2018 Week 6: Government and Policy
So I had my art walk today, and I wanted to get this blog post out while the walk is still fresh in my mind. It was a lovely walk, it was super well set organized and I was reminded that art is not separate from social issues and public art cannot exist solely in private appreciation. And the art was cool, and it was dope.
We had gotten to one neighborhood, toward the end of the walk (I don’t remember which and I don’t want to guess so perhaps someone reading this that was there that day can clarify), and we, an obnoxious group of twenty-somethings, passed this kid, who had to be around three years old, on his bike and he called out to us, “where y’all from?”. A few of us said “oh we’re just walking around,” hoping to just move on, but he was persistent and called again, “but where y’all from?”.
Not one of us said Hopkins. The little boy was black, and so were his family and neighbors who were all out enjoy the beautiful day and the previously empty sidewalk, and none of us were willing to tell the black family residing in a majority black city that Hopkins owns a ridiculous share of, that we were affiliates.
I think that says something profound about the Hopkins-Baltimore relationship, especially when it comes to this city’s most vulnerable populations. Hopkins has such a bad relationship with the peoples it has displaced and done research on that in 2018 its own best and brightest refuse to even in passing acknowledge that we eat, sleep, and go to class here. That’s more than just a shame, its shameful, and its a wound that’s going to take a lot of hard work and ingenuity and time to heal. I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t know all the best ways to do that.
But I’ll tell you how we DON’T fix the problem – creating a private police force. Or rapidly gentrifying East Baltimore into our personal, science play-place. Or refusing to pay more than a minuscule PILOT. Or steadily decreasing the size of the Baltimore Scholars program.
The Hopkins-Baltimore relationship is something that I’ve grappled with most days I’ve spent as an undergrad and is a part of my life I don’t think I’ll ever stop thinking on. But one day, when I come back for tent party maybe, I hope I’ll be able to walk around outside the Hopkins bubble wearing my Blue Jays sweatshirt and answer, honestly, the little boy from Baltimore who asks me where I’m from.
I’m starting to fall into a routine, both at my internship and in general, which is strange because I know I’m leaving in less than two weeks. I’m starting to understand more what it is like to work full time in an office, and though I’m not sure I love it, it seems feasible. I wish I was more involved in the discussions of FreeState’s strategic decisions and policy goals, because really the only contact I have with discussions above what tasks I’ll be doing is when I read things I’m asked to copy, print, or send along. I feel like I could definitely learn more from my placement if I were more aware of the reason why I was doing the tasks I do. For example, I found out that the staff of FreeState is currently in disagreement as to whether they should conduct a training for the Baltimore Police Department, or if that would alienate the community they serve and ultimately be counterproductive. I found out about this because I read a memo I was copying, and would love to even have a conversation with my supervisor about this decision process. Either way, it is interesting to know about the internal struggles that nonprofits face in Baltimore. I’m glad that I can help support the processes behind their work, and I know I’m nowhere near as qualified as the rest of the employees, I just wish I was more involved in looking at the bigger picture, or at least told what it was.
You know that feeling you get when you’ve been waiting forever for something and then suddenly you’re standing in the middle of it and literally every single thing starts going wrong? Like, imagine you’ve been spending the past 5 weeks planning intricate setups, reaching out to partner organizations and offices within BCPS, and ordering an ungodly amount of school supplies and pamphlets in preparation for the Mayor’s Summer Block Parties. Then, after arriving to the first one, you find out the setup you originally planned doesn’t fit on the street, several of the vendors show up late, a couple boxes mysteriously disappeared, and (to top it all off!) there’s a thunderstorm coming and the whole thing might be canceled altogether.
The first hour of Glimor Elementary’s block party was actually the most hectic thing I’ve ever experienced. I was running between different tables to make sure everything looked ok, telling people where to place tables and tents, arranging pamphlets in a somewhat visually pleasing manner – looking back on that first hour now, I realize that for a large part of it, I forgot what the whole point of our block parties was. I had been so busy trying to hold onto my perfectionist dream of everything going smoothly that I didn’t even get to just sit down and talk to the community members and families that were quite literally right in front of me. It’s actually a little wild to me that that happened – all summer, I’ve been so excited about these block parties as an opportunity to get out of the office and meet the people that we, at BPCS, are here to service. I had wanted so badly to learn about what they thought about our school system, what they wanted to see in the future, and just learn who they were – but when things on the administrative/logistical end got even a little out of hand, all I could focus on was that.
It was interesting for me to see how there are 2 very definitive “modes” you can be in: there’s the upstream office mode, which is very programming and administrative and the downstream community work mode, which is much more engaging and hands-on. It was even more interesting to see how even though I’ve always seen myself as naturally being in the latter mode, I still had to consciously make that switch in the midst of our block parties. And after I did get the chance to talk to more of the people coming in, I couldn’t help but feel a little upset that I had lost sight of that, albeit momentarily, in the first place. But overall, I am glad I can be more conscious of that at our next block party.
This week I tagged along with my two supervisors on a visit to the Baltimore office of the International Rescue Committee. The IRC, one of the huge NGOs that gets money from the government to resettle refugees in the US, works with almost all of the newly arrived refugees in Baltimore. It was founded in part by Albert Einstein, they have thousands of employees worldwide, a total budget in the millions of dollars, and offices in over 40 different countries. The Baltimore office alone, which just recently moved to the corner of Howard and North Avenue, has immigration attorneys and highly trained caseworkers, hundreds of interns every year, a volunteer coordinator, a logistics manager, a team of interpreters on call, and an entire department focused on helping refugees find employment. ERICA has two employees and works with about 50 households per year. In terms of scale and size, the two organizations couldn’t be more different.
Going into the meeting, walking through their big new office, knowing about the IRC’s staffing and funding and resources, I couldn’t really imagine how two organizations that are so different could find productive ways to work together.
This was a view that didn’t take into a lot of things into account. It didn’t take into account how so many refugees and immigrants face issues and problems that are so complex and varied that one organization on its own could never do it all. It didn’t take into account how small nonprofits like ERICA have the flexibility to do certain things that organizations like the IRC can’t do, like work with people who don’t have refugee status yet or have timed out of the IRC’s program. It was a view that was blinded by budgets and equated an organization’s funding with it’s worth.
In the end, I was struck by how many opportunities for collaboration and mutual support between ERICA and the IRC they discussed. We visited the IRC on Thursday. On Friday, my supervisor was already on the phone working with one of the employment specialists she met the day before to help a client solve an issue at his job. The two organizations are incredibly different. But that’s not a barrier to working together, it’s all the more reason to do so.
After creating a map of Henry Barnes’ proposed capital improvement projects in Baltimore during the 1950s, I feel that I owe Mr. Barnes, who has essentially created my job for this whole summer (and some people’s whole working lifetimes), at least one blog post.
After weeks of mapping out left-turn only lanes, curb radii increases, and bridge widening projects, it was gradually shown that Mr. Barnes did nothing more than leave the city safer for pedestrians in some places and safer and more efficient for cars in many. All in all, the massive amount of changes he proposed (most of which went through) clearly did make Baltimore more car-centric.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and reading about Mr. Barnes, painting him as an evil creator of lots of the transportation problems seen in Baltimore today. He opposed streetcars, of which Baltimore had an amazingly extensive system leading up to the 1950s, and spent time in multiple major American cities during the rise of the automobile industry creating more car-friendly streets. Studying him, it seemed as if he didn’t think about many sociological implications of what he was doing.
Maybe he didn’t, but recently, I came across the November 13, 1964 edition of Life magazine, in which there is a very long article written about Mr. Barnes. Not much was that new of information to me until I got near the end, to a point where Henry Barnes explains why he thinks the only solution to bad traffic is to get rid of cars and invest in public transit! This was one of the biggest pioneers in the field of traffic engineering, and he suggested getting rid of cars over 50 years ago, simply to alleviate traffic congestion.
This doesn’t even consider other positive social outcomes of public transit! At least according to the article (and everything else I’ve ever read about Barnes), he did not appear to be considering social equity in the transportation engineering he was doing. His mission always seemed to just be to eliminate as much traffic congestion as he could.
It is crazy to me, then, that there is still such a lack of public transit in America, when it is not something that is only now being called for. If traffic experts (or at least one) were calling for it from simply a traffic congestion standpoint this long ago, and there now exist all sorts of studies showing that better urban transportation could be hugely transformative for populations that have faced years of disinvestment and lack of access to education, food, and jobs, why is public transit still in such bad shape in America? It is exciting to be working in this field this summer, and I am excited to see what changes are made in American transportation over the next few years.
This week, I have co workers who stayed at the office until midnight for multiple days, simply to ensure that every YouthWorker got paid at the appropriate time. I have co workers who came in on the weekend, or skipped meals, and dedicated all of their time and attention into ensuring that our youth had their promises fulfilled. It’s been easy for me, throughout this time, to be incredibly critical of YouthWorks, and to point out all of its inefficiencies and inconsistencies. Although being critical is not only crucial but welcome in my office, I think it has been important in this overwhelming and stressful week, to recognize the amount of work that is put into running this program. YouthWorks is understaffed and underfunded, and yet its constituents do everything in their power, and go out of their way, in order to ensure that 8,000 Baltimore youth are still able to get summer jobs and gain work experience. It needs to be made clear, this program would in no way be able to run, if certain members of its staff were not breaking their backs in order to ensure that everything is in place. They are most definitely not given the recognition or compensation they deserve, but they are the ones who have inspired me to be as selfless and dedicated as I can. They have allowed me to see past the bureaucracy of government work and instead, become aware of all of the ways in which individual hard work can help save and change lives.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 6, Youthworks