2018 Week 2: Youth and Family Wellness
In the week after Pride, the office was definitely in a state of recovery. Having done so many events and programming, many of my fellow co-workers took some much needed R & R. However, as I had only joined the team in the week of all these events, and not during the weeks of planning and coordinating leading up to all of the programming, I found my energy levels more readily replenished. Nonetheless, there was certainly some very meaningful to be done that week. Aside from researching different information to generally facilitate the mission of Star Track, i.e. to support our LGBTQ youth in Baltimore, I also did some data entry on the attendees of the events we held for Pride, as well as some data analysis. With regard to research, I found different sources for legal aid regarding expungement, different community gardens that might be able to donate fresh vegetables and produce to be given away at Star Track’s back-to-school events, and to find different catering companies in Baltimore that could offer a traditional American-style brunch with bottomless mimosas. While this work could, at times, feel a bit tedious, I still recognized the overall value that such research had, and honestly it was good practice at a skill that is always very useful: looking through the quagmire that is the ream of results from Google’s search engine in order to find the handful of actually useful information.
As far as data entry goes, while the entry of hundreds of names, addresses, dates of birth, etc. is certainly monotonous, after producing the final product, I felt proud that 1. the digitization of this information in a way felt like memorializing the guests that participated in our programming, and 2. just seeing the sheer quantity of names made all of the work that everyone put into the programs feel worthwhile. However, the most interesting aspect of the data was getting to analyze it. I had the opportunity to go through and quantify how many people came from Baltimore vs. outside of it, how many people were within certain age groups, and the percentages of attendees by racial identity. As the treatment of our staff, as well as our guests, at the Kiki Ball by the staff of the Raven’s stadium was at the least uncouth and at its worst undeniably discriminatory, being able to say that over 90% of the people who showed up to the event were black identifying, along with the other statistics we were able to come up with by analyzing the data, is very helpful in making our case to the managers of the stadium regarding the clearly necessary sensitivity and diversity training for their staff. I could not be more fulfilled and proud to be able to have helped in this, and it makes all of the tedious minutia of data-entry worth it.
This week definitely began at a low but got progressively better! The first few days I helped serve lunch, which is one of the most important services that we offer but makes me the most uncomfortable. As I mentioned last week, it was frustrating how indiscriminate the food service was; how every meal was the same for every person, despite differences in tastes, dietary needs, and dietary restrictions and if someone didn’t want a part of their meal, there was nothing to compensate for that. I felt bad that I would get annoyed when clients would ask to omit a part of their meal, were too afraid to try something, or wouldn’t listen when they would take another portion and lessen the supply of food for others. So it’s a constant reminder of the systemic changes that need to happen but seem so far out of reach. Also, I like having one-on-one interactions with others so much more, because there’s a greater understanding between one another. For example, on Monday I was trying to convince people to try eggplant and understand what it is. One man was confused at what I was saying and said I must be a foreigner. And my coworker agreed with him. It wasn’t until he had walked away that I’d realized what they’d just said. It made me more self-conscious about how I presented myself and what I’d say. It was upsetting and I thought about it a lot: should I just let it go because many Baltimoreans probably don’t see many Asian people? Should I even be upset about that? Why do I need to be seen more as American than Asian? Should I have rushed to say something, or responded to my coworker? The power dynamic is strange because I didn’t know if it’s right to use my position to make others feel dumb or ignorant and in a quick situation like that. But then again, shouldn’t I be able to stand up for myself?
Later on in the week, I had more personal interactions by doing client intake and interviews. And they felt genuinely more meaningful. The FC had its food distribution event on Saturday, and I was happy to help out at that because families and individuals got fresh fruits and veggies!! We were short on volunteers so I recruited some APO people from Hopkins to help out and it felt cool to be confident enough to direct them and help lead the event.
As I approached Barclay Elementary School with peace camp flyers and applications in hand, I waved to a face I only recognized from a Facebook profile picture. It was Willah Peers, the CIIP intern for By Peaceful Means from two years ago. She was back for her third year at peace camp and volunteered to help me advertise our last few open spots to parents who were waiting for their kids to be let out of school. Most of them were very receptive to the prospect of a free three-week camp right at the community center, and a few even asked us for extra applications to give to their neighbors and relatives. Every so often, one of the students streaming out the entrance of Barclay would see Willah and shout, “Miss Willah! Miss Willah!” or “I’m SO ready for camp this year!”. As we gave them a sneak peek of the peace heroes we were going to teach and the field trips we were going to take, their genuine enthusiasm for peace camp made me all the more excited to start next week.
A couple days later, I met the rest of the staff during a trip to Inner Harbor. Most of them were current teachers in Baltimore City, one was working in the nonprofit sector, and another was a college student like me. I asked about their experiences with peace camp, how long they had known my supervisor Nawal, what drew them to come back year after year. The conversation was lighthearted and everyone so welcoming that I immediately felt myself fitting into the group. After getting to know Nawal last week and the staff this week, I am more than ready to dive headfirst into peace camp Monday knowing that there will be such supportive people surrounding me throughout the summer.
“Who’s the boss?”
“You,” the girl says.
“No, it’s you,” Mark says. “You’re the boss. I work for you.”
It’s only the end of week 2, but I’ve witnessed this exchange countless times already. The kids always break out into a huge smile while Mark tells them they’re the boss. These kids, who have handcuffed, arrested, locked up, and have gone through so much more than I have, look so empowered and giddy when they hear those words.
It seems like so many times we expect kids to act like adults when we treat them like children. It’s eerie to see my own former adolescent angst in the kids that Mark and I work with. I see myself in the boy who tells me that he’s out late because he’s rapping with his friends, and he just wants his mom to understand that. I see myself in the girl who wants her mom to keep her word when she promises something. I understand the frustration of being a kid on the cusp of adulthood who wants desperately to find your own way, when the whole world seems to be telling you “no.”
It hasn’t been hard to fall in love with these kids. One kid wheels in his disabled mother into court and another talks about how much he loves playing video games and watching movies — even when he’s sitting locked up in a detention center. When I see them, I don’t see dangerous. I see misunderstood.
To be a public defender is to advocate for people whose voices are diminished or altogether silenced. In Baltimore, it means championing the black and brown boys and girls who are born into a system that’s way bigger than themselves — poverty, racism, segregation, the whole lot. As someone who has been a student journalist for the past three years, I’m seeing more and more how I can turn my passion for advocacy via writing into advocacy via lawyer-ing. If I think of it now, the two become more and more similar. Both journalists and public defenders use words to amplify marginalized voices.
Going into senior year, I’ve told people asking about my future how I plan to follow the things I like (advocacy! words! working with people! social justice! learning!) instead of just pigeonholing myself into a specific job or career path. And saying that with confidence has been frightening, especially to Hopkins students who often seem to know exactly what they want to BE, but not necessarily what they want to DO. But I’m going to continue to chase after the things that make me feel a little fire ignite in my heart, and being at OPD definitely makes me feel that.Tags: 2018, By Peaceful Means, CIIP, CIIP 2018, Franciscan Center, Office of the Public Defender, STAR TRACK, Week 2