenaged Colleen to explain. She was the only one who, pressured by the nuns at her Catholic school, had studied Spanish.
She couldn’t say much—“I think I just said, ‘Gracias,’” she remembers—but somehow her rough translation turned what might have been an awkward encounter of mutual incomprehension into a community-building exchange of goodwill. With her help, a lasting connection was made.
Building bridges between people became Colleen’s life’s work. Supported by Rotary International Fellowships, she was able to pursue her education in Spanish language and literature, ultimately earning her PhD from University of Michigan. In 1995, she joined the faculty in Spanish and Latin American Studies at Towson University, settling in Monkton where she and her husband raised four children.
Colleen’s work as a teacher extended far beyond the walls of the classroom. She believed deeply in the power of civic engagement and learning through service to the community. She designed and directed professional development programs for K-12 teachers so they could study language, culture and history in Latin America, bringing back their newfound knowledge to hundreds of children in Maryland and the rest of the nation. She developed partnerships with a wide range of community organizations in Baltimore and beyond, so that she and her students could provide more than 4,000 hours of free translation to the Baltimore City Mayor’s office, The Esperanza Center, the ARC of Baltimore, and many others. At the same time, she taught, directed the interdisciplinary studies program at Towson University, garnered multiple grants for her community-engaged teaching and research, and founded a successful consulting business with her husband.
Like so many others, Colleen became more deeply involved in local politics during the 2016 election. She spent hours knocking on doors and registering voters. On the cold rainy evening of the election, she was in Reading, Pennsylvania, using her language skills to encourage people in marginalized communities to vote. When a local woman admitted that neither she nor her neighbors thought that the political system worked for them, she realized then that they felt completely disconnected. And “as long as that was true,” she says, “they were unlikely to vote.” The next morning, low turnout of Democratic voters decided the outcome of the election.
Colleen’s commitment to building bridges between people—and between communities and the politicians who represent them—took on new urgency. She began working with newly organized grassroots groups. When she realized that many career politicians were as disconnected from the community as community members were from them, she realized that her commitment to community-building required her to do more than advocate from the sidelines. With the support of her friends and family, she decided to stand up and run for office herself.
As a working mom of four children, an educator, and an organizer, Colleen has long understood the value of strong communities. As the representative of District 3 to the Baltimore County Council, she will work tirelessly to bring different voices together to build up our community and steward our shared environment. If we listen and connect with each other, we can achieve the responsive government, 21st-century schools, and revitalized, growing economy that our community deserves.