2020 Week 1

Photo of Sarah AbdellahSarah Abdellah | MOMCares

We are living in a time of revolution. The Black voices in our communities have consistently been calling for change. Calling for racial justice and the dismantling of structural, systemic, interpersonal, and institutionalized racism in our country.

We are also living in a time of revolution in Black maternal health. In the United States, Black women are 2 to 3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. More locally, in Maryland, Black mothers die because of pregnancy or child-related complications at a rate of 44.6 deaths per 100,000 live births – 3.7 times higher than white mothers.These staggering and disappointing disparities in maternal and infant mortality are rooted in structural racism in healthcare. Black and African American women are more likely to receive poorer quality care than white women and are often denied painkillers in the emergency room. This denial of equality in healthcare coupled with the effects of environmental racism, gentrification, and sexism aggregate into enormous stressors that often undermine both the physical and mental health of Black and African American women.

Throughout my first week at MOMCares, I found that the support we provide addresses disparities specific to Baltimore including: transportation and food insecurity. By assisting Black and African American mothers with transportation to and from healthcare services and doctors visits, free weekly food distribution, mental health services, and NICU baskets for new mothers – MOMCares specifically strives to empower black women and provide holistic care to each mother to make them feel valued and loved. I believe it is pertinent to have the voices of Black women at the center of this revolution, to call public officials and healthcare workers for immediate action. Listening to the voices and stories of Black mothers has continued to inspire me to enter the field of health policy to address and dismantle poor health outcomes due to systemic racism, sexism, and classism.

It is important now more than ever to speak up about the injustices and hurt the Black community has faced historically and continue to face in the 21st century. Throughout this summer I strive to continue amplifying the voices of other Black and African American women to evoke change in our call for a Reproductive Revolution

Photo of Edwin ArriolaEdwin Arriola | CentroSOL

It’s needless to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has flipped Baltimore, and the entire world, on its head. Like my fellow peer mentors, the pandemic has changed the role that I originally imagined myself in while working at my non-profit. This time last year, I was planning a program where Latino highschoolers could shadow some of the best doctors at Hopkins. I took a backseat role, getting in contact with resources and people that could encourage these students to reach for the stars and strive for excellence, no matter their immigration status or identity.

This summer, it’s my mission to drive the same message into students through a similar online program where we meet via zoom on Monday through Friday. My role has evolved into one that is more active and requires me to work harder to make sure the students are engaged. I need to keep in touch to make sure they have all the resources they need and create an online safe space where they are comfortable with being vulnerable. While it may be more difficult in this online realm, I want to drive the idea of mental health and self care into my students during this time of uncertainty.

The pandemic not only affects my role in this program, but also the roles that the students have. Being forced to stay at home creates significant obstacles for my students. While they have to stay at home, many of their parents are essential workers that risk their health in order to maintain their household. The need for parents to work is amplified by the inability to get a stimulus check and some unemployment benefits without a social security number. I was baffled by the idea of being thrown into this type of situation without a financial safety net like the stimulus check. It is a privilege that I don’t hear enough about. Other students struggle to get access to a laptop or computer, which is a necessity in this new world of online work.

These challenges help me appreciate the resources that were available to me last year, such as the public library, the Hopkins hospital staff, and even my fellow interns who I collaborated with to create an amazing program. However, CentroSOL has worked diligently to try and maintain their role in the community and provide the same, if not more, resources than before. They’ve started a food drive, moved practically all of their programs that pay youth online, and even offer these students laptops and mobile hotspots if they don’t have access to them. Instead of letting the pandemic slow them down, CentroSOL has stepped up in achieving their mission to create equity in the Latino community. And I strive to do the same.

Photo of Yvette Bailey-EmbersonYvette Bailey-Emberson | Neighborhood Design Center

My first week at the Neighborhood Design Center definitely challenged me. My role is more technical than I am used to with analyzing data and graphs, but these skills are essential to accompany the discussions of social issues and their implications. My project focuses on the intersection of housing and schooling outcomes in two neighborhoods: Ellwood Park and Baltimore Highlands. This week I was tasked with looking at the demographic data of both neighborhoods and researching of how neighborhoods may affect one’s schooling outcomes to lay the baseline for our development plan. I have taken classes that focus on this intersection but doing the research myself highlights the disparities in ways that reading about it cannot.

As I pull the data, the patterns are ever present. In Ellwood Park for example, there is a significant amount of vacancies, it is predominantly African-American/Black, majority of residents only completed high school, and over 50% of children in the neighborhood live in poverty. Studies show that neighborhoods are significant in school outcomes as outside stresses like homelessness, poverty, exposure to crime, etc. affect performance, and the income levels of an area affect the funding of a school. Thus, it is no coincidence that these schools are also very low-performing with a significant amount of students failing to “meet expectations” in standardized tests. Obviously, standardized tests do not accurately measure one’s intellect, but they are significant nonetheless. Making these connections myself for the specific neighborhoods and creating the graphs that show these disparities takes these ideas from theory in a textbook to real life that influence the city in such deep ways.

It is frustrating to know that these disparities in education and housing stability exist throughout Baltimore in ways that I never had to experience. It is extremely disheartening to think about the vast difference in life outcomes a student my age has just a few miles away because of the neighborhood they were born in. However, doing this research and work with the NDC reassures that this is the path I am supposed to be on and my knowledge and work can make a difference. I am eager to continue to learn and see how our research and community plans can help change the outcomes of a neighborhood for the better.

Photo of Jevon CampbellJevon Campbell | Code in the Schools

My first week at Code in The Schools (CITS) was pretty good. Everyone I have been working with has been friendly and receptive to questions I have had. Since I have been working on the orientation slides and getting all the instructor bios, I have been able to get to know people a little better and match a face with a name, as I was getting pictures from people. Also, we have been in Google meetings and in those meetings, I have been able to see a few more people’s profile pictures/videos so I have been able to see more people’s faces and hear them speak. This has been extremely helpful for me because I really enjoy meeting people and building relationships and these meetings help me achieve that goal, despite the whole internship being virtual and not being able to meet the staff members of CITS in person. Additionally, I feel that I have been able to just jump in and add input in meetings. It seems like everyone welcomes feedback and it has led to some great discussions, which is promising for me because it was just my first week on the job. I even learned a few things (outside of the regular onboarding to the organization) as I was not familiar with SEL and learned what Social & Emotional Learning is. I look forward to what is ahead for me during the rest of my time at CITS this summer.

Photo of Lyle CarreraLyle Carrera | Bureau of the Budget and Management Research

It’s often said that all politics is local. Even federal officials in the safest of seats need to win local primaries, drum up support from geographically and culturally different bases, and work with local elected officials to ensure the continued safety of their seats every ten years. Pundits often talk about candidates’ electoral prospects as the sum of their favorability among several geographic and demographic groups. As much as this might sound like a DC politico’s tokenistic parlor game, this aggregation of local interests into national decisions is indeed the very foundation of America’s political system.

At times, though, this lofty ideal falls flat. This past fall, I was honored to intern at the House of Representatives, working on legislative research for my own Member of Congress. While serving my friends, family, and neighbors was one of the greatest honors of my life, it also highlighted the wide gulf between our government in theory and in practice. Surely, neither the Democratic nor the Republican Party national platforms are optimal for any community in America. Why, then, is the vast majority of votes completed on a party-line basis? Why do politicians’ speeches and ads all sound the same? Why are buzzwords and slogans the order of every day in DC?

Another aspect of our government as designed is that it governs slowly. Real change happens at the local level. My time at the BBMR is already showing me why that is. This week, I had the opportunity to listen in on the City Council’s budgetary hearings, wherein each major department of Baltimore City’s government provided a broad overview of their budget requests for the upcoming fiscal year. They supported their requests by outlining the deliverables and indicators that they’d met in previous years and anticipate meeting in the future.

At first glance, this seems even more tedious and non-inclusive than the federal government — who has the time or willpower to sit through several hours of line-item debate? As it turns out, though, the City Council certainly does. And they aren’t simply sitting through it, either. No matter how seemingly minute any individual agency’s requests or goals were, the Council made sure to grill the relevant staffers on any inadequacies or questions that they had. In a marked contrast from the pages and pages of irrelevant, earmarked, and pork-barreled spending that constantly skates by in every federal budgetary measure, the City Council hearings were refreshingly laden with oversight.

Another thing that stood out to me was that the Council members seemed like colleagues in the truest sense of the word. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the atmosphere in the hearing was jovial; after all, it was still a budget hearing. But the conversations were certainly more friendly and the proceedings more colloquial — in a way that didn’t feel at all like the Congressional old boys’ club. While I understand the design of our federal government and the reasons behind it, just my first week working in local government has given me a newfound appreciation for what seems to be the workhorse of American governance and policymaking.

Photo of Smitha MaheshSmitha Mahesh | Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition, DewMore Baltimore

This week, while interning with the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition, I attended the Monthly BRIDGES Coalition meeting. The Bridges Coalition is an advocacy coalition compromised of numerous Baltimore organizations that “work to end overdose and criminalization by promoting safe spaces, dignity, health, and justice for people who use drugs” (Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition). A key aspect of the Bridges Coalition is bringing awareness and advocating for the legal authorization of overdose prevention sites. Overdose prevention sites are facilities where individuals can have a safe space to use drugs under trained supervision. These sites would provide sterile needles; health care services; and referrals to drug treatment. Ultimately, the goal of overdose prevention sites would be to reduce the harm associated with drug use. Overdose prevention sites confront the reality that people use drugs – by creating a space with medical professionals and trained staff, overdose deaths can be severely reduced; the healthcare system would be less burdened through reduced infections and injury; and more people can enter treatment for drug use.

In this meeting, there was a representative from each organization, ranging from BHRC to Behavioral Health System-Baltimore (BHSB) and Sex Workers Outreach Project-Baltimore (SWOP). During the meeting, we discussed the survey results of political candidates and their views on legalizing overdose prevention sites; and the implementation of the community associations outreach project. One key feature of the meeting was discussing the relationship between police and overdose prevention sites. Considering the recent news of the murder of George Floyd and the loss of many Black lives to police brutality and systematic racism, there is an ongoing discussion on what is the current system of policing and what is the future of policing. Having been 5 years since the loss of Freddie Gray to police brutality, it has become clear that the current system and structure of policing in Baltimore City must be vastly defunded and reformed. The current system of policing in Baltimore City appears to be one of “law and order” and maintains “public safety,” but the reality is that the current system of policing disproportionately targets Black lives, as well as targeting Brown lives; the LGQBTA+ community; undocumented immigrants, and other marginalized populations. Rather than being a system that ensures safety, it has become a system of oppression that elicits a response of fear, stress, and anxiety.

The issue of policing in Baltimore is pertinent to the discussion we had in the BRIDGES Coalition, specifically, what is the relationship of policing in overdose prevention sites. On one hand, one may argue that policing can bring protection and a sense of security to an overdose prevention site. On the other hand, the presence of police can elicit a response of fear or anxiety out of an individual who is looking for a safe, welcoming space to safely use drugs and be supported with numerous resources. Through a discussion with a leader of the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP), I have learned that the presence of police would not create a safe, welcoming space for sex workers who come to the overdose prevention site. Rather, police might arrest sex workers surrounding the site or extort information from them, exposing them and risking their safety. In addition to this discussion, a large question at hand was about the sustainability and integrity of overdose prevention sites. If overdose prevention sites were to be public, safe, and welcoming, then it would not make sense to have the presence of police at the sites. Even if an intense situation was occurring at overdose prevention sites, the staff at overdose prevention sites would be well trained to deescalate tense situations. So, to maintain overdose prevention sites as a safe, welcoming space, we must recognize and preserve an individual’s dignity and wellbeing. Only through this recognition can we move the conversation forward to dismantle the stigma of drug use and advocate for the legal authorization for overdose prevention sites.

Source: https://baltimoreharmreduction.org/bridges-coalition/

This week, while interning with DewMore Baltimore, I was assigned to the task of preparing social media posts featuring the 8 finalists for the Baltimore Youth Poet Laureate Program. The Youth Poet Laureate Program selects a youth from ages 13-19 to represent Baltimore on a local and national platform. The Youth Poet Laureate would become a youth ambassador of Baltimore’s art and culture community; receive a national book deal; and participate in numerous community engagement opportunities throughout the year. Prior to the COVID19 pandemic, every February, City Hall would host 12 creative, honest powerful youth voices to compete for the title of Baltimore’s Youth Poet Laureate.
This year, the event will take place virtually (see flyer below). As I was constructing the unique social media posts that highlighted the 8 finalists, I was truly moved by the quoted biographies of each of these young, compassionate poets: they spoke with resilience and determined energy to be heard and seen in their community. They also spoke with leadership to engage and unite with their peers and community by using poetry as a way of expressing one’s emotions and thoughts. Ultimately, they use poetry to communicate the systematic issues that surround their society and to call for solidarity to combat these issues.
As an amateur poetess myself, I had to confront the biases I had within me and face the reality of the beauty of poetry. Having been raised in a culture that values STEM far more than the liberal arts, I had to face my biased view of how effective poetry can be to communicate issues of society. Reading the biographies and watching videos of these young poets, I have realized that poetry is a strong, powerful medium to express one’s emotions and thoughts on society. Furthermore, I have realized that poetry can unite many people through the commonality of literature, art, rhythm, and issues. As we prepare to celebrate these 8 brilliant, compassionate young people next Saturday, I ask you to read on their biographies and understand how poetry shapes and motivates one and another.

To Read Biographies of the 8 Finalists: https://www.instagram.com/dewmorepoetry/ or @DewMoreBaltimore on Facebook

To Read on the Programs of DewMore Baltimore: https://www.dewmorebaltimore.org/

Photo of Charlie NguyenCharlie Nguyen | Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs

I was a little worried during the first few days of the week that this placement would not be an easy start. I knew that MIMA was busy and that staff had a lot on their plate, but I couldn’t help but fear that I would feel lost this summer, having not fully understood my role and responsibilities from the start. This week and the past few weeks happened to be the launch of a new program at the agency in response to COVID-19 (in addition to other outreach efforts happening at the same time) which meant a lot of work for my supervisor and the rest of the staff.

But this also provided me with a great opportunity to see the work that goes into making these programs and initiatives a reality. I was able to sit in on a call between MIMA and community organization partners responsible for reaching immigrants qualifying for an assistance program, which really highlighted the importance of collaboration between local government and community partners. It was evident that the trust between organizations and the people they serve would be crucial, especially given concerns of vulnerability and confidentiality. Immigrant-serving organizations also seemed to help shape the program, offering their knowledge and experience in recommending methods for implementing the program in ways that would respect individuals’ privacy and ensure that folks directly benefit from it. It was also enlightening to sit in on a weekly check-in with MIMA staff, a surprisingly small team of four. While I still would like to gain a better understanding of the workflow and responsibilities in place, I was able to see what went into seemingly simple projects like translated informational graphics for social media. Messaging, language access, relationships with the community, and even conflicting views between government and community members were issues that were discussed, emphasizing the complexity underlying this work.

On Wednesday, I was able to meet with my supervisor to touch base on my responsibility for the summer: developing a volunteer program. Outlining the major goals we would like to accomplish by the end of my internship provided a great sense of clarity for me, and I’m honestly excited to plan out what this program might look like. Although I have a lot of ideas, one challenge for me will be accounting for feasibility and fitting the needs of MIMA specifically. Further, given the nature of remote work, it’s going to be difficult not being able to simply walk over to my supervisor’s desk to ask questions during the process. However, I have confidence that both the MIMA staff and my fellow peer mentors will be there as sources of support, and I’m looking forward to continue listening and learning.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,