2018 Week 3: Nonprofit Management
As a now relatively-seasoned rider of the MTA, I’ve settled into a routine on my bus rides. I pop in my headphones, start up an NPR podcast like the slightly basic liberal I am, and spend my (on average) 23 minutes in a nice contemplative solitude. This week, though, that routine got a nice jolt.
Now as a disclaimer, during my first week at Baltimore Corps I met a young man on the bus who engaged in some (what I would call) benevolent sexual harassment. He repeatedly asked me for my number, insisted he wanted to take me to lunch, promised (threatened?) he’d ride the same bus everyday so he could see me again, and so on. So the bar had been set pretty low for my route 22 interactions.
On Tuesday this week, though, I met Otto. He sat down next to me on my ride home, and then after a few minutes saw my JHU lanyard and asked me if I was a Hopkins student. I said yes, and we started chatting. He told me about his son (also named Otto), about his job at the Dietz & Watson factory (he was not thrilled to hear I was a vegan), and about his favorite spots in Baltimore (he used to frequent PJ’s). I talked about adjusting to the humidity of a Baltimore summer, which prompted me to explain that I was from Chicago, at which point he goes “I’ve never been to Chicago”– I of course interjected to say he should visit because it’s great– “but I don’t see why I would need to go; Baltimore’s basically mini-Chicago, all these killings we’ve got going on.” Now as anyone who’s talked to me can tell you, I’m very proud of my Midwest roots, and (understandably, I would say) take issue with the conception that Chicago’s just a cesspool of violence. But Otto’s comment, so casually tossed out, forced me to think about the fact that even while the common narratives that exist around a certain place or community (because of the media, or the president’s Twitter, or whatever else) are so incredibly pervasive regardless of their degree of truth, in some ways their truth seems even stronger for actual community members. That seems contradictory, I know, but what I’m trying to grapple with is the sometimes-murky distinction between the way outsiders perceive a community, the way community members perceive that same environment, and the way I, as a privileged white woman, experience or understand the space. So for Otto, his experience in Baltimore has absolutely been marked by the killings that he understands to be mirroring those in Chicago. For me, though, based on what I see and live in Charles Village or Hampden or Station North or Mt. Vernon in Baltimore, or in Wrigleyville or Lakeview or Lincoln Park in Chicago, these normalized understandings of violence can be quite disconnected from my reality.
Around Hopkins, or at least within certain sectors of the Hopkins population, we’re very conscious of our “bubble,” with the goal always being (usually explicitly) to “escape the bubble.” But what I’ve started to realize is that maybe to a certain extent I’m never going to actually be able to break the bubble. Because in going to, or even moving to, a community with fewer resources or more systemic barriers than the one in which I grew up, I can never escape the inevitable fact of my own privilege. And that privilege, in essence, will always keep my bubble intact. Because no matter what, I know that I have a way out– I can float away whenever I want.
I’ve definitely started drifting (no pun intended) from the topic at hand, and this blog is getting a little lengthy, so I’ll just say that I think recognizing my place within the activist community, as well as within a nonprofit professional space, really comes down to being genuine. It’s not about setting out with the seemingly unattainable expectation of popping the bubble, which is also– if we’re being honest– a slightly selfish focus. Instead, maybe it’s about figuring out how to maneuver myself with my bubble in a way that’s not disruptive or imposing, but instead hopefully offers other people a way to share in my nice soapy sphere.
P.S. I saw Otto again the next day and not only did he sit with me again, but he remembered my name! We’re tight now
The acceptance rate to Johns Hopkins University was less than 10 percent when I discovered I was admitted as a rising junior last May. This week, both intentional and unintentional motivations prompted me to deeply reflect on my academic journey so far, and the paradox that accompanies the privilege of attending such a globally-renowned institution. It began with me sitting in on Conversations with Mayor Pugh and Aaron Henkin of Out of the Blocks, and ended with conversations on the state of Baltimore’s public education system.
Mayor Pugh and Aaron Henkin’s event covered the importance of listening and the recently implemented free community college program in Baltimore City. Mayor Pugh’s comments surrounding the latter topic especially resonated with me because community college was an overwhelmingly formative part of both my personal growth, and my unconventional route as a transfer student joining Hopkins last fall. By the time my fifth year of living in the U.S. comes about next October, I will have graduated three times from the American educational system — once from high school, another from community college, and a third time from Hopkins next Spring.
“How many times do you wanna graduate?” is the running joke my cousins poke at me whenever we reunite. Most of my high school education was completed in Birmingham, United Kingdom, where I spent 13 years of my life. I can honestly not recall a time where I had to worry about how to get to school or having drinkable water. My secondary school was a short minute walk through a scenic park away, and the physical building was constantly undergoing renovations.
This year, I will be a rising senior, and a frankly clueless one with regards to my post-graduation plans. Yet I am trying not to worry too much because 1.) I am firm believer in “the right opportunity will present itself” and 2.) I am extremely privileged to have an amazing support system consisting of family, friends, and mentors. Last year, I often postponed my Common App submission to Hopkins due to the combination of its low acceptance rate and welding and/or nursing being the typical path after community college in North Carolina. However, the mentors I gained always selflessly vouched for me, and reminded me that unconventional did not necessarily translate to impossible.
Hearing that educators in Baltimore’s public-school system often discourage students setting foot on the Hopkins’ campus because its “impossible” to get accepted has sat heavy on my mind these past few days. I thought a lot about why we decide to immediately blame instead of solve, and the way it slows down systemic change. Most importantly, this week made me think a lot about how I can better leverage my positions as a Hopkins student and an intern at Impact Hub to be a better advocate for students in Baltimore; the city I am growing to love more with each passing day.
Week 3: “Why not Baltimore?”
Earlier this week, a fellow CIIPer asked me if I have considered living in Baltimore after college. Now this is something I have been thinking about for the past few weeks. Without thinking too much, I responded: “why not Baltimore?” Here me out. Here I am, a part of CIIP for the second year in a row and I am still finding myself in awe with how much I don’t know about this city. Since my first year in CIIP, my inquisitive nature has led me to listening podcasts such as “Out of the Blocks” and more recently The Daily’s “Charm City” series. I have taken a Baltimore-centered class in our Public Health department and I am currently reading “Not in My Neighborhood.” The more I learn, the more questions I have about how a city with so much culture, history, and love can be equally filled with violence, distrust, and structural inequalities. I am devoting so much of my time to absorbing and questioning this place I not only attend school, but am starting to call home. How can I take these four years of growing through external conversations with my peers and internal reflections with myself and just leave to another city or state to “start” my life? Why can’t my life have already started here in the city and my graduating from school just be a continuation of my journey?
Before I continue, I’d like to preface why I feel this way with a brief history of me. I was born in Tema, Ghana and when I was 8 years old, I immigrated to the United States. I moved around a bit before attending high school in Baltimore county. My first glimpse of the city was attending a church in Broadway East. At this point in time, I am in the process of obtaining my US Citizenship. I have found it difficult to say where home is for me. While I love my home country and its culture, I am simply not familiar enough to go back and be “comfortable” (ask me in person and I can better articulate my thoughts). Living Baltimore county is a completely different experience than in the city- my commute to work tells me that every day. Living in Baltimore city is also challenging in some regards because I am not from here. While I’d like to call it my home, I still very much feel like an outsider. I cannot answer the classic “where’d you go to high school” question. It feels like there is something intrinsically powerful and yet unexplainable about being from this city that makes me feel like I am not truly a part of it. However, I want to not only be a part of it but I want to feel like it too. During orientation, I spoke with Councilperson Dorsey about me feelings and he responded with basically “it takes time.” While this may seem super simple, it really changes my perspective about what it means to call a place home. No matter where I live, if I spend time with the people and put the effort to learn about it, it shouldn’t matter whether I was born there or not.
If it really comes down to time and effort, then why not Baltimore? I am spending my time now and putting in the effort. I understand that there’s a much bigger world out there and I would like to explore, but ultimately, I do not want my time here in Baltimore to be a waste. I am intrigued by this city and I want to do my part.
I still have two years to go and who know how things will unfold, but for now, I this is where I stand. To you all, I am very interested in your thoughts on this. Find me and let’s chat.
This week, the news seems especially bad and I have trouble focusing on my assignments. Five people are killed in the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis. The Supreme Court upholds Trump’s travel ban. The Court also delivers blows to abortion rights activists and labor union supporters. Justice Kennedy announces he is stepping down. And that’s just the beginning of the list.
I stay in my cubicle and hope no one notices that I’m crying. I haven’t felt this disheartened or depressed since the 2016 Presidential Election, when I stayed up until 3 am waiting for the results to come in. I realize that I am extremely privileged because people from marginalized communities have had to fight for their rights for years, not just now. But I still feel fearful for the future knowing that rights for so many – women, workers, immigrants, families – are under further threat.
I want to be a “half-glass-full” kind of person. This week, I struggled to stay optimistic – in fact, I felt helpless for most of it. I also want to be present in my work as an intern, but how can I concentrate when my mind is full of bad news? This is a dilemma I’ve struggled with for a long time: how to remain informed without becoming disillusioned.
I don’t know the answer yet, but I do know that that there are a few moments this week where I felt a little less hopeless.
On Monday, I meet Ryan Flanigan, the former president of the Greater Remington Improvement Association (GRIA), someone who I have admired from afar. Ryan is a strong advocate for the Remington community, working to help keep the neighborhood affordable and diverse even as it continues to be developed.
On Saturday, I attend the Red Emma’s closing party, and run into D. Watkins, a local author who I have looked up to since my freshman year, and whose raw and real writing has served as my inspiration. I’m thrilled when he says he’s working on a new book. At the bookstore, I also see professors, local journalists, and friends from other universities whom I’ve met over the last three years.
The Red Emma’s closing party is the first time I feel like myself again. I am surrounded by familiar faces: people who have shaped my college experience, who have brought me out into the city and made me more aware of social issues. These are people who are working in their respective fields to do good in the world by sharing their stories and stand up for their communities.
My friends and family often ask me why I love Baltimore so much. Why I hardly leave the city. Why I rarely return home to California. “It’s the people,” I tell them. “They’re the best people you’ll ever meet.”
So this technically happened the prior week’s Thursday but it’s been on my mind this week.
For every annual quarter, the organization I work with, Fusion, hosts a potluck for all the other nonprofit organizations in the city that it partners with. There I met Damien, one of the Baltimore’s Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau’s guides. Well, I didn’t know that when I first saw him. The first thing he said to me was something along the lines of “You weren’t one of my kids,” which is confusing to hear upon first meeting someone.
He instantly recognized that if I was with Fusion, then I would be part of the CIIP program and since he had led Injustice Walks on Monday and Wednesday and today was Thursday, I had to have gone on the Injustice Walk on Tuesday, so therefore I wasn’t one of his kids.
Basically, he “Sherlock-Holmes-ed” me and it was very disorienting. After he explained how he figured out my life story after getting one look at me, we got to talking about the Injustice Walk and I said something like, “Yeah, it was really informative and I think Hopkins students should take one of these walks as a part of Orientation their freshman year.”
“How many students are in a class?” he asked.
“So these groups work best with 20 students so that would mean there would have to be 60 walks in the span of an orientation.”
And then I realized how foolish I was. At Fusion, I learned about a lot of different nonprofits, like the Speakers’ Bureau, that are doing good work in the city. But also at Fusion, I learned about the constraints that all these organizations operate under — governmental red tape, diminishing grant funds, simply finding the time to approach the daunting issues facing Baltimore.
We can have lofty aspirations for the changes we want to see in this city but we have to be conscientious about the feasible work dedicated to that change — especially when you are foolishly suggesting to dedicate someone else’s time as opposed to your own. We can promise pie in the sky and pots of gold at the end of rainbows but that talk does little compared to constructive action. It’s difficult for small nonprofits to work in a society with a negligent public sector and philanthropists who care more for tax breaks than social change — but now I’m getting carried away.
As this realization changed my facial expression, Damien “Sherlock-Holmes-ed” me again and said, “Ah, now you see the challenge.”Tags: 2018, Baltimore Corps, Central Baltimore Partnership, CIIP, CIIP 2018, Fusion Partnerships, Impact Hub, Maryland Transit Administration, Week 3