2017 Week One: Youth & Family Wellness
When I was deciding what I wanted to do this summer, I knew that I wanted to be a part of the Community Impact Internships Program again but I wanted something very different than my work from last summer. After my first week working with Strong City Baltimore in the Barclay neighborhood, I think I have found exactly what I was looking for even though I wasn’t too sure what I was in search of.
This first week working in the neighborhood has already taught me a lot about myself, Strong City Baltimore, and the community members of the Barclay neighborhood. The person I have learned the most from in this first week is Ms. Lottie, the community builder in Barclay who will also be supervising me this summer. She has been working in the community for the past four years and plans on retiring at the end of this summer—something everyone is very sad about. Ms. Lottie gives 100% to everything she is involved in, whether she is speaking on the phone to community members, helping water the garden plots in the alley behind the center, sitting in a meeting, or helping a child change their bike tire. Although the CIIP has partnered with Ms. Lottie for the past couple of years, my position will be unlike any of the past interns as I will be learning everything about being a community builder/organizer as Ms. Lottie will be preparing her replacement to work on his own by the end of August.
I have spent my first week with intense training from Strong City Baltimore on how to work with communities in a meaningful manner in order to allow me to support community members in using their assets and power to create change in their community. I have read articles and a book about how the history of Baltimore has purposefully discriminated against (and continues to do so) African Americans all over the city and the community members of Barclay. I have researched the different assets Strong City Baltimore brings to the table for the communities it serves whether they are serving as a social, economic, or environmental resource. However, the most meaningful moments of my week stem from calling people in the neighborhood to introduce myself and hearing from them about the excitement they have for me to be able to work with such an incredible woman—referring to Ms. Lottie.
One of my main goals for the first day of my internship was not to take an Uber there. I was determined to navigate through the city using only my limited knowledge of the MTA bus routes and the Transit app, which I had downloaded the day before. The good news is that, on the first day, I could get to my destination just in time for my internship without needing to call an Uber. The bad news is, that on the third day, I accidentally took the wrong bus, which left me on the other side of town, with just enough time to call an Uber in order to get to work.
However, not everything was lost on that rather frustrating morning, when I was starting to lose confidence in my ability to use public transportation. My Uber driver greeted me with a big smiled on his face and declared, confidently, that today was going to be a great day if I thought it could be. He proceeded to tell me in great detail how he got up every morning with the determination to make $600 each day, and wouldn’t return home until he’d manage it. He also told me about his big house, 5 cars, and boat, all of which he’d acquired through months of hard work and determination. “I don’t understand broke people. Ain’t nobody should be broke,” he said, “If someone wants to get a better life they can. You can do anything you set your mind to if you work hard towards achieving your goals.”
I was staggered at the conflicting veracity of the statement. On the one hand, and to a certain extent, I can work hard to achieve my dreams, and even if I don’t quite reach them, I can get very close. I realize I’ve have a myriad of economic and educational privileges that have allowed me to get an extremely good education and I haven’t faced any significant obstacles in my life that have prevented me from studying. At the same time, however, each day I am more and more aware of those people who don’t count with the same privileges as I do, and who have endured extremely difficult obstacles in attempting to receive proper education in order to forge a better life for themselves. And still, many of them thrive in the face of adversity, finding courage in the unknown and inspiration in their challenges, like the many kids I met during my first week working at SquashWise. While my Uber driver wasn’t quite aware of the multiple systemic obstacles that many people face day to day which makes it extremely hard, if not impossible to succeed in a society that seems to be structured against them, he did remind me of all of the resources I have and how I can use them along with my determination not only to forge a successful life for myself, but to help others who haven’t had the opportunities that I have.
The next day, I was extra careful in taking the correct bus and made it to work perfectly in time. I felt unstoppable.
I am spending this summer working for the Black Church Food Security Network (literally a mouthful to say every time). This organization is a network of churches working to address food insecurity issues in Baltimore. This is done by building gardens at churches in the city.
My first week with the BCFSN (slightly better) was completely unexpected. Setting the tone on the first day, Rev. Brown, my supervisor, had me accompany a fellow church member on an in-the-field run, buying, cutting, and transporting lumber for a church in the network. We only had a few hours to accomplish all this so it was go, go, go from the time I arrived.
Each day from then on had a completely different mission at a completely different neighborhood in Baltimore. I spent two days at two churches in far west Baltimore listening and learning from pastors and understanding their take on food insecurity issues plaguing the city. This not only furthered topics from orientation, it also furthered my understanding of why this network is necessary. These pastors brought an unexpected charisma and care to these issues.
Besides actually working, I spent the majority of my trying to figure out where I’ll be going next and what I could do to prepare. Given that the unpredictability of this week was primarily due to it being the first week, I am glad to be commuting with my car to all these various locations (I couldn’t imagine the challenge of going to a new place literally everyday on public transportation and making it there on time). In addition to making it on time, I get an opportunity to really see the city as I drive from east to west- kind of perpendicular to the “white L” and across the “black butterfly”.
More on the racial divisions in the city, something I noticed was how even the modes of transportation is set up to benefit certain groups of people. When you look at a map of the city (one with roads), you see that for people living outside the “white L”, commuting from point A to point B means something completely different from someone who lives inside it. First, within the “white L” is the circulator which runs for free (conveniently only north and south bound), whereas outside, citizens have to use the MTA system which costs money. More relevant to me (someone with a car), I found it easier to commute in and out of the “white L” because of I-83 which conveniently runs through the middle of the city (north and south bound). When trying to commute from east to west, the only reasonable way to do so is via the beltway I-695. This only leads me to imagine how difficult it could be for someone living in the city without a car can easily commute all around the city efficiently and in a timely manner. While I am no means an expect on transportation in the city, I just found that interesting.
Overall, I did not spend this week doing as much work for the network, however the experiences I had with the other pastors and just sort of absorbing all I can about my surroundings, I feel even more prepared to really get into work next week. Rev. Brown will be away for the next week and a half, so we have lined up plenty of tasks and mini-goals to accomplish while he is gone. I will be making my way to every church in the network on behalf of the network with a few things to do. This week served to whet my appetite and I am beyond excited to see the good work we can do.
Working at the Ruth M. Kirk Recreation and Learning Center this week has been an absolutely wonderful experience. The people who work there are so truly genuine about the work that they are doing and are always continuing to go the extra mile to make the rec center a true home and space of learning for the community members. For me, only being on week 1, it already feels like a home to me just by how welcomed I have felt by Squeaky and Mr. Carlos and all of the community members that I have been lucky enough to meet before camp has started. Also, the children that I have met have been so lovely and always ask to include me in games which I have been happy to be a part of. What I’ve found most striking is how genuine and appreciative everyone that I have met is. I’ve felt that they actually want to get to know me and share their life experiences with me, which is not something you find everyday on the Hopkins campus where people tend to be more closed off. The openness of the people I have met has made it so easy for me to already feel like home at the rec center and now I’m excited to go to work everyday, which is something I was not necessarily expecting before getting started. Of course it is only week 1, and I am sure I will eventually get tired, but I have really been inspired to give as much energy as I can to my internship placement this summer. From being able to talk to Squeaky more and hear how passionate he is about getting the kids at the rec center ready for school in the Fall, and bringing them up to grade level in different areas, I’ve really been able to see the issue at hand where many teachers are just passing students through who are not prepared for the next grade level and how this causes a continual lack of achievement in school. There is such a drive from the people I have met to combat this issue and set the standard of education higher in schools in the neighborhood that I am incredibly excited to be a part of it.
Red. Red is the color of just about everything in the Monument Quilt studio. The color of the logo, banners hanging from the walls, lavender stress bags, and of course, the quilts. There are hundreds of quilts surrounding the studio, overflowing from boxes, and stacked on tables. Each of these quilts tells a story of someone’s journey, their pain, and their survival.
FORCE and the Monument Quilt work to provide a public healing space for survivors of sexual and domestic violence, and challenge the dominant culture of rape in our society. Survivors, their loved ones, and supporters submit quilt squares that detail their narrative of heartbreak, humiliation, suffering, or healing. So often in our society, survivors are shamed into silence, their stories hidden and banished to private settings. Monument Quilt provides a space where survivors can share their emotions, free from judgment and persecution.
It can be easy to mentally remove myself from whatever task I’m handling on a given day, however there are moments when the gravity of my work strikes me, stunning me into silence or tears. It can happen quite suddenly, when I’m archiving quilt squares or processing workshops surveys, and I’m unexpectedly aware that I am holding the physical representation of someone’s grief and struggle in my hands. Self-care is a significant aspect of FORCE’s message, and is emphasized within the Monument Quilt studio. As an intern, I am encouraged to take time to process my emotions and the material that I am interacting with, and use whatever means I need to practice self-care. For me, this means listening to music as I catalog submissions, journaling when I feel overwhelmed or scared, and occasionally leaving the studio to grab coffee from Red Emma’s around the corner.
Sometimes at the end of my work day, I feel disillusioned with world. I am angry and distrustful. However, I have found it helpful to remember that less than a decade ago, there was barely any recognition of rape culture or the importance of consent. Today, the conversation about sexual assault has significantly grown and expanded across the world. I am privileged to have a role in the movement to create a new culture, one where survivors are publicly supported and consent is imperative. Taking a step back to admire the progress that we as a society have made gives me hope and the drive keep working towards a brighter future.
Tags: 2017, Baltimore Squashwise, Barclay, Black Church Food Security Network, CIIP, CIIP 2017, FORCE, Monument Quilt, Orita's Cross Freedom School, Ruth M. Kirk Rec Center, Strong City Baltimore, Week One