2018 Week 4: Youth and Family Wellness
Most of the week was spent completing some miscellaneous tasks around the office, including hot sex kit and button making. On Wednesday, however, I had the opportunity to co-present with my supervisor, Kurt, on gender identity and sexual orientation with some young folks from the University of Maryland’s CURE Scholars Program at the School of Pharmacy.
As we had only been informed of the presentation by the program coordinators the night before we had to give it, and I was unable to receive the slides for the presentation until an hour before we were to start, I was understandably a bit flustered. However, after I got to talk to Kurt about the presentation, I immediately relaxed. He explained to me that the folks we were to present to were only going to be in their early tweens and that it would be a very informal affair. Also, as my role was decoding the differences between gender identity, gender expression, as well as romantic and sexual attraction, I felt rather confident as these topics are my bread and butter.
After arriving at the site, we were directed to a ballroom. After setting up the table full of free give-aways, we went over our presentation one last time before the students arrived. When my part of the presentation finally came, I shared my thoughts and personal experiences regarding sexual orientation and gender, speaking of my own changes and growth as I came to understand my identity as a gay man of color and all how my voice and flamboyancy changed accordingly. In order to elucidate the notion of spectrum associated with both gender and sexual orientation, I used the analogy of light as a spectrum by stating that we lived in a world with more colors than just black and white. This seemed to help in their understanding of these two complex ideas that are such integral parts of our identities.
In order to make the activity more personal, we had an activity involving the filling-out of a genderbread person, which had spaces for gender identity/expression and romantic/sexual attractions. For me, this was the most interesting part of the presentation, as we got to walk around and give individual explanations to students who had questions. In particular, I was able to converse with one young person who identities as a girl but discussed with me that her gender expression was often masculine. She went on to tell me how bad she felt about that due to the fact that many people ridiculed her for acting “too much like a boy”. One of the main ideas we wanted to get across to the students was to not yuck other people’s yum. But to me, that idea of unconditional acceptance extends not only to others, but also to themselves. So I told this student that there was nothing wrong with her at all, and that she can do as she pleases, whether they be “boy” or “girl” activities. This one moment was my favorite part of the entire week. I have never had the opportunity to discuss self-love and self-acceptance with such a young person, and as someone who struggled with the same issues of self-hate regarding my gender expression (as I was always deemed “too feminine” when I was younger), it filled my heart and soul to know that I had made, however slight, a change in this young person’s conception and acceptance of herself. I only hope that she, along with all the other students in our LGBTQ 101 session, carries and spreads these ideals so that no one else has to grow up hating themselves for who they simply are.
This week I’ve been able to work more closely and independently with clients, interviewing and registering them for the Center and for various other services. And although I’ve felt more empowered and more knowledegable about doing the work that the Franciscan Center is meant to do, I’m also seeing the vast amount of knowledge (of available resources, current policies, and other organizations and nonprofits) that I don’t know about, and which makes social workers so powerful. For example, there was a man who came to me with a housing discrimination issue. I wasn’t exactly sure how I could help him, and throughout our whole conversation I was searching for an “in,” where I could find the thing that would allow me to intervene and find an appropriate source of help for him. We spoke for over an hour, him explaining the entire history of his situation and all the complications involved, and I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be able to do anything for him except lead him to the Maryland HUD Commission on Civil Rights to file a complaint. I didn’t want to mislead him and make it seem that I was qualified or powerful enough to solve his problem, but he had voiced his anxiety over having been unable to confide in anyone due to the potential retaliation. My coworkers were worried that I was trapped in a longwinded conversation, but I understood that the only thing that I could do was listen and what is within my power to accomplish should be offered. Especially as a person who’s super into public health and concerned about the social determinants of health, it’s concerning to see people trapped in a cycle where they don’t have the resources or luxury to attend to their health. The man was battling a degenerative spine condition while being incredibly productive in handling all his problems; another girl I met with was going through hell (situation-wise), dealing with mental health issues, and still had an aura that was like sunshine. I worry about the limitations imposed by one’s health, as well as their environments that fail to support their health. I tell them that in order to advocate for themselves and their loved ones, that it’s important for them to take care of themselves and their physical, emotional, and spiritual health. I hope to allow people to share their stories, relieve their stress, and gain emotional support, which hopefully–if even minutely–positively benefits their personal health. I’m scared about being jaded with this work and losing the kind of hope and fire that keeps our clients and others in the social justice field fighting.
When Erricka Bridgeford introduced herself with a disclaimer that the stain on her right boob was from a water bottle and not sweat, I could tell we were all in for a worthwhile hour. Every word that came out of her mouth radiated genuine enthusiasm, and she naturally elicited smiles and laughter from us throughout the evening. I had heard about and seen posters for the Baltimore Ceasefire before but had never fully understood how it worked; to be honest, I had first thought it a little naïve to hope that a whole city could agree on a ceasefire without any tangible incentive. But Erricka changed that perception for me when she explained that the ceasefire’s most ardent supporters are those constantly surrounded by violence, whether that means they are killing or watching others be killed. In her words, they have gone to too many funerals, and that is a pain no human wants to endure over and over again.
Driven by peaceful mediation and an appreciation for life, Erricka’s philosophy and solution to gun violence in Baltimore particularly aligns with the values of my camp this summer. Every morning, we gather the kids in a circle to have them take three deep breaths and freeze their focus on a positive thought, like compassion or patience. Then Nawal, the camp director, leads us in our daily peace prayer, reminding us that peace surrounds, supports, and protects us. While at times it seems like the kids are just following the motions, I’m coming to realize that constantly sowing peaceful values even on this small scale will be a major investment for their futures. Sometimes I’ve found myself thinking there must be an immediate policy fix to the violence in the city, but after two weeks at my camp and Erricka’s talk, it seems like promoting non-violent mediation among kids and adults might just be the first step to an unconventional solution we’ve all been looking for.
I feel like I am capable of completing my goals that I set at the beginning of the internship. I have spent the last few weeks trying to serve whatever purpose I can that will be beneficial to the office. I didn’t exactly know what I was getting into when I began, but over the course of the last month, I find that that’s just part of being in a nonprofit. YES is able to serve so many youth, and provide so many services with such a small staff. Anything I can do is helpful in the overall goal of the organization. As of late, I have exceeded my goals as I plan events, such as a self care program for our youth. My hope is that by the time I leave, I will have helped set into place some helpful things, or at least a more organized space. But for now, I do not ponder on leaving, because it is definitely a place that I feel connected to now. Even when referring back to the midpoint speaker, I felt an emotional connection to what she was saying about Hopkins students doing their part in the city. Too many times, the assumption is that we do not care and just live in our bubble. YES has finally separated me from those assumptions and allowed me to embrace the city without any ties to a school that I have chosen for my education. While I don’t represent all Hopkins students, I do represent myself as a Hopkins student the best way I know how. There is so much potential in Baltimore if even us undergraduates would put effort into it. We only give back if it looks nice on a resume, not for the people who really matter.
My grandma doesn’t know exactly at what age she was separated from her family during the Korean War. She thinks around six or seven, because that’s what the people at the orphanage thought when she arrived there, sizing her up and giving her age their best guess. Growing up without parents in an orphanage, she still graduated first in her class and went to college for free on a scholarship.
She left the orphanage at 18 and lived alone, working to support herself during her education. In 1960s Korea, where few people went to college — much less women from my grandma’s background — she did. She became a teacher in Korean language arts.
I write this down because my grandma’s story is something I didn’t learn about until recently, until I got to college. My mom didn’t tell me until I was much older, maybe to protect my grandmother, who has always stayed tight-lipped about personal struggle. For as long as I’ve known her, she’s always been there with a bright smile and with plenty of food to feed her kids and grandkids. She doesn’t talk about herself, she just gives and gives and gives.
This week, my supervisor Mark and I talked a lot about our families and our clients’ families on our car ride to visit Waxter’s, a detention center for female youth. I began to reflect on how my family is so different from most American families. In the United States, it is only me, my dad, and my mom. We’ve never had the big Christmases or the huge Thanksgivings with the cousins and great aunts and relatives once removed. We are a small family unit, tethered loosely to our extended family in Korea. Even more, talking to Mark made me realize that I haven’t seen my grandma in person in maybe seven years.
Still, I think long and often about my grandparents, and how I am so much their granddaughter. My grandpa loves writing poetry and appreciates art. So do I. My grandma loves to sing and is a self-taught musician. So am I. They were both teachers in Korean literature and language arts, and for the longest time I wanted to be an English teacher. In more ways than one, I will always carry a part of my family, both the ugly past rooted in war-torn Korea and the beauty of my grandparents’ love for the humanities.
As I continue to forge my own path in America and try to do my own part to leave the world a better place, it becomes even clearer to me how impossibly hard my family has worked so that I could be here today. How my grandma lost everything but fought tooth and nail every day for her education. How my parents left all that was familiar and comfortable to start anew in America. How did I ever get to be so lucky and blessed, to have people who began paving the way for me before I was even born? Knowing this, I hope I can use this extraordinary luck and privilege to undo some of the injustice in the world.
I started off by writing my grandmother’s story, because no one has ever written it down. As much as these blog posts are about ourselves and our own self-reflection, I think where we come from explains just as much about who we are and will be. Though we are almost 7,000 miles apart, as my grandparents’ health problems grow, I feel them near me more. Sometimes when I write a poem, I think of my grandpa sitting next to me and doing the same, the way he has done for over 40 years. Sometimes when I sing or play the guitar, I think of my grandma next to me, singing and playing the piano. We are always playing in harmony.
This week my office is on vacation, so I’ve been working from home (amazing, right?). But let me tell you, I did not know how much discipline working from home requires. I found that I worked better by going to a local cafe like Bird in Hand rather than working at my desk in my apartment, so I’ve been checking out different cafes in Baltimore. I’ve expanded my horizons from my usual Bun Shop and Red Emma’s to Ceremony Coffee in Mt. Vernon and Common Ground in Hampden.
On Monday evening we had the Midpoint speaker event with food from Land of Kush, one of my favorite vegetarian spots in Baltimore. I had the honor of listening to Erricka Bridgeford, a Baltimore native and activist. From her upbringing to the work that she is doing in the city, her story was so inspiring. I loved how she started out by mentioning that her parents were Black Panthers and wanted to give birth to a son who they thought would be a great contributor to the Black Power Movement. Although Erricka ended up being a girl, she still has done so much for Baltimore.
I was initially wary when she mentioned that she organizes ceasefire events in Baltimore. I thought that just telling people to not kill each other would not accomplish much because I didn’t think that people would actually listen. Despite this, the 72-hour, 4 times a year ceasefires in Baltimore have been incredibly effective because it has formed a sense of community responsibility to end violence. Erricka said something along the lines of, “No one wants to be known as that guy who killed someone and ended the ceasefire.” During the ceasefire there are also community events that are organized such as resource fairs with art, music, dance, and food.
Another aspect that I believe is really powerful that the ceasefire initiative does is that they actually visit the family who has lost a loved one to gun violence. I think that it is easy for someone who is not personally connected to a person who has died because of violence to see their story on the news or read it in a newspaper and get over it. It would be just another person lost to violence in Baltimore or just another statistic. But I think that the ceasefire movement is contributing to the healing of a family who has lost a love one and personifying the people who have been killed.
The speaker event has definitely changed my thoughts ceasefires. Although, I don’t think they are a long-term solution to end violence, the amount of lives that are saved in those 72-hours are worth it.Tags: 2018, By Peaceful Means, CIIP, CIIP 2018, FORCE, Franciscan Center, Monument Quilt, Office of the Public Defender, STAR TRACK, Week 4, Youth Empowered Society