2017 Week Four: Youth & Family Wellness
Every summer we have a community cookout with two communities that surround Barclay. This was a big task as most of the work seemed to fall on the community leaders in Barclay as we are the most organized leadership team of the three communities involved in the event. Before Ms. Lottie left she had figured out all o the logistics of the event but this week was all about the last minute details. This included running around the entire neighborhood flying and rallying people to come to the event. This opportunity was very fulfilling for me as I was able to get some real face to face time with individuals who have seen me putting up flyers in the past. Every morning and evening after that, I ran into community members who knew my name and wanted to have a conversation with me. These conversations were often very casual as they typically were about how our day was and what we were up to but others pushed the limits of normal conversation.
One of the most memorable conversations I was able to have was when a community member came in on Friday night to help us cut up six watermelons for the cookout the next day. Ms. Rosie and I were there for about an hour and a half cutting up and packaging the watermelon which left a lot of time for conversation. Something that I have thought about while doing community organizing is understanding how much a person is a product of their environment, along with how much work is required to change the negative externalities of their environments to become better—better being whatever it means to that individual. My conversation with Ms. Rosie showed me how motivated members of our community were to changing their own lives and the community they are a part of.
Ms. Rosie suffered many medical issues from the moment of her birth due to the experimental nature of birth control during the time her mother got pregnant, which ultimately left her with a wooden leg. This was only the beginning of Ms. Rosie’s life obstacles as she also suffered from drug addiction, physical and emotional abuse, and more. However, despite the obstacles she had endured in her life, as she was leaving the center, she saw a sign that mentioned free GED classes at a center a few blocks away from our center. I saw the resilience in Ms. Rosie and it motivated me to try and get to know more community members on a more personal level so that I may begin to understand how I can leverage my resources to benefit the Barclay community. That next day, I was able to walk around at the cookout and get to know more people in the community and schedule future times to meet and speak further so that I may continue to work toward my goal of serving the Barclay community through the resources I have to offer and continue to become a part of the community myself.
Even before I started working at SquashWise I knew I had big shoes to fill. Galen, the previous intern had formed a very close bond with the kids and had continued to volunteer as a tutor and mentor for one of the kids throughout the school year. This is why one of my goals was to form significant relationships with the kids, to make myself a significant person in their summer and not just a temporary tutor or authority figure.
I did not realize, however, how hard it was going to be. We’re almost halfway through the summer camp and I’m still not particularly close with any of the kids. Some of them don’t even know my name. And to be completely honest, I was slightly discouraged about that. Was I not being the best possible intern I could be? Could I have tried harder to connect with the kids?
As we start the third week of camp, I realize that perhaps my goals were not as accurate or useful as they could have been. Perhaps I won’t become a mentor to one of the kids, or continue working with them throughout the year, although I’d very much like to. Perhaps the meaning of the job is not in building lasting relationships–given the temporary nature of the job–but in making significant interactions with the kids. It is in the smile of a kid after she wins a game of squash or in the relieved laughs when they finally understand a math problem that the true meaning of the job is for me. The joy of it is found in the little things and I’ll make sure to appreciate them until the end of the camp. I’ll just make sure that whatever I do, I’m trying my hardest to give them the best possible experience this summer. Maybe they won’t remember my name in 10 years, but if they remember this summer as an experience that enriched them as people and helped them grow, I’ll be satisfied.
At our midpoint event this week, the main speaker, Marc Steiner, said “unless the work we’re doing changes the lives of the poorest folks for the better, then it is not worth doing” and that really resonated with me.
From this, I thought about the work the network does while asking the question “is it worth doing?” based on the condition Steiner set. I think the answer is conditionally a yes. The work is 100% necessary as we push to empower church communities to take their diets and health into their own hands. It is very easy to overlook the power of gardening and its benefits. However this is only a partial solution (yet an absolutely necessary) to the larger food desert and food apartheid problems we are trying to tackle.
Before I explain that, here is a little background on my thoughts. This week, I and another coordinator of the network were featured in a graduate student’s research paper. This paper raised a few points that got me thinking. First, the network is helping churches. While there’s nothing wrong with that, not everyone goes to church. Sure a lot of these churches are integrated with their communities, but their reach is still limited. Who knows if the “poorest folks” Steiner talks about are even in these circles. While the network is growing, I am starting to think that a realistic goal the network should strive for is reaching beyond just churches.
The second idea raised is that ultimately food deserts are the problem and it is worth wondering if community garden would be able to sustain whole communities? One possible reason behind food deserts is in the conscience choice by grocery store companies on where to build these stores. While it remains unstated, it appears these choices are motivated by prejudices and discrimination towards a neighborhood. Food mirages and food apartheids describe areas where healthy food in the form of organic grocery stores and farmers’ markets is available, but unaffordable for the people in those communities. According to the Atlanta Black Star, “food apartheids affects people of all races, including poor white people, although black and brown people are affected disproportionately.” These neighborhoods are often “crippled by poor public policy, economic inequities, plagued with struggling schools,” and are under the influence of corporate divestment. As a component of this poverty trap, inaccessibility to quality food only compounds already strained environments.
It appears the only way to really solve this issue would be through policy within the city and perhaps the state as well. However, establishing and enacting policies raise their own set of challenges. Here’s where I think organizations like Black Church are doing it right. This network is developing a narrative for its members and the stronger and more impactful this narrative is, the easier it would be to pass policy to improve things for the better; at least that is how I am seeing it.
Ultimately, for a sustained change to occur, I am learning we need a few intangible things: hard work, a supportive community, patience, and a clear goal.
This week I was exhausted. I am not totally sure why because it was a 4 day week, but I think I finally realized that working with children everyday can be quite exhausting even though it is quite fun. What I really loved this week which was a big part of my goals was making a genuine connection with the children at the rec center. We did an ‘All about me’ activity and one of the section was who your friends are and most all of them wrote down ‘Miss Paulina’ as one of their friends. That really made me smile (even if they were just sucking up to me). Also this week we had more volunteers coming in so the load was definitely lightened a bit for me, but at the same time that made me realize that I need to start being more and cannot be complacent. I really started to feel that way especially after the Midpoint speaker event when a question about complacency was brought up. I do not want to be complacent, but I also am unsure of how I can go about doing more and further adding a lasting impact on the rec center. So my goals for this next week are going to be trying to communicate better with my supervisor to see if other parts of the center have a need for me and how I can go about filling that need.
Every day I enter my internship, I prepare myself to provide a healing space for survivors of sexual assault. Every day I leave the studio, I prepare myself to enter the same rape culture that supports assault and violence.
Walking to work is a different experience each day. I’m constantly analyzing my surroundings, determining which side of the street has less men, how crowded the MTA bus stop is, and if any footsteps are close behind me.
It’s not uncommon on an average day to be followed to and from work, or at least to be cat-called several times as I cross North Avenue or wait for the bus. Cars honk, men lean out their windows to shout a comment about my legs, hair, or some other judgment about my appearance. Even in Charles Village, an area I rarely experience any harassment, I have had men follow me making cat noises and fathers shout dirty words at me as they hold their children.
For the first few weeks of this summer, I was completely shocked by this behavior. This is not to imply that I haven’t experienced street harassment before (I have), but never at this constant and unrelenting rate. I found myself dreading going to work, the unease permeating into my entire life, unconsciously gnawing at my sense of safety.
This pattern of dread and fear continued until one day, something snapped inside of me, and I felt the anger and fear rise. That day I had left work in tears, frustrated with a society that allows women to be treated so poorly, to be degraded to our bodies, to be valued only for our sexuality. As I waited for the bus, holding in sobs, a woman stopped and asked if I was alright, and if there was anything she could do for me.
This surprising kindness from a complete stranger shocked me. I was reminded, for a moment, that the distrust I held for the outside world did not apply to all people. I felt inspired and empowered by this simple act of generosity, and when minutes later a passing man asked how I was doing, I responded that I was doing well. Of course, he responded “Nah, you looking fine!” This stereotypical harassment usually made me feel a little dirty inside, however this time I looked him straight in his eyes and flipped him off.
Since this experience, I’ve felt strength and courage walking through Baltimore that I have never felt before. I’ve experimented with wearing headphones as I travel throughout the city, which allow me to block out the catcalls and other obnoxious comments. In places across the city that I feel safe and comfortable, I interact with the harassers, usually to question their respect for women or just to inform them of how disgusting their behavior is.
There are still times that a certain comment or action will frighten me, or follow me throughout the rest of the day, making me feel vulnerable and exposed. But something has changed inside of me. I’m tired of allowing men to degrade me with their words, to strip me of my character and power. Maybe this is my small form of rebellion against the patriarchy, but it makes every day just a little bit easier.