2018 Featured Blog Posts
Week 6: “A Reflective Encounter”
It is a hot Wednesday morning and I am standing on the corner of North Ave and Harford Rd waiting for people to walk by and ask about the giant kiosk next the bus shelter. My mind wasn’t fully present as I was still reeling from a poor experience with MTA buses that morning, but this is my job and I am supposed to like the MTA.
It was a slow morning – people were just not interested in what we had to say. I was a bit frustrated because I woke up early to be here and ready to “engage with the community” but the community wasn’t ready to engage with me or the MTA. As I stared into the sun thinking these thoughts, a man in a wheelchair grabs my attention by criticizing the portion of the project about bike lanes. I immediately jump into my basic spiel about North Avenue Rising, but this man was not interested at all; he cared about the bike lanes and why he wasn’t consulted before this plan was made. I told him that this right here is the “community engagement” piece of the project development and it is his voice that can be heard right now. Without hesitation, he responds with “now do you really think my voice now is going to make a difference? Don’t you see the plan has already been laid out and this is just a formality?” I am so startled by how blunt his response was, I choked on some ums and ahs. I said somethingeac along the lines of “yeah, I really think your voice will be heard or else we wouldn’t be so open about the upcoming plans.” I didn’t think that was enough so I began telling him a bit about myself and how I was learning how to interact with the community with stuff like this and how I thought it was important to be an “active community member.” As soon as I said those three words, he asked me if I was an active community member, and if so, how. “Of course, I know what’s going around me” I respond. “No, I mean have you tried to get your voice to be heard before? Are you a part of any community associations? Have you actively fought on or advocated for an issue before?” It is silent for a minute and I despondently respond “No, not really.”
“Then how can you tell me my voice will be heard if you don’t understand or haven’t tried to understand how difficult it is”
With that, my privilege smacked me in the face as I realized I have never really fought for anything. When it comes to publicly voicing my opinion on issues, I am reserved so that I don’t offend anyone. I can discuss issues with others in a private setting, but you’ll never catch me making a Facebook post or protesting. I can afford to do that because my daily life is not affected by these issues- Q. E. D., privilege.
To be an active community member, I must not just know about issues, but I must get involved with the issues- like really get involved. Talk to people, ask questions, show up to meetings, do the research, form an opinion give my time, and ultimately, fight when called upon. What do you think it means to be an active community member? Find me and let’s chat. Also, I can tell you about the rest of my encounter with the person from my story.
Every day I take the time to write in a joint gratitude journal. My friends and I have had the google doc running for years now, and it’s always so rewarding to take a moment every evening to write down what you are thankful for. A lot of my gratitude in the last few weeks has revolved around my spectacular job and my internship with CIIP so I thought for this blog post I would include the things I was thankful for regarding my job this week. (Also I have six Youthworkers but I will refrain from using their names.)
– Having an amazing conversation with one of my YouthWorkers as we were driving to a worksite. Getting to know about his dreams, his life in Baltimore, his politics and his goals.
– Getting to know the two Youthworkers I had had a hard time connecting with. Watching comedy videos, cracking jokes, watching them open up to me.
– One of my YouthWorkers staying past her work time just to chat. Feeling so grateful that she chose to seek advice and council from me.
– One of my YouthWorkers asking me to edit her novel! She is writing a novel! She is spectacular.
– The way in which my entire team works together so well and has gotten to know each other. So many different backgrounds and experiences all united. I am beyond lucky.
– Listening to podcasts and feeling sort of satisfied by the paperwork (debit card sorting for payment) I had to do from literally 8 am to 4 pm.
– Getting to know my co-workers! They are actual adults (wild) but it has been so great talking to all of them, hearing about their families and the hopes they have for this city
– Joking around with my co-workers in the debit card room. Low-key complaining about the monotony of sorting but high-key having a good time
– My boss, who is always incredibly supportive. I hope to be as versatile and composed as him some day.
– Surprise visit from Eli and Kaetlyn! When they asked my YouthWorkers about me, their responses almost make me cry. These folks make me grow so much everyday. They test my patience for sure, but they also teach me more than I could have ever hoped.
– The reliability of a good lunch break. Taking time to reflect and reconnect.
Friday afternoon I waved goodbye to my campers for the last time, but it didn’t feel like it. I don’t think the kids noticed it was the end either since everyone was so exhausted from our field trip to the beach. It’s a strange feeling, one I haven’t fully processed yet, probably because I will be meeting fifty new campers come Monday. Nonetheless, reflecting back on the first session of peace camp as I type out this blog post, I am overwhelmed with gratitude and happiness towards the children I was able to work with these past three weeks. I wish I could write thank you notes to the campers who made an especial impact on me, but I suppose dedicating a blog post to them will have to do for now…
To Wyatt: Thank you for being one of the kindest, calmest children I’ve ever met. You continually astound me with your level-headedness when the campers around you are anything but. I hope that everyone you meet will recognize that your immense maturity is a measure of the humility and care you always radiate.
To Zane and Alexander: Thank you for your constant enthusiasm and curiosity towards learning. You probably did not realize how much I was beaming inside whenever you asked if we would have coding class. I know that this genuine love for learning will open doors for you both, and I am excited to see how far you kids will go in the future.
To Michael: Thank you for confiding in me the little things that make you happy and the bigger things that make you fear. You are such a unique child who has not let the negative things in your life hinder you from enjoying childhood just the same. I hope that as you grow you can transform your sensitivity towards difficult topics into a desire to help those who are also struggling.
All these children and more have really opened my eyes about the kind of work I want to pursue, and while I still have much to consider about my future, each of them has reminded me that investing in kids is perhaps the greatest service I can do with my time.
(Names have been changed to preserve privacy.)
Fridays are my favorite day – and not just because they signify the beginning of the weekend. We use Fridays to take a break from the client media work that our young people do and instead, focus on addressing bigger topics, whether it’s personal or professional development.
This Friday, we chose to address discrimination in response to some recent events. Two of our students asked to lead an exercise on discrimination by setting up students into three separate lines, one behind the other. We gave each student a crumpled old piece of paper and assigned them all the same task: shoot the makeshift ball into the wastebasket. I watched as the group of students lined up in the front flaunted the ease of this task; they exaggerated the flick of their wrist and boasted at how it was a breeze. The line behind them weaved their heads in and out as they tried to see over the front row for better aim. And the third line – the one all the way in the back – hollered at how impossible the task was, while some students tried bobbing their heads or standing on their tippy toes to even see where they were aiming. The students then rotated between each row.
When the exercise was over, we had a discussion: how did it feel, what did you think? We talked about how it was evidently harder in the back and how it demonstrated how unfair life can be when you identify as a certain sexuality, gender, or race…especially when your identity falls into many of the marginalized categories. However, one of my favorite things that a student said has stuck with me: she mentioned how when she stood in the front row, she forgot about the people struggling behind her. It made her realize how people can be so caught up in their own lives, that they forget to turn back and look at the rest of the world. She continued to say she wished more of us would turn back to help others, instead of turning our backs on them. But after our whole discussion, I’m hopeful that our young people are that change we need.
“Your smiling face on that newsletter is so important!”
Reverend Brown had sent out our weekly newsletter earlier that Friday morning when I hopped into his pickup truck on the way to Richmond. On it was a headshot of myself, with yellow text edited onto it: “Welcome Clarissa!”
“You know why?” He continued. “It shows that you don’t have to be black to fight for Black liberation. If Clarissa can do it, then so can I!”
I nodded, understanding this in a frame of solidarity. I am a person of color, and I recognize that that term comes loaded with many nuances that should be dissected. The way oppression has shaped our respective communities, lives, families, and people differs based on the many identities that we hold.
The theme continued this Monday, when we convened for the first BCFSN core team meeting that we’ve had in a while. Eric Jackson is one of the members, and from what I witnessed a close friend of Rev. Brown’s. They talked for hours after our meeting was over, and sitting in the large multipurpose room were me and Eric’s intern, Cynthia, with whom I happened to have an immense amount in common in regards to our background despite having never met her – she too, was Chinese, grew up in Indiana, and was a rising senior studying Public Health at Hopkins.
Eric reminded me that I’ll never be the face of the movement.
“We are unapologetically black-led. And other people can fight for our movement too,” he affirmed, in a similarly unapologetic manner that he voiced.
We continued the conversation – we talked about the Asian-American allies that aided in the Black Liberation movement. Grace Lee Boggs. Yuri Kochiyama. Many others that have been unnamed by media but stood by the sides of black people fighting for their rights.
Their conversation spiraled into many different topics, but the one that stuck with me most was one of legacy – the fact that Rev. Brown is actually Rev. Heber Brown, III. The third of a line of Black Baptist preachers in his family, the third Heber. The fourth Heber is his son.
I thought about what it means to have a legacy, especially in this country. My family immigrated here when my parents were both young adults, finding more educational opportunity here than they did in Taiwan, and still feeling strongly rooted in their familial lies here. When people immigrate to a new country, though, they leave that behind. My family doesn’t have a generational legacy in the US, because, well, I’m the first generation that will have lived my entire life here.
So, I asked myself, what legacy will I build?
Before I can even establish that, though, I also want to learn how better to recognize what the story of my ancestors, elders, and family is. In moving here, I feel disconnected from my family. I am feeling a more urgent need to understand these histories so that I can find my stake in the work that I’m doing. I can fight for Black liberation and stand for that, yes, and I will continue to do that – but where do my people fit in? What does it mean for me to access collective liberation?
I’m writing this blog post from a retreat center in Stony Point, NY, distant from my home in Baltimore but closely tied to the work of the BCFSN. As I work in community with the folks from Real Food Challenge thinking through our strategy, structure, and principles of our growing decentralized movement, we are grappling with the stories that bring us here, how food corporations have deeply harmed us, and what it looks like for people to assert a vision of democratic power over corporate-held power.
Rev. Brown has reminded me of why Black liberation is necessary a few times during our daily work. He simply states, “When black people win, all people win. Especially in this country.”
I might expand that sentiment to something even further – when the people who are on the margins of the margins win in this country, when their needs are prioritized and recognized, when we rise up and make space for voices to speak out for themselves and truly listen, then everyone benefits.
“That’s why you got poop on your shirt!” yelled one of the kids, and immediately all the other kids started dying with laughter. I looked down on my sleeve to see a piece of dried up bird poop, baking in the sun right on my shirt, and at that moment I knew I had lost the roast session with the neighborhood kids.
On Thursday, I was helping my supervisor’s partner with a field day event he planned for the kids in the neighborhood, to celebrate the end of the school year. He told me about it on Tuesday, and we got it going just two days later. And it was awesome. We had planned some fun activities like tug-a-war, kickball, and even a water balloon fight, which the kids loved. We had hamburgers and hotdogs from the grill, and a brought in a speaker to top off the occasion with good music. It amazed me seeing how relaxed and effortless the planning process seemed, for how smooth and fun the event was. The one takeaway that I definitely got from this experience is that if you have music, food, and (most importantly) people all in one place, you can have a successful event.
While I was helping set stuff up, I also found myself just enjoying the day and messing around with the kids. And yes, I even starting (jokingly) making fun of them. But being honest, they came at me with more heat than I had expected (One kid made fun of my hairline). But I was ok with it, because they seemed to be happy being around and playing with me, and so was I. We were all having a good time, which is what we planned the event for. To me, it was the perfect example of community organizing done right.
I remember sitting in on a Barclay community meeting, and one community member saying that “the kids run this neighborhood.” I don’t know why, but that was such a powerful statement to me. The kids of today literally have the power to change what the future looks like for the neighborhood, community, and the entire world in general. I’ve tried to be more conscious of this whenever I interact with kids, and I think other people should too. No matter what happens, at some point you will become old and there will be a generation below you running the show. So I truly believe that we should nurture, love, and care for our kids endlessly, no matter what.
The night before a new job or internship, it is inevitable for anyone to feel uneased at the ambiguity of their first-day-at-work experience. In the spirit of an excessively cautious intern, I overcompensated the amount of time it would take to get from campus to Impact Hub’s office located in Station North, allotting 45 minutes for a <10-minute bus-ride (with traffic). Fortunately, I was met with a friendly face upon entering Impact Hub. I guessed that she immediately sensed my awe at the office’s colorful murals and artwork adorning its walls, which I later saw myself was typical reaction of newbies to their space.
As I walked in, Taffy immediately initiated a conversation that would later span ruminations on Impact Hub’s purpose to our experiences being a part of immigrant families. I also asked Taffy what her favorite thing was about Impact Hub, to which she responded that “no power hierarchy existed amongst the space’s community.” As she said this, I thought back to the amount of times I deeply investigated Impact Hub’s “About Us” page on their website to prepare for my placement. In the hypothetical situation someone would ask about Impact Hub’s structure, I could quickly respond “Michelle is our Executive Director” before continuing to list everyone else’s positions. In a traditional workplace setting, I always pictured that it would have rigid bureaucratic structures and a strong emphasis on following rules — But Impact Hub is anything but traditional.
I kept mentally revisiting Taffy’s comment as I met more of its community throughout the week. Everyone greeted me in the same kind way Taffy did on my first day. I saw how my supervisors, Michelle and Pres, were constantly in and out of meetings, but would always make time to catch up with others as they refilled coffee in the kitchen. In the two meetings I was fortunate to sit in, I observed stakeholders across both the public and private sectors snowball each other’s ideas to refine a future incubator program, with frequent laughs in between.
Overall, witnessing all this made me feel a little better about being an energetic, but frankly clueless intern on social entrepreneurship, joining amidst huge transitions for Impact Hub. Sometimes I fell into an immediate worry that I would not be a contributing asset to these meetings. Nonetheless, it empowered when I changed my mindset and realized that maybe my “fresh set of eyes” could actually prove to be very helpful, especially as Impact Hub strengthens and introduces new programming this summer.
Orientation week has put my racial and ethnic identities at the forefront of my thoughts. The many workshops – especially those facilitated by Calvin Haney and the Theater Action Group – helped me realize that I think about and question these aspects of my identity the most. This week, I’ve been seriously questioning the prospect of living in Baltimore after graduation and how that relates to my identity as a U.S. citizen and biracial Chinese American who has lived in Asia for most of my life. I’ve never really felt connected to or believed in my ability to have long-lasting impact in the local/residential communities I’ve lived in as I’ve always felt like an outsider. I’m Asian, but I felt like an outsider in Asia since I hold American nationality and look more white – locals would look shocked when I spoke Chinese. In the U.S., I feel like an outsider since I hadn’t lived or attended school here before college. I’ve never felt rooted in one place, and while I love that freedom, I’ve grown a deep-seated fear of becoming ingrained in a place and never leaving, a fear of never venturing out to live in the variety of places I want to when I’m older. I’ve also been questioning my place to make change in Baltimore in relation to my race and international background. It seems that a lot of disparity here is between whites and blacks, so I’ve been grappling with how being a white/Asian person who didn’t grow up in the U.S. places me in this social justice realm…
While my history of moving around may have fixed in me a fear of settling down, another part of me is realizing that caring about people and working to improve the community I’m in at the time doesn’t mean I have to live in that place forever. I talked to a friend about the questioning I was undergoing, and he made a good point: you will always be an outsider if you go into a community viewing yourself that way. Just because you’re new or don’t look like the people in that community doesn’t mean you can’t help and build meaningful relationships. This brought to mind Kim Trueheart’s words: that simply being a citizen or resident of the community grants individuals the power to make change for the better. The passion to help others is all that’s needed to start becoming involved. I heard many interesting quotes and phrases during orientation that I identified with or am still pondering. I love quotes because they can convey so much in a few words and are the epitome of a paradigm shift. So from now on I’m going to include quotes from each week’s experiences in my blog posts! Here’s this week’s list: (Unfortunately I don’t remember who said many of the quotes…I’ll be better at noting that)
- Baltimore: a “city of contradictions”
- That monster education”
- “Listen deeper than you serve.”
- “The job of education is to create systems that honor the genius in everyone.” – Reverend Brown
- “Subversive service is that which perpetuates, that which makes the prison cell a little bit more comfortable.” – Reverend Brown
- “You’re privileged if you don’t have to think about it.”
- “Revolution has always been on the backs of young folks.” – Nick Mosby