2019 Featured Blogs
Sometimes, working at Impact Hub feels like I’m interning at a dozen businesses. There is the Impact Hub Baltimore team, but most of the members there are leading completely different startups and businesses that I’m really just starting to become familiar with. Members aside, the community there is constantly shifting.
Last week, I interviewed my first member for my upcoming blog project: Rebecca Yenawine, the Executive Director of the Teacher’s Democracy Project. This past week, I interviewed four members at Impact Hub for my upcoming blog project. Poet Olu Butterfly Woods. Sam Frank, founder of roofing contractor Four Twelve Roofing. Pickett Slater-Harrington, the founder of Joltage, a social change design firm that strives to forge stronger connections between institutions and community members. Ana Rodney, founder of MOMCares — one of the CIIP placements that are members of IHB.
Getting to spend half an hour talking to each of these members made this past week the most fulfilling one of the summer. They lead completely different initiatives but they share one thing in common: a genuine love and commitment to the city and uplifting the voices of those in Baltimore who are so often ignored.
But out of these interviews, there was one that struck me most: my interview with Ana.
I spoke to her in one of Impact Hub’s phone booths, hunched over my iPhone. As I was transcribing the interview — a little over half an hour and 3,783 words — I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to do Ana and her story justice with a mere blog post of a few hundred words. I certainly won’t be able to do it justice here.
Going into the interview, I knew the basics: that MOMCares provides self-care workshops and postpartum doula services to single, low-income mothers of color in the NICU. But I was not quite prepared for the personal, tumultuous backstory of what inspired Ana to found that initiative. And though I knew that there is a disproportionate death rate among black mothers and children in this city and the rest of the country, it was my first time talking to a survivor of that crisis. That really made a difference.
Ana almost lost her life during her first pregnancy. Her sister, who was pregnant at the same time as Ana, did lose her life. On top of that, Ana also gave birth around the time of Freddie Gray’s death. She told me that what with the Uprising, the people who were supposed to be taking care of her in the hospital were blatantly discriminatory towards her.
“This is a deeply personal issue for me that keeps me moving forward,” she said. “this is something that I needed as part of my life’s work and part of my life’s purpose, which is to #correctthecrisis…of maternal health disparity. And I believe that is possible. I believe that we can see, we can see actual improvements and closing of the gap of these numbers through intentional work and community building and being supportive of each other in the community.”
Through my experience in CIIP, I found myself thankful for the opportunity to interact with the community I serve. To be able to have open conversations and hear the stories of those I see nearly every day at the center has been an extremely gratifying experience.
With the Health Fair quickly approaching, I have shifted gears to make this my top priority -scheduling social media posts, session times, and flyering throughout the day. I am planning to take the YouthWorkers along my side when passing out flyers to advertise the Health Fair in order to reach our target demographic -those who live in the Harwood, Abell, Remington, Better Waverly, and Charles Village communities.
Through this year’s Health Fair, I hope to address several health disparities currently affecting the community -including lack of accessibility and affordability of healthy foods, HIV/AIDS epidemic, housing crises, and health/dental care for the uninsured. While reflecting upon the community partners I have recruited this far, I realized I lacked organizations that focused on healthy produce and services towards the elderly. Through my CIIP cohort, I was able to easily contact interns at Whitelock Community Farms as well as Keswick Multi-Care Center and St. Ambrose to table at the event.
Through my internship and outreach efforts, I have strengthened my public speaking and professional communication skills. I often found myself uncomfortable interacting with the surrounding community in the first week of my internship as I carried such privilege with me being white-passing, a college student, middle-class, etc. Yet, as the weeks went on, I found myself able to easily speak to whoever passed through the center, from the kids, program leaders, adults, and parents, I have found a way to connect to everyone in some way or another. I found overcoming this challenge very significant and influential for the rest of my life as I hope to graduate and pursue a profession where I can serve and interact with others. The Hopkins bubble is incredibly profound, and I could not be more pleased with the opportunity to truly see Baltimore and interact with Baltimoreans rather than staying on campus with my preconceived bias from the media.
Interacting with others, hearing stories of love, laughter, and loss have changed the way I come into my site every day. I hope to carry these stories with me throughout the rest of my life as a reminder of why I do this work, why I crave to serve others and use my hands rather than standing idly in an office – not interacting with a single person.
As 4th of July was this week, my supervisor along with some other staff members were out this entire week. Because of this, I didn’t have too much work on my plate. I finished up the LGBTQ 101 Jeopardy game and started working on a survival guide for future summer interns at STAR TRACK.
Now that I have reached the halfway point of my internship, I want to take this time to reflect on the work culture and dynamic at STAR TRACK. My supervisor describes STAR TRACK as “an anti-establishment of professionalism”. Something I learned right off the bat is that no one shows up to work wearing anything close to a suit or tie. People dress and look in ways that make them feel comfortable: cutoff shorts, tank tops, snapbacks, glitzy dresses, tattoos, piercings, dyed hair – you name it. There isn’t a certain way to dress or look, which, I think, aligns closely with the organization’s philosophy of being yourself and being proud to be yourself.
As a general mission, STAR TRACK seeks to empower Baltimore’s black and brown youth and young adult community by providing comprehensive health resources and services, including queer-affirming care. This mission is reflected prominently by its team, which is comprised almost entirely of black and brown individuals ranging from young adult to adult, most of whom also identify as LGBTQ+. STAR TRACK’s very existence goes against the cis-hetero-patriarchal, white-supremacist, male-centered view of what it means to be correctly professional and successful. And I love it. STAR TRACK is a lively and goofy environment. You will always hear music blasting in the background, expletives flying across the room, and people belting high notes throughout the office. Any time someone passes by me or my cubicle, they always wave “hi,” give fist bumps, or just stop and chat for a little while, which always makes me feel welcome, acknowledged, and visible in this space. People here work hard and fast, and they do it all while looking glamorous and while having a good time.
Working at STAR TRACK has taught me that you don’t have to be serious, stoic, and uptight to communicate how passionate or how much of an expert you are about an issue. You can be loud, goofy, and even a little messy and still be just as extremely competent. Most of our events are well-attended and very successful, but even when they aren’t, sometimes, even just doing something is a success. Starting from who works here to what we do, STAR TRACK is in a unique class of its own, and I am grateful to be a part of this wonderful community and experience.
The end of this week marks the midpoint of CIIP, the end of our first harvest season, and the beginning of YouthWorks next week. Farming is more or less about the consistent daily routine. We mostly do the same thing every day such as planting, watering, trimming, weeding, harvesting, etc. Nevertheless, I still quite enjoyed my work this week, because we shared our produce with community members during this month’s potluck and I also read an article yesterday that I resonated with about the work I am doing.
We have our potluck cookout at Whitelock the 4th Wednesday of every month. All community members are invited to come and share dishes with everyone else. This time we people at the farm made turkey burgers, grilled zucchini, and cucumber salad. It was definitely my high point of the week. I haven’t grilled anything since roughly elementary school, so it took us a while to start the charcoal at first, but luckily with some google search and tons of lighter liquid and dry twigs, we were able to get the grill going made some fire burgers. Crystal, who is one of our volunteers at the farm, also did a cooking demonstration of cucumber salad. The recipe is really simple: slice the cucumbers into thin slices, mix them with rice vinegar, minced garlic, dill, and some sugar, then enjoy the nice and cooling cucumber salad. I also got to meet many community members and try their dishes. Overall, it was just a really good time after a whole day of hard work.
Before I went to work at our farm stand yesterday morning, I was browsing the Internet and saw an article on a forum written by a fellow Chinese student currently studying in the United States. After I read the article, I felt like I can finally explain to others why I am doing CIIP this summer, especially working at a farm. The author is answering a question posted on the forum, “what are some terrible aspects of America,” and she points out that “The development of America is not a result of a continual interaction with the land, but rather an accelerated and compressed process grafting other cultures together, regardless of the discord.” Before I read the article, I knew there is something I don’t like about the US, but I was never able to find the right language to describe my feelings. The statement is obviously true when we look back to the foundation of this nation, where its creation eliminated the original cultures of this piece of land, and the power of internal combustion engine replaced the authority of sky, earth, and water. With the development of technology, people interact less and less with the nature that provides us with everything we need to survive. There is always an interface between nature and people here. When we go to the supermarket, all we see are polished products deprived of their original forms. When I brought some celery home last weekend, my roommate said that he hasn’t had to wash the dirt off the vegetable since he came to the US because everything is so nice and pretty. Technology makes life quite convenient here in the States, however, it also detaches us from the reality that we depend on one hundred percent. Maybe that’s why some people don’t believe in climate change since they are not exposed to the change in their daily life.
I also found this interesting quote by Jean Baudrillard, a French sociologist, in his book America “what is new in America is the clash of the first level (primitive and wild) and the ‘third kind’ (the absolute simulacrum). There is no second level. This is a situation we (Europeans) find hard to grasp, since this is the one we have always privileged: the self-reflexive, self-mirroring level, the level of unhappy consciousness. But no vision of America makes sense without this reversal of our values: it is Disneyland that is authentic here! The cinema and TV are America’s reality! The freeways, the Safeways, the skylines, speed, and deserts — these are America, not the galleries, churches, and cultures.”
Though Baudrillard is talking about a big picture of the American culture, it can also applies to the work I am doing right now. I hope by helping out at an urban farm, I can show people that supermarkets, corner stores, and fast food chains are not the only sources to get food, working with mother nature is healthier and more gratifying. I hope we can reestablish our connections with the soil and break through the simulations designed by big corporations for us.
One issue that I often talk about regarding disparities within Baltimore city public schools is the turnaround of teachers and employees within the schools, especially within the underfunded schools in lower-income and neglected neighborhoods within the city. Teacher burnout and lack of funding are major issues that affect the students, the teachers, and the schools themselves in a negative way and only widen the opportunity gap for children. Students are not able to form bonds and trust with teachers that leave within a year or two, and it is hard to have a safe space at school when adults that you are supposed to turn to for help are constantly coming and going like a revolving door. Kids are so trusting and will often open up to you very quickly, but that trust and hope is gone when you do not stick with them and do not show that you are there for them for the long run. And it is not the teachers or the other adults’ fault; it is simply a fault within our education system. When a couple of students I was working with more closely this past week asked me if I was staying for the next school year and I had to tell them no, I realized I too have taken part in this unfortunate cycle. I was yet another unfamiliar face showing up and telling them what to do and watching over them, only to leave within a few months. Within only two short weeks I grew such a fondness for the students at Robert W. Coleman and I was so excited to get up in the morning to go and see them. Once school ended on Thursday and I knew I wasn’t going to see most of them again, I couldn’t help but feel quite sad and miss them and the short time we spent together. I’d like to say that I bonded with a couple of them and I got to know several of their full names from doing attendance. I’d also like to say that they liked me and began to trust me too, as some would confide in me about a kid bullying them or a sick mother in the hospital. I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with RWC and CIIP, but I know that I cannot rely solely on Hopkins to connect me with my community and to be yet another revolving face. I need to take it upon myself to continue to stay connected with the school and Child First Authority, and if I want to help make a difference, I cannot take part in the problem that I so commonly address as one of the major issues within education. Even if it may be the case for now and I do not know in what capacity I will be able to work with the school in the future, working within the school and with the students has inspired me to stay in contact and continue doing work with Child First Authority and to not just do what I am paid to do and leave. This may be just a small part of my life, but it is these student’s entire lives.
On Monday, a mother of three comes to see us on her only day off of the week. She’s had piercing headaches for months. With the kids and her job she just hasn’t had time to come in. I tell her she is strong. She smiles, “Tengo que ser fuerte. Tengo que.” She picks herself up. It’s time to pick up her kids.
Tuesday, a 24 year old has the first doctor’s visit of his life by coming to see us. 2 years ago he experienced a head trauma that left him unconscious for days in his home country. He couldn’t afford to go to a hospital there. He’s been gradually losing his sight and living with stabbing migraines for two years. He’s a construction worker and has had steel nails puncture both his feet, giving him a limp. He came because he couldn’t work anymore. We asked why not sooner. “Tenía miedo. No puedo pagar.”
Wednesday, we only have one volunteer doctor. We turn away 13 people.
Thursday, a man arrives after 11 days in a detention camp. There’s black under his nails. He’s the kind of tan that means he toils under an unfriendly sun. He waits patiently for his turn to talk with our front desk staff. We’ve reached our maximum capacity for the day. But we can’t bring ourselves to turn him away. Yani, one of our staff whispers to me, “Me parte el corazón. Le puedes ver las manos…es un señor que solo ha trabajado en su vida.” All he’s done in his life is work.
Friday, I attend an event hosted by ERICA. They put me in contact with one of their clients, a young man recently arrived from Guatemala. He’s taken aback when I greet him in Spanish. A kind of surprise that tells you he maybe hasn’t heard it in a while. He tells me of the loneliness of living in North Baltimore. There’s tables of food at the event. He doesn’t eat.
These encounters tell me there is work left to do to support immigrants in Baltimore. One of my coworkers this week said that the work we do is impactful, but it is only a bandage over a bigger problem. It is easy to feel discouraged in our work, to focus on those we turn away and the people who don’t come back. Easy to get bogged down in the trauma and barriers that seem insurmountable.
I’m left now clinging onto something that Valeria Fuentes, an immigrant artist at the ERICA event said to me. She told me that too often we focus only on the trauma of immigrants. What of the celebration?
To do the work, it’s necessary to remember to stay rooted in the hope we (as Esperanza staff members and Esperanza Center clients) impart to one another. Remember how the mother smiles when she talks about her toddlers she’s picking up from school. How the man with the concussion laughs about the soccer ball that knocked him out. The fact that a man who’s just been released from a detention camp feels comfortable to see us. We get to look him in the eyes and say, we see you.
If I were to use a single word to characterize the entire week of orientation, it would be “community.” As interns, we are part of the Hopkins community, the Charles Village community, and, hopefully, the larger Baltimore community. While we have many different communities we belong to, the community we spent the most time with this week was our CIIP community.
According to an online dictionary, a community is “a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.” All the CIIP interns I guess sort of share a specific locality, and maybe you could consider Eli and Clarissa our shared “government.” What is, though, our “common culture and historical heritage?” What really holds us together as a group and holds us accountable to the piece of paper at the front of the room titled “Community Agreements” that we made on the first day of orientation?
Admittedly, one of the things I noticed within the first five minutes of CIIP was the diversity of the people in the room. Several speakers throughout the week pointed this out as well. To me, this was exciting and refreshing. In group discussions, I heard perspectives I hadn’t thought of and really intelligent comments from my peers, which were interesting but also somewhat intimidating and making me question whether I deserved to be a part of this CIIP community. Other interns challenged some thoughts I may have come in with and made me recognize privilege I didn’t even realize I had. Even more so, they made me think more about my own identity, to which I’ve previously somewhat ignored or been irritated by.
One of our speakers from the week told us to help people “tap into their agency,” rather than “fix” them. For me, being with such a neat, supportive, and passionate group of students did just that. Hearing new ideas and honing in on others’ energy made me feel more empowered to take the risk to think in new ways and really think more about my identity. I also learned other interns share many of the same fears I have about this summer, whether about how to handle privilege or how to really get to know Baltimore.
So, what holds our CIIP community together? I don’t honestly know at this point. Maybe it’s a desire to know Baltimore or a passion for social justice. To me, after sharing a week of thoughts, challenges, fears, and also fun with these 48 new friends, the CIIP community is a place to feel safe. It is a place where we have “permission to be messy,” can “be generous with validation,” and can “assume best intentions.” For me, it is a place where I can learn more about myself and others and figure out the impact I want to have.Tags: Arts, Child First Authority, CIIP, ciip 2019, Esperanza Center, Robert W Coleman Elementary School, STAR TRACK, Whitelock Community Farm, Wide Angle Youth Media