2019 Orientation: Nonprofit Management
Walking through the Penn-North neighborhood I couldn’t help but notice the attention our mere presence was getting. The looks, the stares, the assurance from community residents that we were “safe,” all seemed to emphasize the idea that we, six undergraduate students from Johns Hopkins, did not fit in here.
Be comfortable with discomfort.
Despite the initial discomfort and lack of belonging, walking through Penn-North was one of the most meaningful experiences of orientation. Our group dedicated almost an hour and a half in this neighborhood, listening to the stories members from the Arch Social Club wanted to share with us as well as being inspired by the Avenue Bakery’s mission to the community outside of baked goods and deep into social justice.
Time and time again, this week’s orientation made me challenge my own boundaries. From thinking about charged topics to physically being in unpleasant situations, making the choice to place myself in areas of vulnerability led to my exploration of not just Baltimore but myself.
Be comfortable with discomfort.
As our group was leaving Penn-North we saw a block of vibrant row homes and we eagerly decided to take a small detour and walk their way. As we got closer it was not the three bright red, yellow, and blue homes that caught our attention, but the three gray, boarded, and vacant homes directly next to them. Walking through the city from neighborhood to neighborhood made me realize the dichotomy of just how connected and beautiful the city is but at the same time acknowledge the disparities present. There are many lessons that I have yet to encounter regarding working in the nonprofit sector and directly facing injustices, but if this week has taught me anything, it is to welcome discomfort and use it as a means to inspire change.
It’s not often that I cry when other people are around. But on Thursday morning, I almost did. Crouching on the floor in a fetal position under a sign reading ‘Gender,’ I could feel my eyes burning. And I wasn’t alone.
We were enjoying a three-hour long interactive workshop by the Theatre Action Group (TAG). For one of the activities, we had to stand under signs with different identity categories — gender, race, ethnicity, class – in response to questions that about how we related to these categories.
I was standing under “Gender” because TAG had asked us to sort ourselves under the identity categories that invoked the most distrust. Some of the other questions took me more time, but this one did not.
Needless to say, the overwhelming majority of us under “Gender” were women. As we gathered under the sign, several of us — myself included — muttered: “men.”
We then had to use our bodies to express how our distrust made us feel. That was how I wound up crouching in a fetal position, my arms locking around my legs and my eyes fixed on the floor. Retreating inwards. As I looked up, I was surprised to see that nearly everyone in my group was in the exact same position, crouching, chests pressed against their legs.
At that moment I felt a newfound sense of solidarity with the people around me. We did not need to talk about what drew us there, or why nearly all of us immediately folded into ourselves, squatting on the floor. For a moment, that sameness, that solidarity made me hopeful. But it was also devastating to see those scrunched up bodies, to see how endemic our pain was.
That moment encapsulated what I felt throughout orientation. At times, I felt more hopeful and determined than ever to help fight injustice. I was surrounded everyday by people who inspired me, who made me feel safe assured me that my voice mattered. At other times, I felt afraid. Many of the speakers and workshops only reminded us of the magnitude of systemic problems that we are up against. Throughout the week the speakers made us relive burrowed pains and past traumas, without necessarily reassuring us that we had any real power to help fight injustice. I often found myself and the people around me saying: “I’m tired,” or “today was exhausting.” And for many of us, it wasn’t just because of the constant walking on Wednesday, or the challenge of sitting still from 9 to 5.
For many of us, orientation was difficult. But it’s also reassured me that however overwhelmed I might feel in the coming months, I would not have to be alone. I ended orientation feeling grateful, and more hopeful than disheartened. I’d found a new community, and I’d opened myself up to people — some of whom I’ve only known for days — in ways I haven’t with old friends. Likewise, others opened up to me. I heard the stories of community members and saw more of the city I’ve grown to love. I know that will continue over the coming months, and hopefully beyond. This summer, I’m sure, will be challenging, but I know that it will be a full one.
For me, CIIP orientation week was filled with juxtaposing feelings: uncertainty coupled with reassurance, disappointment coupled with excitement, guilt coupled with gratitude. Even though I had gone through a similar version of orientation last summer, I still could not have anticipated what each day would bring for me this time around. Most of the negative feelings came from self-criticism of my own peer mentorship skills. Despite a four-day leadership training prior to orientation, I walked into FFU on Monday uncertain about my own abilities to create organic relationships with my mentees and facilitate meaningful reflection among them. Realizing that I was either the same age or younger than everyone in my group, I couldn’t fully shake off the feeling of imposter syndrome, especially when I actively compared myself to how naturally the other Peer Mentors seemed to take on their roles. There were moments when I felt an acute sense of disappointment in myself for failing to check in with my mentees more often, as well as guilt for not noticing the flaws in some workshops that other Peer Mentors picked up on immediately.
While being a Peer Mentor has proven more challenging than I expected, I also keep reminding myself that all this is a learning experience. I know I am not meant to be equipped to be the perfect mentor or intern, just one “with no end goal or purpose except to be of service,” as Naadiya aptly put it. The negative feelings I’ve been struggling with have been outweighed by the uplifting conversations and introspective trainings and generous validations (aka our favorite community agreement) that orientation week has brought me. I have come home each night feeling grateful and reassured that I am surrounded by so many likeminded people who also want to wholly invest themselves in our city; these are the relationships I want to be building, that I need to be building if I want to continue serving Baltimore beyond the summer and my time at Hopkins. I have yet to find another community that inspires me to be a more patient, more humble, and more empathetic person in the context of a city overcoming deeper systemic injustices. Orientation week was just the beginning— I am excited to see how these next eight weeks help me and all the other interns grow our heart for Baltimore.
If you ask any college student, they will tell you that the best part about any orientation are the ice breakers. Sarcastically, of course. A skeleton of an introduction, it feels like empty pleasantries. But our peer mentors are students too, and I believed them when all the work they did to prepare for our cohort was in effort to create a community. Through numerous workshops, speakers, panels, reflection sessions, and of course meals, I also suspect that by the end of the summer our cohort will act as a small microcosm for the nonprofit space in Baltimore. Through Bites of Baltimore Sessions, I am excited to listen to the experiences of my fellow interns as we spend our summer the way our illegal ex-logo describes, “in the community, with the community.”
When Doctor Reverend Heber Brown of the Black Church Food Security Network visited our orientation asked me what I thought of that meant, I saw it as a proactive mindset when contributing to social change; the most valuable community works starts with interpersonal relationships with community members. As a writer, I look forward to remind myself to look for stories as motivation during the summer. Additionally, while personally excited for my placement as a professional opportunity to intersect my marketing skills with my passion for the arts as a form of community, I am concerned that my work isn’t as meaningful and beneficial for Baltimore as a whole. Station North as a neighborhood exists in the White L, a concept with which I was previously familiar but the in-depth exploration of the ways in which the demographic differences of Baltimore manifest themselves both physically and socioeconomically, I worry that my work will not contribute to economic and racial inequities. Does this mean the work isn’t beneficial until other issues are addressed? Does work that not address those issues eventually perpetuate them? Frankly, I don’t know. And I don’t think I will ever know, CIIP orientation workshops and speakers made that abundantly clear. However, with those messages, though a sobering reality, were accompanied by the understanding that different organizations and non-profits all want to make a difference in their community and if we really want to contribute we cannot be paralyzed by the mountain we have to climb. I also want to emphasize “we.” A community is not a collection of silos. It is a living organism that is threaded through the streets of Baltimore.
When I applied to CIIP, I knew that I was applying to join a cohort of people who were dedicated to fostering deeper connections with the Baltimore communities where they chose to build their home for four years of their life. I knew that this same cohort would commit themselves to community, to service, and to humility as they worked at one of Baltimore’s many nonprofits and government organizations. In this sense, I felt that to join that cohort would be an honor and an experience like none other. And so I applied.
But I didn’t get into the program. Or, at least, not at first. I got into CIIP off of the waitlist. Of course, I recognized that, ultimately, this program was not about me but, rather, the community partners that we’d be working with. Nonetheless, the fact that I was not originally placed into the program was one that I’d decided to reckon with, for better or for worse.
This was what I enjoyed the most about orientation: Through the course of that week, I was able to learn what the rest of the cohort has that I need to improve myself. It’s in their attitude, it’s in their ethos, and it’s in the way they look at and experience the world. The CIIP cohort is a diverse collection of people with a great many experiences and personal histories among them. Throughout orientation, I was able to learn from their experiences and, through doing so, learn some of the lessons their communities taught each of them.
In the same sense, this was the most challenging part of orientation for me as well. My personal goal for CIIP is to start to find my place in that broad concept called “community” — whether that ends up being in Baltimore or back home in Las Vegas. A necessary part of this process is not only recognizing the beautiful things about community but also confronting the difficult parts, and historically, Baltimore has had both in spades. We had some rather heavy discussions during orientation, and that weeklong confrontation with difficulty was emotionally and mentally draining.Tags: Baltimore Corps, Central Baltimore, Central Baltimore Partnership, Freestate Justice, Impact Hub, Pride, Station North, Station North Arts and Entertainment District