2018 Week 1: Government and Policy
It seems like a small thing, but it’s been tricky for me to enter into the professional world – this is my first career-centered job. I like to think of myself as a social person who’s good at networking within social spaces, but that networking has usually only extended to other college students. Perhaps, then, networking isn’t the best word, it’s more that I’m good at developing academic connections and support systems, and networking in a student government context with other student activists. I find this all super easy because there’s always something in my experience as a young, unorganized college student that other young, unorganized college students can relate to, and vice versa. I suppose relating to adults will get easier as I reluctantly become one, but for right now its tough to create those relationships. The topics of discussion in a professional workplace are different than the topics in school, the mannerisms, the back and forth – it’s a change and it’s one that’s tough to make, but it’s also one I’m glad I’m starting to make now rather than later. If I can transfer over the raw conversational skills from my college life into my professional life I think I’ll turn out fine.
The first week of my internship showed that my placement wasn’t exactly what I expected when I applied for CIIP. Mostly, I have been working in FreeState’s office database, editing tax acknowledgement templates, drafting blast emails and social media posts, and brainstorming for a restructuring of their website. Also, a lot of this week was spent gearing up for Pride, which is a very busy weekend for FreeState. When I applied for CIIP, I expected to be interacting frequently with community members and experiencing some fieldwork in the grassroots nonprofit realm. However, in my position at FreeState, I don’t have any contact with their clients. Instead, I am learning a lot about what goes into this work more behind the scenes. I’ve learned the difference between an In-Kind and Sponsorship donation, and have also gotten to know board structures and the internal workings of nonprofit board meetings. Thus, even though I might not be interacting personally with community members, I’ve learned a lot about what is necessary in order to help them on as large a scale as FreeState operates, and how these efforts are funded. Also, I’ve learned what it’s like to work in a full time 9-5 office job, which is a very new experience for me. Over the course of this internship, I hope to be able to see how the administrative things I have been working on materially help the people the organization works with, which I think will happen as I see events and initiatives through from planning to execution. I also hope that I can hear about the casework FreeState does from my colleagues, and through that learn more about legal advocacy, which is a career path I might want to follow. Overall, although my internship isn’t what I expected, I know I’m learning a lot and I look forward to the rest of the summer.
On Tuesday this past week, my supervisor greeted me in the morning by asking if I wanted to spend the day watching principal interviews. I, still in the works of making a great first impression, eagerly agreed, which is how I found myself at Claremont Middle High School, a combined middle/high school for students with disabilities. In the classroom where interviews were being held, I was introduced to the panel of interviewers as the first candidate came in – she was professionally dressed, spoke eloquently about all sorts of policies and policy-making teams she’d been on, answered each question with minimal pause, and, overall, seemed like the perfect candidate. Once she left, I turned to the rest of the panel expecting to hear how much they liked her and how knowledgeable she seemed – instead, I was shocked as the group collectively let out an onslaught of frustration over how “horrifying” her interview was.
“She’s all talk,” and “Did you even understand anything besides all that jargon?” were common phrases I heard. Before I had time to process, the next candidate came in. Immediately I could tell the difference. This woman spoke with, yes, much less eloquence and fancy terms than the first lady did, but she told so many personal anecdotes and spoke with such passion about working with disabled children that I couldn’t help but feel like she really, genuinely knew what she was doing and that she would do it well.
I think a lot of times, especially as Hopkins students, we think that knowing a lot of “stuff” – facts, statistics, random numbers – is the same thing as being the best at something. But if any of us were to even just step foot into Baltimore (such as we’ve been doing) for a single day, we realize there are so many other facets to being good at something that are completely intangible and can only be acquired through having passion and compassion for the work you do. I struggled a lot this week with constantly wondering whether the repetitive nature of administrative programming is worth it. Even though I can’t quite answer that question yet, seeing all of our behind-the-scenes office work trickle down so that an amazing school could meet an amazing leader and maybe do some amazing work together – that was definitely worth something.
I spent my first working at ERICA doing the type of things you would expect from a first day at a new office. My supervisor gave me a tour, showed me around the office and explained how things were organized. I got set up on the computer and was shown how to access all the files I needed. We spent a while trying to figure out how to allow my computer to print, and I met a lot of people who work in the church in which we have our office. I got the rundown on using the communal kitchen, and then get started on some organizational spreadsheet work, pulling together the contact information of volunteers from multiple different files and consolidating them into one place.
Ever since the spring when I found out I had gotten accepted into CIIP, I had been looking forward to working at a nonprofit in Baltimore. I was placed into an organization doing work that I am incredibly passionate about, and at orientation I spent a week listening to speakers and panelists talk about the amazing work they’re doing in the city. I was so excited to start working and learning and helping, but what I was doing in those first few hours on my first day wasn’t particularly exciting, and by 3:00 I started to get hit with some first day restlessness.
Later in the afternoon a couple from a West African country walked into our office. They had spoken on the phone to my supervisor before, but today they had showed up unexpectedly, looking for help with their asylum application. My supervisor sprung into action, communicating with the couple in French, going over documents, and calling law offices. I wasn’t involved in the situation at all, and I don’t speak French so I had no idea what they were talking about, but everything suddenly became very real, and it adjusted my perspective profoundly. It seems obvious to me now that the clerical, administrative, and fundraising work of nonprofits is all crucial and ensures that the organization can continue to help people, but this was hard for me to see and wrap my head around at the beginning of my first day. A lot of nonprofit work isn’t particularly sexy or exciting, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary or important.
Due to being a year from full-time employment and sort of receiving a random, off-the-cuff job offer this week, I have been thinking SO much about my career trajectory. This is something that I could write about for a very long-time, so I will try to keep it framed in the context of the week and the upstream vs. downstream impact dilemma.
The simplest way to visualize the split I am feeling is by looking at my Tuesday evening. I got off work (a day spent almost entirely on my computer creating a map) and went to the graduation of my students from YO! Baltimore last summer. I saw people I haven’t seen in months who I spent day after day with last summer while they worked toward their goals of attaining their GEDs. Working there was so interpersonal—every staff member is there to help the students succeed, and nothing makes people happier than watching someone get their GED. It is very fulfilling to work in something like education, especially in a smaller setting like YO! (as opposed to a large school), because it is so relationship-based.
This summer, in contrast, I have spent days entirely on my computer. I’m not saying this is bad—I really enjoy where I’m working right now! It is just very different. What I am working on is something very long-term to provide evidence as to why policy (Complete Streets) is needed in the area of transportation in Baltimore. Certainly, it could be very impactful for a huge amount of people. Complete Streets would provide so much to neighborhoods in Baltimore—safety, cleaner air, access to education, food, and job opportunities. If it comes to fruition, knowing that I worked on it will be extremely gratifying. However, even though last summer I helped only a very small number of people take steps toward their GED, it was something that was extremely direct, and the results ended up right in front of me. People thanked me for helping them with algebra, but people don’t usually think about all of the people behind the scenes making safer and more equitable roads in their neighborhoods. I’m hoping this summer will teach me a lot about being a little more off the ground in social justice work.
Ode to the Underappreciated
I had never realized how often Hopkins students are praised. As a consequence of having an elite and renown Hopkins education, we are praised, simply for being a part of this community. We are constantly validated by this institution, by a society that praises prestige, by a workforce that prioritizes elitist institutions. We are rewarded, just due to our attendance at this school, often much more than for our individual performance, impact, or actions. I don’t say this to discredit Hopkins students’ hard work, or the times when this institution is unforgiving, or the amazing things we can accomplish just by being ourselves, and not merely due to our affiliation with this school. But if there is anything I learned this week, it is that for every minute of effort, of stress, or hard work, and of determination that I have put into something, the world has rewarded me with so much more than it has a lot of my incredible co-workers in the non-profit and public sectors. The people I work with? They work their butts off (for lack of a better term.) They work far beyond what they are compensated for, and care so much when a lot of the progress can seem minimal. I have already met some of the most inspiring people in my first week here, people who refuse to let themselves be phased or defeated by the seemingly infinite amount of issues they may find in their community. I am humbled, and I am stunned, by how much of this work goes unrecognized and unappreciated. I hope I can take every moment I can to be as helpful as I can be at this job, but also as grateful and appreciative as I can be towards my co-workers who have already inspired me so much. Don’t take appreciation and gratitude for granted, make those around you feel as seen and celebrated as possible.Tags: 2018, Baltimore City Public Schools, CIIP, CIIP 2018, City Councilperson Ryan Dorsey, City Councilperson Zeke Cohen, Episcopal Refugee and Immigrant Center Alliance, Freestate Justice, Week 1, Youthworks