2019 Orientation: Environment & Food Access


The paradigm shift from the individual to the collective is always an interesting one. Last year, while I leaned into collaboration and mutual self-discovery during orientation, my primary objective going into the week was to develop the skills, context, and cultural competence in myself to have a successful summer. This summer, that wasn’t my first priority, nor close to the top of the list. I wanted others- my peer mentor group in particular, but the whole group of interns- to develop these skills and be challenged and validated in the ways I had been last year. By and large, this happened. I saw dozens of challenging conversations taking place, and saw the entire cohort developing the skills they need to be successful and empathetic as they do work in the community. What I didn’t realize was exactly how much I would be challenged throughout the course of this week, and how much I would grow. Perhaps the most influential session for me was the TAG workshop. Thinking intentionally about my gut reactions to the questions they asked and the activities they initiated showed me a lot about myself as a person and my growth since last summer. One particularly interesting activity included the facilitators instructing us to form groups based on “something about our skin.” Last year, I remember hearing this question, and feeling icky as my gut told me to stand with the other Black interns, as opposed to the people with hair on their arms, or even skin a similar shade of brown as mine. My default categorization of skin was race, when the prompt had nothing to do with race. This year, the same thing happened. I saw a group of Black interns of various skin tones forming, and, although I knew exactly what I was doing and what message I was sending, I stood in that circle. That was challenging- that understanding that my gut reaction hadn’t changed, but more than that, that my cognitive processes were often different fundamentally from my gut. The most rewarding component of the week was the conclusion. As Hopkins students, our positionality within Baltimore is something we so often ignore. Having an understanding of the history of our institution and the city in which we, and it, reside, is fundamental to doing community work in Baltimore. Understanding the legacy Baltimoreans, especially Black Baltimoreans, see of experimentation and rapid exodus from their lives, of gentrification and overpolicing, and the connection of Johns Hopkins to those, is vital for our work this summer.


Orientation was busy and it was packed. And after a week of waking up at noon, it was hard to get out of bed at 8 a.m., put on my best attempt at business casual, and hit the road. It was challenging to meet so many other interns on the same day, and try and remember their names and placements. It was even more challenging to confront my own identity, and break down my role and responsibility in the city of Baltimore and as a community member. We had many difficult conversations over the course of the past week. Conversations regarding the Johns Hopkins University private police force particularly stood out, as they kept reminding me that the institution I was representing didn’t necessarily always have the best interests of Baltimore in mind. So it was difficult to have these conversations even within the space of FastForwardU, a space that was so clearly designated for Johns Hopkins students, in a neighborhood where people were pushed out. The other thing I struggled with as we had these conversations were my own interests; I am not from Baltimore, and I do not see myself staying in Baltimore, so how can I make sure that my work over the next couple of weeks is helpful in the long-term, when I feel as if I am in a very transitional point in my life? And of course, there is always the question of privilege. One thing that stood out to me was a point that one of the Creating Change panelists, Regina Boyce, made– that you cannot go into this work with an “us” vs. “them,” mentality, that you cannot separate or distinguish yourself from the community because you are a Johns Hopkins student. This was really great advice for me, as it reminded me that before everything I am first and foremost an individual willing and capable to help.


I just wanted to begin by saying that I really enjoyed orientation. From Reverend Brown’s words of wisdom, to Shawntay’s discussion on micro-aggressions, to the workshop led by TAG–it was very obvious that there was a lot of thought put into curating this leaning experience, so thank you Eli and Clarissa for that! My favorite part of orientation was the constant emphasis on being self-aware and the importance of reflection. I loved how there was always time set aside to discuss and reflect on the topics that were presented by the facilitators and how we were able to immediately unpack certain thoughts as they occurred because they would’ve otherwise been lost. The beautiful part of orientation was how in a short week a community was built. I truly believe that I can depend on and reach out to each and every CIIP intern without feeling weird about doing so. Everyone seems like they came in with an open mind and heart, ready to not only learn about how to be a CIIP intern, but also to form meaningful relationships and an everlasting support system.

The toughest part about orientation was the identity activity led by TAG. Prompts were read and we were asked to move to a specific identity in response. We were then asked to discuss our decision to move to that identity with the other folks who were also within that identity. The challenging part came after the last prompt while we were discussing. My fellow intern gave her reason and mentioned how she was realizing how much she’s changed since last doing this activity during her Freshmen year, placing emphasis on how her experience at Hopkins has been extremely impactful on her views of herself. This then got me thinking about the same thing and I expressed how I never thought about that. I then began talking about how Hopkins has impacted me and has placed me in certain situations that have impacted my life and outlook. A rush of emotion then overcame me because this was the first time that I had made the connection between Hopkins role in causing me to question myself in ways that I never have. I had to sit out for the next 20 minutes because I couldn’t stop crying, but I am extremely grateful for that activity and for the comment made by my fellow intern for allowing me to realize this.


The thing that challenged me most about orientation was having to mentally shift gears. At Hopkins, during the school year, much of what we do is for academic gain. So it was difficult to engage with things when they weren’t for a grade: I was asked to honestly and vulnerably engage in and reflect on conversations with no agenda other than to become closer with my cohort. Becoming closer with my cohort and my peer mentor group specifically was one of the aspects I particularly enjoyed. We cheered each other on and got each other excited for our placements. We engaged in deep and thoughtful conversation yet also found time to goof off and joke around. I’m really excited to see how we all grow closer together in the next two months and beyond.


When I came in Monday morning, I had my doubt: do we really have that much material that the orientation has to be a whole week long? However, it turns out that there are so many aspects about community service that we barely touched the surface by the end of the training. I always believe that social injustice in Baltimore City is a systemic issue that requires many generations to solve, therefore I shouldn’t be too ambitious and focus on the topics I care the most about. Thus, I came into CIIP program with the sole goal of providing fresh produce to the surrounding neighborhood and become friends with the resident, but this week of orientation made me realize that all of the social issues in Baltimore City are related to each other and we need to work with each other if we want to make a change here. I am glad that I have this wonderful opportunity to meet all of you excellent people, and can’t wait to come up with creative solutions with you together.

On a second thought, I’d like to mention how much I enjoyed the presentations by Lane and Naadiya. I always have an interest in history and economy, and it is eye-opening to observe how policies and the market shapes Baltimore City to what it is today. I wish we can visit the port of Baltimore and talk to the workers there. It will be a wonderful opportunity to learn more about this important aspect of Baltimore economy and how we can utilize this resource to benefit more residents of the city.

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