2020 Week 3

Photo of Sarah AbdellahSarah Abdellah | MOMCares

As we approach the one-month benchmark of official CIIP digital interning, I thought I would share a bit about adjusting to work from home, creating new routines, and serving the Baltimore community through a screen.

I start my mornings around 7 AM with some hot Nescafe instant coffee and vegan pancakes slathered in syrup and blueberries, and slip on some headphones to be transported to the world of ‘Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine’. After listening to modern ethical dilemmas and the history of medical racism, I take a walk around the block, centering myself as I embrace the crisp air of a typical Baltimore summer’s day.

There is no shortage of formal communication throughout my day, from Zoom meetings to phone calls to emails, information flies back and forth between the MOMCares team. Despite the chaos behind constant ‘ding’ notifications from texts and emails, I can’t help but smile when I start off my work day at 9:00 AM sharp in a Zoom meeting with Awoe and Ana. Our conversations stay lighthearted, yet educative as we: touch base on my progress, explain the projects I’m working on, and what I have learned thus far working with MOMCares. This week I listened to Ana’s positive affirmations on how much I’ve grown in just the first few weeks of CIIP – actively listening and uplifting the voices of others – and mentioned how well I have adjusted and bonded with the rest of the team. Ana’s words warmed my heart and refueled the fire and desire I have inside – to continue bending my privilege in the direction of justice.

From 9:30 to 11 AM, I sit at my desk with too many tabs open as I compile a birthing doula packet and postpartum doula packet. These packets serve as handbooks- highlighting specific expectations, required documentation, and instructions – to the doulas we match with our clients. The significance behind the doula packets are to clearly state MOMCares initiatives and ensure positive and meaningful interactions between the client and doula, either in preparation and during the birth and/or postpartum.

Another Zoom meeting awaits me at 11 AM, where I’m greeted by the smiles of the other MOMCares interns and doulas. One of the many things I appreciate about this group is our emphasis on mental health and self-care. We start off every meeting with a check-in on how we’re feeling and share what we are looking forward to and grateful for this week. The positive energy, empathy, and love spread around our group through ‘snaps’ and Zoom reactions makes me feel like I truly belong in this charismatic, caring group of people.

I remember our first staff meeting happened to fall on my first official day of CIIP this summer. I was desperately writing down anything and everything I heard, so that I could do additional research on the organizations, grants, and projects mentioned. I felt lost in a flood of information, staring at words for too long to the point they became jumbled and felt unreal. I look at myself now, three weeks later, actively participating, knowing exactly which partners and grants we’re talking about, and able to explain my projects’ progress without hesitation. Our meetings close with Ana leading a simple, yet effective breathing exercise:
Five deep breaths in…
Five deep breaths out…
Four deep breaths in…
Four deep breaths out …….
After counting down and reaching one deep breath out, I look around the Zoom room and the tranquility transcends the screen, as our peace and togetherness prepares us to seize the day ahead of us.

At noon, I’m pleasantly met with my classic iPhone ringtone, and hop on a call with Nana to work on our research project. Specifically, we are working on a pre and post-test survey for our clients in order to assess their current needs and how MOMCares and our partner nonprofits can alleviate those needs. For instance, if one of our Black birthing persons indicate that they are experiencing food insecurity, unstable housing, and/or domestic violence (just to name a few), then we would connect them with the appropriate resources, through MOMCares and other local organizations throughout Baltimore. These resources translate beyond my official role as a CIIP intern. This past week, I saw a tweet from someone I share a mutual friend with, asking for resources for a Black mother who is currently struggling with their mental health, does not have insurance, and needs a lawyer to help her and her children. I quickly compiled a list of pro-bono lawyers in the area as well as mental health services that specifically serve Black people such as the Black Mental Health Alliance. After a few hours, I heard a response from the person helping this mother, exclaiming how helpful those resources were and how the mother is now in contact with a pro bono lawyer on her case. Never would I have thought to have such a gratifying experience in a virtual world before, this experience showed me that not only does my role extend that of the formal CIIP program, but also that service, even if you do not see the immediate impact, is also important.

Around 3, I’ll start to make lunch, typically a grilled cheese with tomato and basil, with my roommates in our kitchen and awkwardly dance to 2000s pop music while attempting not to burn the bread. After eating a deliciously melted grilled cheese, I zoom into another Zoom meeting with Killian and Monika to discuss progress on the doula packets and other projects such as the up-and-coming new MOMCares website!

Around 4:30, I’ll close out my day with a quick check-in with Ana. Ana Rodney is such an incredibly resilient and caring person. In every interaction, she creates a welcoming, supportive, uplifting space where I am able to ask questions to learn and grow as I navigate through this Summer and beyond. Alongside the rest of my cohort, CSC staff, and the MOMCares team, I feel motivated and excited to continue reading, listening, and serving throughout my life.

Photo of Edwin ArriolaEdwin Arriola | CentroSOL

“Think about why you want to do this?” This was the assignment that Awoe left me with in our weekly meeting. In these first few weeks of the program, I was so busy working and preparing for Centro SOL that it completely slipped my mind that, while this program is meant to allow me to serve the community in Baltimore, a big theme in CIIP is also to take the time to reflect on my experiences. So this week, I took a step back and thought more about why I wanted to be a peer mentor and more specifically, why I chose to return to Centro SOL.

My experience in CIIP last year was transformative and was one of the best things I could have done as a sophomore. Before being an intern, I recognized the existence of social issues that created inequalities in our society and knew that we had to work to make reforms to stop these issues. However, I was never confident enough to discuss these issues and considered myself as “non-political”. Little did I understand that taking this stand can be just as harmful as supporting social inequality and issues. Being in CIIP, my peer mentor encouraged me to seek out discussion instead of avoiding them. I carried this lesson with me throughout my junior year and made many amazing friends because of it. That is what inspired me to become a peer mentor.

When I was chosen as a peer mentor, deciding where I wanted to intern at was difficult. I could expand my experience with other social realms like LGBT+ life or healthcare. However, Centro SOL, and specifically the Summer Scholar program, called back to me. Last summer, I was able to make a genuine impact on the lives of others. I was able to see the same faces every day and see my students slowly improve themselves as youth. Through this program, I gave my students resources that I did not have as a teenager that is essential in college and their careers afterward. Things like building a resume, professionalism, applying for financial aid, and knowing what colleges I should apply to are all skills that were difficult for me to learn without English speaking family members. They were skills that required me to do hours of research to understand.

So I guess my answer is: I want to do this to help prepare the next generation of Latinx doctors, nurses, architects, teachers, and other successful masters of their crafts.

Photo of Jevon CampbellJevon Campbell | Code in the Schools

This week was very chill. There was a lot of tasks using canva and I felt like I got a lot better with figuring out how to use canva and make the videos I needed to make. Additionally, I feel like I was getting better at making guides with my slack set up guide that I made this week. In our weekly CIIP meeting I think we had a very interesting discussion on active citizenship. It seemed like a lot of us were approaching active citizenship and were around the conscientious citizen section in the active citizenship continuum described. This meant that a lot of us were aware of social injustices happening in our communities and looking for ways to have a positive impact in our communities. We are all working on making sure that all our actions are putting the community first and listening to the community and making the community a priority in our activism. I also loved the complementary session that some of the peer mentors led on the relationship between Johns Hopkins University and Baltimore. I think it was great to get a refresher on this information as it is important to know that history and relationship and be aware of how you maybe received when working in Baltimore as a student of the University.

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

The Bureau of the Budget and Management Research is the fiscal and policy research arm of Baltimore City’s government. While the BBMR annotates local legislation for fiscal considerations, guides and produces research on various policy and economic issues facing the city, and assists agencies and legislators in policymaking, one of its primary responsibilities is to build out the city’s budget. In Baltimore’s strong-mayor system of governance, this mostly entails iteratively working with departments and agencies to identify funding priorities and propose dollar amounts that progress those goals.

Recently, the BBMR has also taken a large role in Baltimore’s Equity Assessment Program. Created via legislation in late 2018, this initiative is meant to ensure that agencies actively aim to close structural and institutional disparities in their policies. Because of the BBMR’s continuing role in the budget process (which is itself a natural gatekeeper for these policies), they are in a prime position to ensure the use of that equity lens.

My main project this summer will be to draft sections of the BBMR’s introductory report on the project. Generally, this will entail analyzing budgetary and outcome data on a variety of the city’s programs. I will work to get a sense of where each department’s money comes from, what it’s allocated to, and who those investments benefit.

Admittedly, this is a broad goal with a number of components. I am fortunate, however, that these components align with my personal and professional goals for this internship. For one, I will be compiling and visualizing this budgetary data, mostly based on a line-item report that spans nearly 30,000 rows in Excel. Additionally, other cities’ efforts to use an equity lens in budgeting will frame my thinking as I figure out which specific questions I want to ask and answer with the data. Researching those initiatives is another task that I’ve been working on. In short, I’m working on both my quantitative and qualitative research skills. By getting practice in tools such as R and Tableau as well as researching similar policies across jurisdictions, I hope to become a better policy researcher and advocate.

In general, I also wanted to learn more about local and executive governance (as opposed to legislative and federal, where most of my prior experience lies), and the BBMR’s role in the budgetary process has given me a rare opportunity to watch the anatomy of governance at work. This has, by and large, been the most exciting thing about working in public service — it’s always an adventure. Even if your schedule is blocked out down to the smallest details, you’ll never know exactly what the day has in store for you.

To develop my understanding of the city’s policy and budget making processes, I’ve gotten the opportunity to listen in to budgetary hearings, legislative working groups, and internal goal-setting meetings. From finance and housing to health and police, I’ve been able to learn about many pressing policy issues in Baltimore City from the inside, which is an experience that will surely serve me well in public service in the future.

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

This week, while interning at Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition, I fell into a solid routine. I would wake up around 8:00 am to do some light morning yoga or, if I am feeling very energetic, I would go for a run around Wyman Park.

Afterward, around 9:00 am, I would make a small breakfast and prepare a cup of hot tea, logging onto my computer, and preparing for the scheduled morning and afternoon calls with the teams I work with at Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition. In between calls, I would continue to work through the data for the Neighborhood Associations project, researching organizations and neighborhoods and assessing if they are still active and to what extent they are active online during the pandemic. To reduce fatigue from sitting all day, I mix up sitting and standing in between my work or taking a 5-10 minute stretching/dance break after doing 2-3 hour chunks of work. I also enjoy cooking lunch and dinner, using that time to focus on the activity, and leaving my headspace to think and reflect over the work and meetings of the day.

By 5:00 or 6:00 PM, I would pull myself away from my work desk and spend an hour focused on self-care, doing whatever my heart desires, whether it is to read a book, go for another run or do a 45-minute HIIT workout, or wear a face mask and nap. Later in the evening, between 7-10:00 PM, I contribute 1-2 hours to studying for the GRE, eating dinner, and Facetiming loved ones or playing video games like Minecraft, Stardew Valley, or Animal Crossing New Horizons! By 11:00 PM, I am spending the remaining hour reading a book, avoiding screen time, and going to sleep by midnight.

Of course, not all days fit the routine. On the days when I have cohort meetings, presentations, or find it necessary to work 6-8 PM in addition to the workday, I remind myself to stay hydrated, nourished, and stretched and energized through it all! Most importantly, I have found it very, very important to be forgiving to myself if I experience hiccups during the day — after all, life can be unpredictable while remotely interning during the COVD19 pandemic! That said, I keep trying to make the best of the situation, and of course, if I am overwhelmed or stressed, I rely on my strong support system of loved ones and communicate my reflections with my cohort.

This week, while interning at DewMore Baltimore, I was preparing content for the upcoming June Newsletter of DewMore Baltimore. I have found that the Newsletter is a key source of maintaining communication; sharing successes and inspirational stories and poems; and connecting our audience to volunteering and engagement opportunities. Especially during the COVID19 pandemic, it is essential to keep online communication robust through this bi-monthly newsletter. While I prepared images, poems, and content for the Newsletter, I had the most joy from interviewing teaching artist Ephraim Nehemiah.

One thing that stood out in the empowering, inspirational conversation with Ephraim Nehemiah was: “I believe in liberation from death requires artists, especially (those) trying to shape the world… who better to imagine that but those who create and wanting to capture what does liberation look like…” This powerful quote from Ephraim Nehemiah comes from a conversation we had over his piece the “Afrofuturistic Fairy God Being.” I wanted to understand what his thought process was behind this energetic poem. And Ephraim revealed a perspective that I have not seen due to my biases and privilege as a South Asian woman: the news and media have *constantly* associated Blackness, Black Life, to death. And while there have been many unjustified videos, photos, stories of Black lives dying due to police brutality, systematic racism, and other forms of racism, Black life is more than just death. Black life is also excellence through careers; literature; poetry; art; education; atheism; etc.

When Ephraim explained this to me, I awakened with a sense of shame and guilt: I am so used to being surrounded by the narrative that Asians are a model minority and “all Asians are smart” or “all Asians are doctors, engineers, or successful business people.” While these narratives are damaging in their way, they are not nearly as damaging as the narrative that is made by news and media about Black people, as demonstrated by the polices, systems, and structure of society that severely, disproportionately targets Black people. And yet I was so caught up in fighting against the narratives I face in my life that I was blind to other people’s realities and the narratives they are battling against. Most importantly, Ephraim made me realize how important it is to recognize the multi-dimensionality of Black life. For surely, no one is one dimension and any narrative that serves in one dimension only serves to erase reality. So, in this poem, Ephraim recognizes the frustrating narrative of Black life being lost to police brutality and other forms of racism, but he also recognizes the celebration, excellence, joy, and happiness of Black Life, bringing the multiple dimensions that make up human beings. Thus, the quote emphasizes liberation from the constraining one-dimensional narrative.

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

Writing emails has never been particularly fun for me, with every sentence bringing doubt about whether I’m making sense or whether I’m adding too many exclamation marks. With my experience this summer, I find myself coming across a new level of hesitancy, questioning my role and my legitimacy as I click on the “Signature” button to add my name and my title as a volunteer coordinator. But what has made that part worth it is understanding the cruciality of performing outreach when it comes to the work that government agencies do, and I’ve really only gotten a taste of this in my own work.

During the past few weeks, I’ve been reaching out to organizations, university departments, and individuals to recruit volunteers for MIMA’s volunteer team. While the task was daunting, I have continually been surprised at the number of applications I’ve received surpassing my expectations, and this is undoubtedly thanks to the ability of those organizations to tap into their networks. As I review the responses to “Briefly describe your experience working with the immigrant community,” I’m empowered by the genuine motivations and ample concern for immigrant issues within our Baltimore communities, many of these applicants being immigrants themselves. I see the value in continuing to build relationships with these organizations and groups and refining the strategies I use to identify points of contact. Who should I reach out to if I need volunteers with the ability to speak another language? How should my wording differ when emailing a service learning program coordinator versus a representative from another city agency?

Building community relationships seems to be the basis of the work that everyone at MIMA does, permeating every check-in meeting and making our initiatives possible, whether it be programs for financial support during COVID-19 or educating people about the importance of completing the census. To be honest, I was unsure of what this dynamic would be like before starting my placement at MIMA, given my prior perceptions of the relationship between government and communities. But seeing the extra steps MIMA is taking to keep their work a collaborative effort—through biweekly update calls and virtual trainings—is proof of the great things I’ve heard about their genuine drive to support immigrant communities.

Of course, there’s still much about the government-community relationship that I do not yet understand, having worked here for under a month. I want to learn more about the extent to which community members can provide input, and I’m sure that the people I work with would be happy to have this conversation.

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