2017 Featured Blog Posts
I feel confident that I will be able to reach the goals I set for myself. My main goal was to build relationships with the youth, and I had felt that it was much easier to establish those relationships with people who were newer to the program. Last week I worked on being more engaged with youth who had been around longer, and felt like I was starting to be successful. One youth in particular who I’ve had multiple conversations with just asked me what my name was last week and started calling me by it. Progress.
I’ve also been reflecting on my comfort level with my coworkers and with the space and have seen a lot of progress with those this week as well. YES is going through a time where multiple staff members are transitioning out. One had her last drop-in day last week and we had a staff celebration at R House for her. It was nice to see that my coworkers interact pretty much exactly the same at work as they do outside of work. This reinforced for me the genuine nature of the people I work with while emphasizing that I can be myself in the work space, because everyone else is being themselves too.
One thing I love about YES is that it’s okay to come to work tired or upset or stressed because it’s always acknowledged and taken into account. It’s not counted against who you are as a person or as an employee, it’s just recognized as a fact that you come into work everyday feeling different and that affects how you’re going to interact with people. Halfway through the internship, I feel that I have a solid level of familiarity and comfort with my organization as it operates on a daily basis. I know almost everyone who comes in the door by name and feel comfortable starting a conversation with most of those individuals as well. Overall, I feel like I’m on the right track toward accomplishing my goals for the program.
“Nope. Nope. I’m not going. No way, no interest.” Most of the group nodded along. Week one is done with the six YouthWorkers that I’m supervising — six high schoolers from around the city, four of who had worked at the center last summer.
On Wednesday, Elyse forwarded me an invitation from a local Community Schools coordinator. The mayor’s office and the Baltimore Education Council were having a meeting about education funding, and our YouthWorkers were invited. The chance to sit in on city government, see them talking about an issue so close to the heart of the community center and our YouthWorkers? I was excited to tell the crew. After their lunch, my assistant supervisor, Minju, and I brought it up. To my initial surprise, most gave a definite “no”, only a couple sheepish, saying they “might” go.
“Nothing’s gonna change in the government. Even if you fire the mayor, she’s still gonna be fine. She’ll have a job.”
“I saw, like, 20 teachers at my school get fired. It’s ridiculous and I don’t wanna go”. Despite my urging them that their passion would be welcome and necessary, they were adamant that they’d rather be working hard at the center than going on a field trip like that.
On Thursday, though, the school coordinator that had invited us came in to give more information about the event, and walked out successfully convincing all six to attend. What point stuck? The offer of a pizza lunch once we returned to the center. Quite honestly, I can’t say that I was entirely surprised, or even that I don’t relate. Hey– college kids love free pizza too!
What is sticking with me, though, is these students’ perspectives on change. So many of them echoed that idea that nothing really would change, that they’d keep seeing their schools in varying states of disrepair.
For a lot of Wednesday, though, Minju led the YouthWorkers through an activity to brainstorm pressing issues that they saw in their community. He followed with an anonymous brainstorm and voting session for solutions that they could implement using the center. After filling up a piece of poster paper with a list of issues (many beautiful and relevant and perhaps a bit shocking) they chose to focus on violence. The unanimous choice on a solution was to bring an activist to speak at the community center, in an event targeted towards people in their generation. After more talks of event planning, we broke for lunch. Minju and I stood in the kitchen, microwaving our lunches. He looked at me, a glimmer in his eyes. “I feel this one. They’re so close. I mean, just a speaker event would be cool, but this could be so much more. This is the stuff that could get on the news. I think maybe with us pushing them a little more, and it could be so much more. We’re nearly there.” I see it too. No, we’re still not quite there, but I’m so excited to see where we’ll be four weeks from now. What I’m the most certain of right now? There’s more pizza in our future.
New week. New challenges. New learning opportunities. New questions.
This week, instead of just working for the Black Church Food Security Network, I was given the opportunity to broaden my horizon and work also with the Orita’s Cross Freedom School. I spent the majority of the week however, working with the later.
Before getting to the main story of this week’s post, here is what I did for the Food Security Network. So the BCFSN is a network of churches. We organized all the churches onto a google map so that it would be easier for others to see our reach. In order to better promote the network and spread the reason for the network, I have been travelling around to all the churches part of the network and making videos of a spokesperson for that church’s garden. You see, each church is a part of the narrative we’re trying to tell and what better way to do that than for them to speak for themselves.
Now, back to the Freedom School. A freedom school is a school which primarily highlights and teaches African-American history to young students (aged 3-12 years). The point of this is for the next generation to not lose a sense of their background and for them to understand what their ancestors went through for them to be where they are today. Orita’s Cross does not stop there however; students are taught to also look through the various persepectives of which information is presented in order for them to stand up and fight for what they believe in.
When I first heard of the freedom school, I thought “wow, what a great idea” but with some skepticism followed up with “would these ‘kids’ really care?”
Boy, was I wrong.
These students are straight-up so woke about their ancestry and culture. On Wednesday, we did an activity where the students answered the question “why do I love my melanin?” Here are a few of their responses: I love
-that I get to be a part of this community
-being black because black is beautiful
I was genuinely so shook and impressed with the students. They really come to learn and it is something I sorta wish I grew up with. As young as they are, they seem prepared already to face the harsh world. For them to have this opportunity to be aware of racial issues will have a lasting impact on their lives.
I spent the majority of my free time the last few days really thinking about race: what it really means to be not white in America. During our Bites session, someone brought up how their mom packed their lunch as a child to be just like American kids out of fear of being isolated for being different. While I completely understand that (in fact, I am guilty of doing the exact same), in hindsight, I am realizing that we were basically saying that “white is normal” and “white is right”. This action can definitely be seen as attempting to assimilate into a culture, however this inherent fear of being different culturally has in a way contributed to systematic racism in this country. I know that’s a bold statement to make and I definitely jumped a few hoops to reach this conclusion but hear me out. Think about this, the simple act of adjusting our lunches to fit the “white way” in a way not only diminishes our culture and origins, it also validates and reassures the belief that “white is right”. Throughout history, people fought SO SO HARD to become a part of this nation- to be considered “white” in the eyes of the law. Let’s keep going with the established idea that “white is normal.” Anything that deviates from this norm is met with vary levels of curiosity, some of which leads to a positive sharing of culture or other times leads a from of ostracization. Even at my age, it is as if non-whites must act white to earn a certain level of respect. Micro-aggressive statement like “you’re so nice for a black guy” or “you’re so well behaved!” While I do not personally deny being genuinely nice and decorous, I find it interesting that we come to associate these perfectly normal traits to “white traits”. Often times in middle school, I was isolated for being “too white for the black kids” yet I was not “white enough” for the white kids simply because of my skin. The more adult version of “not being white enough” becomes apparent in police-on-black violence.
I am beginning to wonder a few things: how does knowing our ancestry and culture really help us in today’s world when it seems the only way to save your life in is to act white? In what ways does this form of education help usher in a change for a better world when even being a model citizen still doesn’t save your life? I ask these questions in wake of the verdict for Jeronimo Yanez, the man who shot Philando Castile. This honestly opened my eye and shifted my perspective. I now have so many questions and I don’t know if they can be answered.
For now though, I am signing off, hoping to continue this conversation next week.
On Tuesday, standing in the sun waiting for my bus connection, I realized I’d forgotten my water bottle on my desk at home. The heat was already getting unbearable even early in the day, so I quickly Googled places around Liberty that I could grab a Gatorade before heading in for a day of moving classroom furniture. There was a split second in my mind where I worried about being seen as an outsider stepping into one of these stores, and cowardly chose the commercialized Walgreens a block up the street from where I get off the bus instead of the local corner store directly at my stop.
The store was almost entirely empty at that hour in the morning, and I moved quickly to the refrigerators at the far end to grab a drink and back to the cashier. I also grabbed a pack of granola bars since I’d skipped breakfast that morning, and I remember being briefly surprised by the three or four aisles full of groceries there were because I had never associated a pharmacy with grocery shopping before.
Once I got to the counter, the woman was just finishing ringing up the man in front of me, and I waited–bouncing on the balls of my feet and taking my headphones out. She asked if I had a rewards card, and when I said no, without a second thought, she gestured for the guy who had just been rung up for his again so I could get the discounts. He saved me a few bucks, and she even recommended I grab another Gatorade because it was on sale, and I could get 2 for $4. Given the heat, I was especially thankful for her kindness.
On my walk to the school, just a block away as I cut through the parking lot, I chastised myself for feeling the way I had before—especially after the cashier had been so thoughtful—and made a point to try and think about bridging gaps as something that’s more accessible in the future.
This was challenged when, at the end of the day, that block of the road, and the parking lot I’d walked through that morning, had been blocked off with yellow police tape. A photographer whose black vest read “forensics” in big bold letters captured pictures around my bus stop, and Mr. Manko made a comment about how there had been a shooting there earlier in the day, so we’d need to find another route back to campus.
I sat quietly during the rest of the ride home, trying to assimilate the familiarity I’d found in the Walgreens that morning with the violence I’d seen later in the same place on the same day. I thought about the elementary students I’d joked around with earlier in the day living in a world where a corner being blocked off for a shooting isn’t abnormal, and couldn’t possibly imagine what that was like.
For every small step forward, I feel like I also take ten steps back, and I know there’s so much more to learn and it will be indescribably hard. But if this week taught me anything, I’m ready to try.Tags: 2017, 29th Street Community Center, Black Church Food Security Network, CIIP, CIIP 2017, Liberty Elementary and Rec, Orita's Cross Freedom School, Youth Empowerment Society