2018 Week 6: Nonprofit Management
So it’s officially reached the point in the summer where I’m getting really sad about having to leave Baltimore Corps. We were joking in the office today that there’s something called “Baltimore Corps years” (like dog years), where each month you spend with the organization is really a year. And honestly, I can attest. It’s been six weeks and I feel like I’ve been with Baltimore Corps forever, and could stay forever. I love the staff, I’m hitting my stride with the work I’m doing, and most importantly, I have finally gotten all of the essential websites I have to use daily bookmarked.
Two (pretty disparate) highlights of my week this week: 1. a 5-hour brainstorming session around data architecture and implementation of systems, and 2. our annual staff BBQ and Olympics. Without getting into what could be seen as the slightly boring details of data architecture (which I have absolutely no background knowledge of, but am trying to pick up as I go because fake it till you make it obviously), I’ll just say that on Thursday I spend more than half of my day in a focused, enthusiastic, productive brainstorming session with a colleague about redesigning the way we organize and access data at Baltimore Corps. And it was GREAT. I walked away with that comfortable, slightly exhausted feeling you get when your brain has been stretched out and you’ve seen something shift in the way you approach problem solving.
Then, on Friday, I got to spend more than half my day on possibly the polar opposite: team bonding games, eating, and jamming out to some BBQ tunes on our little Bluetooth speaker. In case anyone was wondering, I was in fact the ultimate champion of the Baltimore Corps Team Bonding Olympics and walked away with a fantastic adult coloring book. (Try not to feel too intimidated.) All around it was a great time, not only because we put together a banging playlist, but because I felt so completely welcomed, supported, and comfortable with all the other staff.
I have to admit, before the summer started, I was a little wary about Baltimore Corps. My placement had gotten shuffled around a bit, I didn’t want to pay for a bus pass, the work seemed a little unexciting. But now I wouldn’t trade it for the world. The people I work with are fantastic, inspiring role models both professionally and personally, but most importantly, they’ve shown me that this work is approachable. That even if you might end up working long hours and taking on a lot of responsibility, and even if at times inequity and injustice are aunting opponents, if there are people who have your back, the ride seems a lot less bumpy.
On Wednesday, I found myself at Maryland Hunger Solutions’ annual legislative brainstorming session at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. My supervisor, Nicole, sent me to the all-day session in her place to take notes on policy proposals. It was an interesting experience, and not just because I was the only person under 30 years old and not a policy reform leader in Maryland.
Researchers from Hopkins’ Center for a Livable Future presented color-coded maps of “healthy food priority areas” (aka food deserts) in Baltimore City. Representatives from the national Food Research & Action Center discussed the impact of free school breakfasts on student performance. Community leaders spoke about local food security efforts Prince George’s County and Montgomery County. The executive director from the Maryland Center for Economic Policy lectured on the new state budget.
At first, I was confused as to why our organization, Out for Justice, which focuses primarily on criminal justice reform, was asked to sit on this panel about food security and nutrition. But as the day went on, I realized how connected OFJ’s agenda was to other policy reform efforts in Maryland. For example, we received shoutouts and commendations for our role in repealing the partial SNAP/TCA ban for felony drug convictions at the beginning of this year. Our organization worked alongside many others in the room to bring hundreds of people to Annapolis to speak out against this ban that prevented returning citizens from feeding themselves and their families.
Although it was incredibly interesting to hear from community and policy reform leaders about efforts to improve access to food in Maryland, the brainstorming session taught me something far more important: the enormous effort and coalition-building that is necessary to bring about policy reform.
Policy advocates are more than the images shown in media of fiery crowds holding bullhorns and signs in front of government buildings. It’s important to have those crowds to make our voices heard. But, most of policy advocacy is not nearly as glamorous or emotion-driven. It’s done behind the scenes, in the long months way before the state legislature convenes in January. Through coalition-building, organizations like ours craft a perfect policy agenda based on updated academic data, fiscal budget estimates, and the concerns of affected community members. And when you see those fiery crowds in Annapolis in January, remember that standing behind them is an incredibly diverse group of government leaders, policy experts, economic analysts, researchers, friends, families, and community members.
On Saturday, I “worked” at the Morning Masters Brunch for Entrepreneurs, a community forum hosted by Catherine E. Pugh and the Mayor’s Office of Small, Minority and Women Business. I admittedly didn’t want to attend the event at first — The thought of working 8am to 2pm during Artscape was one that made me question my initial eagerness to offer my time and energy. Yet by the end of the forum, I ironically found myself wishing it would’ve carried on longer.
During Morning Masters, I saw community leaders, policy makers, and public health experts gather for a series of conversations on total wellness, business strategy, resource development and neighborhood revitalization. The venue was filled with inspiring women of color, two of which were my coworkers at Impact Hub Baltimore. I work alongside Alanah and Michelle Antoinette every day at Impact Hub. However, this was my first time seeing them both in a capacity beyond their positions at work, so naturally it was empowering for me to learn how they promote social change through their respective initiatives in Baltimore.
Another memorable experience for me was witnessing the various panels’ emphasis on self-care. This felt like a timely message, especially because this week I felt an increased urgency (and sometimes heightened stress) to produce tangible results in the short time we have left. A common thread amongst discussions was how this pressure translates for social entrepreneurs, especially those who’ve historically been marginalized in capitalistic economies. This summer, conducting data analysis for Impact Hub helped me learn that people of color, particularly African American women, are the primary drivers for small businesses and/or nonprofits with social impact in Baltimore.
While this is a statistic worth celebrating, Morning Masters made me realize the importance of having similar events to ensure that this statistic can grow in the future, and create greater change than we can ever imagine.
Week 6: “A Reflective Encounter”
It is a hot Wednesday morning and I am standing on the corner of North Ave and Harford Rd waiting for people to walk by and ask about the giant kiosk next the bus shelter. My mind wasn’t fully present as I was still reeling from a poor experience with MTA buses that morning, but this is my job and I am supposed to like the MTA.
It was a slow morning – people were just not interested in what we had to say. I was a bit frustrated because I woke up early to be here and ready to “engage with the community” but the community wasn’t ready to engage with me or the MTA. As I stared into the sun thinking these thoughts, a man in a wheelchair grabs my attention by criticizing the portion of the project about bike lanes. I immediately jump into my basic spiel about North Avenue Rising, but this man was not interested at all; he cared about the bike lanes and why he wasn’t consulted before this plan was made. I told him that this right here is the “community engagement” piece of the project development and it is his voice that can be heard right now. Without hesitation, he responds with “now do you really think my voice now is going to make a difference? Don’t you see the plan has already been laid out and this is just a formality?” I am so startled by how blunt his response was, I choked on some ums and ahs. I said something along the lines of “yeah, I really think your voice will be heard or else we wouldn’t be so open about the upcoming plans.” I didn’t think that was enough so I began telling him a bit about myself and how I was learning how to interact with the community with stuff like this and how I thought it was important to be an “active community member.” As soon as I said those three words, he asked me if I was an active community member, and if so, how. “Of course, I know what’s going around me” I respond. “No, I mean have you tried to get your voice to be heard before? Are you a part of any community associations? Have you actively fought on or advocated for an issue before?” It is silent for a minute and I despondently respond “No, not really.”
“Then how can you tell me my voice will be heard if you don’t understand or haven’t tried to understand how difficult it is”
With that, my privilege smacked me in the face as I realized I have never really fought for anything. When it comes to publicly voicing my opinion on issues, I am reserved so that I don’t offend anyone. I can discuss issues with others in a private setting, but you’ll never catch me making a Facebook post or protesting. I can afford to do that because my daily life is not affected by these issues- Q. E. D., privilege.
To be an active community member, I must not just know about issues, but I must get involved with the issues- like really get involved. Talk to people, ask questions, show up to meetings, do the research, form an opinion give my time, and ultimately, fight when called upon. What do you think it means to be an active community member? Find me and let’s chat. Also, I can tell you about the rest of my encounter with the person from my story.
This week, I attended the fifth annual Women’s Empowerment Conference in Barclay, taught one of my co-workers how to use social media platforms (like how to post to Instagram), and transcribed a lot of interviews. I probably spent the bulk of my time this week transcribing interviews. I also drafted social media posts and finalized the revised version of the website that I’ve been I’ve been working on this summer.
My favorite day this week was definitely Thursday because I went to the the Women’s Empowerment Conference. The Conference invites women in the community to hear from speakers and participate in workshops all focused on building resilience and confidence. The organizers thought of everything, from providing childcare to catering meals to giving out swag bags. I loved that the event was created by women for women, and that the space was full of compassionate, healing energy.
The conference’s theme was “She Moves Mountains,” and each of the four speakers shared a story that expanded on this theme. I heard from a survivor of domestic abuse, a daughter of Haitian immigrants, and a former drug dealer. Each woman described the challenges she had faced and how she overcame them. It was nice to be reminded that people have the ability to create better futures for themselves and that just because a situation seems bad it doesn’t mean that it will always be that way.
Each woman spoke honestly about her past. Each woman owned up to the mistakes they had made. But they also did not let it hold them back. Reflection, not rumination, seemed to be the key component to moving forward. That is what will stick with me most from the conference.
At the start of this internship, I bought a bike because I loathe waiting for the bus. Upon purchase, I realized that I had pretty much forgotten how to ride a bike. For skeptical readers who might think, “but biking is one of those things you never forget how to do,” I ask them to explain the numerous scrapes and bruises I endured from crashing. Long story short, I relearned how to bike and have spent the last month and a half biking around Baltimore — well mostly the white parts of Baltimore because bike lane construction is discriminatory against people of color.
There are a couple things you notice on a bike that you don’t notice while walking or taking the bus. Flattened animal carcasses appear periodically and they are gross. Road construction takes forever. There is less of a hill going up Maryland Ave. than Guildford. Drivers don’t really look in front of them while turning. There are a lot more potholes in East Baltimore than there are in Canton. You notice things beyond what happens on the roads too. There are a lot of luxury apartment complexes being built in Locust Point. Not much of any housing is being built by the Jones Falls Expressway. There’s a pretty nice public pool in Druid Hill Park that had a huge line at the entrance when I biked by. There’s also a private pool in Woodberry that had a rock fountain, high fences, cabana-style seating and a whole lot of white people.
I’ve heard people describe Baltimore as a city of neighborhoods which is a quaint but incomplete way of describing this city. Sure, there are a lot of neighborhoods here but sometimes it feels like these neighborhoods are in a different city and the people live in different worlds. Some may think, “hey, that’s just how things are” but they should also think about how things should be.
There is definitely a more comprehensive way of conveying the inequality that divides this city than just glancing at roads and buildings while biking. Statistics, historical records and interviews with local residents are probably much better. At least biking still beats waiting for the bus.Tags: 2018, Baltimore Corps, Central Baltimore Partnership, CIIP, CIIP 2018, Fusion Partnerships, Impact Hub, Maryland Transit Administration, Out for Justice, Week 6