2016 Week One: Neighborhood Improvement
“The day is as beautiful as we prayed for it to be,” says Ms. Lottie, smiling broadly into a crowd of community members. A drummer taps out a short roll of agreement on his instrument, and the light breeze catches her orange and silver African dress.
This is the dedication of The Nate Tatum Center, formerly known as the North Barclay Green Community Center. Telesis, the corporation constructing affordable housing units in Barclay, honored community leader Nathanial Solomon Tatum by dedicating the center in his name. My supervisor, Ms. Lottie, was among many speakers who testified to Mr. Tatum’s positive influence. A television displayed images of The Barclay Boys, a group of African-American preteens that Mr. Tatum mentored and took through rites of passage. “He saved those boys from the streets,” says Ms. Connie, a community leader, as a rap song put together by The Barclay Boys proclaims, “I love my mama, and I don’t smoke weed.”
At the reception, Ms. Lottie floats effortlessly between tables, ensuring that all guests from grandmothers to nephews to Telesis project managers feel welcome. Ms. Lottie seems to know everyone: in her office, a binder of names and house numbers is transformed into a web of families and friends. During the week, the flow of visitors is ceaseless: young mothers with children in tow need affordable childcare, teenagers want summer jobs, and the frequent seven-year-old visitor Ms. Lottie dubbed “Be-Bop” just wants to help.
My first week was event focused: Ms. Lottie and I stayed late in the evenings for Block Ambassador Training and Ladies’ Night Out. My first day she filled a white board with to-do lists for July’s signature events: the BMOG Neighborhood Cookout and the Annual Women’s Empowerment Conference. Everything must be donated, from the food to the gift bags to the bicycle Ms. Lottie wants to raffle off to the kids. My work began instantly: I completed online donation applications, mailed request letters, and drove to ten different businesses throughout Baltimore.
My week is hectic but never boring: I attend a BMOG community meeting, a Strong City Baltimore staff meeting, and a discussion held by City Councilman Bill Henry on Baltimore’s affordable housing crisis. I pass out flyers to publicize the dedication ceremony, run to the Parks and Rec office to inquire about free summer activities, create an Excel spreadsheet of visitors to the employment office, and type up an application for a church-run summer camp. I seek to emanate Ms. Lottie’s demeanor, her ability to pause in the middle of a task and greet every visitor with a warm, patient smile. With some, I succeed: I entertain two four year olds with coloring books while their mothers print resumes, and befriend ninth graders who express interest in holding a basketball clinic for the younger children in the neighborhood. With others, I fumble: on my lunch break, a formerly incarcerated man taking our employment placement test calls me over and points at a question. “You have to complete that,” I say, staring blankly at him until I realize he cannot read it.
I’m still forging relationships and learning on the job – but it only took me one week to realize that I would do anything for Ms. Lottie. I admire her dedication to Barclay and her ability to create meaningful and inspiring relationships with so many people. When she introduces me to community members, she calls me “her angel”. This title is reflective of her incredible generosity, and it is my goal over the next six weeks to relieve tasks from her hectic schedule and help her in any way that I can.
It was weird for me to both be working in the Mayor’s Office at City Hall, and then going on the Injustice Walk and hearing what those who led the walk had to say about the Mayor’s Office. It has become clear to me that both sides (The Mayor and the men leading the injustice walk) want the same outcome and have similar views on things, but because there is a lack of communication between these two populations, things are often perceived differently then they were intended to be perceived. For example, the men who led our injustice walk were not huge fans of those who worked at City Hall due to what they perceived as their lack of support for the homeless population and the crime they see in their areas. However, after working in the Mayor’s Office for a week I have seen the effort that the office put into bettering the community through the use of unused space for recreational purposes, and holding the police department more accountable.
This week has also been eye opening due to the knowledge I have gained regarding how City Hall is run. I have toured almost the entire building, meeting people in all wings of it and hearing about what they do. After sitting in on many meetings and listening to what their meetings are about, I have realized how interconnected the entire building is.
I have also been able to see how Baltimore is a city that is leading many others across America. I sat in on a CitiStat meeting, a meeting that holds organizations across Baltimore accountable by meeting with the mayor and presenting data to her. Due to communication of ideas in this meeting the organizations are able to better themselves weekly and hear many opinions regarding what they have been working on and the data they are collecting.
I could hardly sleep the night before my first day at my internship site. I picked my favorite outfit, made my lunch, pumped up my bike, and got ready for the big day since I couldn’t sleep. I rode to work on my bike for the first time and struggled because of the constant upward climb but made it right on time although a bit sweaty. I got settled in and after a blink of an eye, it was time to leave. This repeated until Thursday morning when my day began a bit differently. As soon as I got to work I noticed my supervisor and her husband struggling to move things from their car into the center. I immediately put my tote and food down outside of the center and began helping them. As soon as we finished moving things I heard, “Kaetlyn, get inside close all of the doors and just start working…babe, call 911.” My heart began pounding but I grabbed my stuff and raced upstairs. After things settled down, my supervisor came up and explained everything to me. One house away from our community center, over 30 people trafficked the park at ten in the morning buying and selling drugs, leaving fresh needles strewn about the sidewalks for our children to find. The police came and took care of it—or so we thought. Hours later a volunteer ran in yelling for someone to call 911. As soon as the police arrived she yelled and we all ran downstairs to stare through the one window where we could see the park. Drug dealers and buyers scattered like roaches; two of which jumped into our backyard to hide. As the police ran around trying to get everyone they could, they found drugs hidden in the flower pots of our center. I had never seen anything like this before; I was used to my beautifully sheltered Hopkins lifestyle in Charles Village. I hadn’t been afraid of going into Baltimore, but now I was—not for myself however. The kids that come into our center rely on us to keep them safe and instill values in them that they are not able to receive from the resources provided outside of the center. Now, we could not even take our youth outside to play at the park that they love so much. I fear that the nature of those trying to contaminate our community will pull one of our kids in and ruin everything we work toward. I had felt so good earlier that week feeling like I was ready to change the lives of the youth in our center through my work, but so quickly that all crumbled. I realize now that I can’t stop all of the bad things that happen in our community, but for the duration of this summer, I will work my hardest to instill resilience in the youth that I am lucky to work with—the future of our community.
After an extensive tour from my coworker during my first day, I began to feel comfortable on the couch in the reading room, soaking in the natural light. The center was quiet and I had just finished reading the operational manual and meeting my other coworker when I heard excited cries to obtain computers. More voices joined in as I ventured down into the main lobby, suddenly realizing how tenuous this job may be. Chaos erupted as about half of the kids took their rented laptops into the multipurpose room and started playing their favorite game, “Roblox.” They emphatically exchanged information about which game lobby they should be playing in and I realized I could not truly offer much by sticking around. I awkwardly roamed through the center, looking for an activity to join in. Luckily, I found someone playing on the dry erase board, drawing pictures of herself with her family. Soon enough, I learned that she is in first grade, her favorite animal is a giraffe, and her favorite color is yellow. Going into my placement, I feared that I would not be able to connect with the kids, as we have vastly different backgrounds. In reality, it has been a breeze as the kids are lighthearted and care free, and are experts at hide and go seek.
This week has had an irregular schedule compared to what most weeks will consist of for me. Usually, there will be programming all day without a specified time for the kids to come in. This week, the center opened to the kids after school every day for two hours and a variety of programming took place in the evenings. In the mornings, there were miscellaneous events that took place, ranging from a visit from a mission group visiting from Cincinnati to a grant meeting with a Hopkins liaison. One of my main tasks has been creating a preliminary website for the center, which has been a learning experience. Most of my tasks revolve around community outreach, which has been one of the biggest challenges for the center. My coworker likes to joke that when he asks what programs community members would like to see at the center, they respond by requesting yoga, Zumba, and dance classes, all of which we already offer. Emails, social media posts, and other forms of indirect communication have not been effective in the local Baltimore community. Instead, the best way to reach locals has been handing out fliers about upcoming events and speaking directly to the target audience. Overall, my first week has been a fun, rewarding experience.Tags: 2016, 29th Street Community Center, CIIP, CIIP 2016, Mayor's Office of Communication, St. Francis Neighborhood Center, Strong City Baltimore, Week One