2020 Week 6

Photo of Sarah AbdellahSarah Abdellah | MOMCares

Before reading this week’s blog, take five minutes and check-in with yourself:
How am I feeling?
Have I been eating regularly?
Have I been kind to myself and others?
Have I had good enough sleep?
Have I been in the sun?
Have I stretched my muscles lately?
Did I drink water today?
Am I rested? Am I present?

As you begin to center yourself – noting your current mental, physical, and emotional states – I would like to set the tone for this week’s blog as we near the end of BIPOC Mental Health Month (also known as Minority Mental Health Month). BIPOC Mental Health Month is observed throughout July to bring awareness to the unique struggles faced by marginalized groups, specifically regarding mental health access and stigma in the United States. Systemic racism is directly tied to the mental health status of BIPOC, as the experiences of overt racism, racial profiling, impacts of red-lining, persistence of negative stereotypes, and historical and contemporary injustices continue to perpetuate mental health burdens and trauma across generations and into present day.

Racism is a public health issue. Acknowledging the intersectionality between racial trauma and racism in the United States is vital to continue to dismantle systems that uphold discrimination, deny health equity, and devalues the experiences of BIPOC communities. According to the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2015 approximately 86% of psychologists in the U.S. were white, while only 5% were Asian, 5% were Hispanic, 4% were Black/African-American, and 1% were multiracial. These demographics are less diverse than that of the entire U.S. population, which consists of 62% white and 38% racial/ethnic minority. In addition to the existing lack of access to mental health services in BIPOC communities and the stigma surrounding mental health, the demographics of the existing mental health workforce upholds the barriers to receiving proper care in which one’s experiences surrounding racial trauma are acknowledged and treated with compassion.

Growing up, my family rarely spoke about mental health and mental illness as it was considered taboo. Often when sharing my struggles with depression, it would be immediately shut down and met with conversations about religion and praying. It was not until navigating through several therapists at the counseling center until I finally found a therapist that made me feel valid and heard – coincidentally we shared similar backgrounds: multi-racial, low-income, first-generation, Muslim women. As I navigate through the professional world and aspire to make an impact in the world of Public Health and Medicine, I strive to make each patient feel supported, informed, and heard in every interaction. How will I do this? Even now throughout my placement I continue to hold myself, others, and systems accountable and apply cultural humility and empathy into everyday practices. Cultural humility, a term I just recently learned myself, differs from cultural competence in which cultural humility emphasizes a lifelong commitment to learning, questioning, and acknowledging the biases we hold and actively work to redistribute power and advocate for historically marginalized communities.

Every interaction I have had this Summer working with MOMCares has been impactful and meaningful, even when I was unsure on how to best support someone, I would simply ask – “How can I best show up for you moving forward?” and “What can I do right now to best serve you?”. MOMCares is utterly devoted to holistic care, specifically emphasizing mental health among the BIPOC community and uplifting voices of color. Every Friday, we post affirmational graphics with quotes titled “YOU MADE IT!” on our Instagram page. This past Friday’s post declared “What I’ve done today is enough. I am enough, and I deserve to allow myself time to recharge”. Raising awareness and building community throughout this year’s BIPOC Mental Health Month in a virtual format was quickly addressed by MOMCares, not only through our weekly affirmation posts, but also through our Mental Health Check-In posts in which community members share in the comments updates about how they are feeling and their successes of the week. These posts facilitate an uplifting space in which BIPOC in Baltimore can connect easily with one another through social media, share their experiences, feel validated, and heard. Another initiative we started this Summer are the Mama Minute Check-Ins and Healing Circles on Zoom in which we practice breathing exercises, share highs-and-lows, and establish a supportive network of BIPOC birthing persons in Baltimore.

MOMCares plays another critical role in improving Black Maternal Health with free doula services during labor and post-partum to Black birthing folk in Baltimore. Prior to joining MOMCares, I was unfamiliar with doula work and their role throughout pregnancy. After speaking to the doulas on our team and my supervisor, I soon learned doulas provide physical, emotional, and informational support throughout and after the birthing process and act as an advocate for the birthing body. As addressed in my earlier blogs, Black women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. These racial and ethnic disparities in pregnancy-related deaths and complications (such as preeclampsia, fibroids, imbalanced nutrition) have persisted over time as a result of institutional and structural racism’s exacerbation of racial biases. So what do doulas and preventable deaths during pregnancy have to do with each other? Studies show that doula support during childbirth helps reduce the rate of cesarean sections, in which Black women are 36% more likely to receive compared to any other racial group, reduces other unnecessary costly interventions, and results in improved health outcomes for the birthing person and baby. MOMCares believes all birthing folk deserve to feel informed, loved, and in control throughout their birthing experience – no matter their gender identity, race, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, immigration status, education, or age – we continue to provide accessible support to all pregnant bodies. By working on our personalized matching process for doulas and clients, I realized how significant my work has become, although it seems impersonal due to the virtual nature, the support, confidence, and care each doula will provide to their matched client will hopefully result in joyous and healthy outcomes for our birthing folk and baby. Hearing the stories of mothers and birthing folks experiences with MOMCares doulas during our Mama Minute Check-Ins makes me feel incredibly fulfilled and grateful to work in a space that tirelessly aims to address health inequities and injustice, emphasizes mental health, and promotes love and healing in every interaction.

Mental Health Resources and Tools
Baltimore Specific Resources
Baltimore Crisis Response: Provides general crisis counseling and support for mental health or substance use crises. Call 410-433-5175 or https://bcresponse.org/
Black Mental Health Alliance: provides meaningful, engaging, and monthly programming educating Black people on their ability to heal both individually and as a community. https://blackmentalhealth.com/
Johns Hopkins Centro Sol: Provides a mental health support group, Testimonios, for uninsured Latino adults in Baltimore experiencing stress or psychosomatic symptoms due to stress. https://www.jhcentrosol.org/mental-health-testimonios
Roberta’s House: Offers a safe place where children, teens and adults discover that they are not alone in their grief. Children with their families share their feelings, memories and experiences in an atmosphere of acceptance with the love and support of trained volunteers. https://robertashouse.org/

National Resources
Black and African American Communities
Black Emotional and Mental Health (BEAM): A training, movement building and grant making organization dedicated to the healing, wellness, and liberation of Black communities. BEAM envisions a world where there are no barriers to Black Healing. https://www.beam.community/
The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation: This organization is working to change the perception of mental illness in the African-American community by encouraging people to get the help they need; focuses on stigma/self stigma reduction and building trust between Black people and the mental health field. https://borislhensonfoundation.org/

Latinx/Hispanic Communities
Therapy for Latinx: Provides resources for Latinx community to heal, thrive, and become advocates for their own mental health. https://www.therapyforlatinx.com/
Latinx Therapy: An organization working to break the stigma of mental health related to the Latinx community; learn self-help techniques, how to support self & others. https://latinxtherapy.com/

Asian American/Pacific Islander Communities
Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum: Focused on improving the health of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. Sign up for a weekly digital “community care package” which includes inspirational stories, resources in a variety of languages, tools for adjusting and managing mental health, and a platform to share your story/connect with others. https://www.apiahf.org/
Asian American Psychological Association (AAPA): An organization dedicated to advancing the mental health and wellbeing of Asian American communities through research, professional practice, education, and policy. https://aapaonline.org/

Native and Indigenous Communities
One Sky Center – The American Indian/Alaska Native National Resource Center for Health, Education, and Research: Works to improve prevention and treatment of mental health and substance use problems and services among Native people. http://www.oneskycenter.org/
WeRNative: A comprehensive health resource for Native youth by Native youth, promoting holistic health and positive growth in local communities and the nation at large. https://www.wernative.org/

Photo of Edwin ArriolaEdwin Arriola | CentroSOL

With every week that passes, I am more and more concerned with how fast the time is passing. To think, I only have 2 more weeks left before the Summer Scholars program ends along with my time as a peer mentor in CIIP. I’ve grown to love my position at Centro SOL and my job working with Latinx youth in Baltimore. As the program winds down to an end I begin to think about how I can continue to make an impact in the community and work with my site.

I hope to continue working with Centro SOL via the extension program, giving my time to serving the non-profit in any way possible. Along with this I hope to become a mentor. The mentors that have volunteered their time with our youth have made huge impacts in their lives. As we work on research presentations and Spanish projects, the mentors have become integral in making sure the youth have some form of support throughout the day. They proof-read their work and check in with them daily, along with being someone the youth can listen to and ask for advice. I also hope to volunteer with their food distribution efforts in the lower east side of Baltimore. They work with other volunteers and Centro SOL employees, many of whom I’ve built very close friendships with.

One of the experiences I’ve had this week was meeting with some of the younger Baltimore interns who I worked with last year. I had the pleasure to work them in our Teen Testimonios program, a support group meant for recent teen immigrants. One of them is going to Goucher now and is working for the mayor’s office while the other is going to transfer to Hopkins in the fall. It’s amazing to see the people I work with continue to grow and do amazing things. I hope I can maintain these bonds after this internship and help the Latinx community.

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

Throughout my internship I have been expected to take initiative in several small projects. I would be told what to do– such as to upload data points onto google sheets and create charts based on the data, or to brainstorm strategies to maintain housing stability and write a draft of a report– but without much instruction afterwards. It was nerve wracking as I had little experience previously with data collection or report-writing and I really didn’t know what I was doing, but it was exciting to be trusted with large tasks and building my own knowledge.

By 6 weeks in, I have grown comfortable with the projects and feel confident in my abilities to complete these tasks while we work towards our final neighborhood plan. It has been really neat to see my own personal growth and know that I can be a valuable asset to the team. This past week I saw this growth first-hand when I took initiative of my own project without even realizing it. My supervisor, Jen, had mentioned to me a few weeks ago that she wanted to create a greenspace survey within the neighborhoods. When work was a little slower this week, I went ahead and ran with it. I walked around the neighborhoods using the Google Maps walking feature and scouted out any parks, gardens, or vacant lots I could find. I created a survey to fill out with their uses and maintenance levels and got feedback from Jen afterwards. I was no longer relying on being given tasks every morning but could now see what needed to be done and could complete it myself, but I didn’t even process it until later when Jen had mentioned what I was working on to Awoe.

This was just a small part of a larger project, but it showed me that I am capable in this field and I actually know what I’m doing– even if I don’t always feel like it. Working on such large projects in nonprofits can be really overwhelming because there is so much to do and without experience it is hard to see how it will all come together to make an impact on the communities we want to serve. I am so certain this is what I want to do with my life, but I never knew how to actually do it and what my work would look like before. I still have so much to learn, but now I have a better understanding of how all of these small parts come together and how to approach it, step by step.

My next step is figuring out how to give recommendations to the neighborhood association for strategies regarding trash maintenance and housing stability. While I still feel like I have no clue what my input would be, I have more confidence that my ideas are useful and that I am developing the skills and understanding of our project to make important contributions. I have always wanted to be able to assess a need in a community and know the steps needed to address it, and with more time in this field and with the NDC, I know I will be able to do so, which is really exciting.

Photo of Jevon CampbellJevon Campbell | Code in the Schools

The last week for Code in the Schools (CITS) was good but challenging. It was especially stressful in the beginning because it was the first week working with the CodeWorkers. Due to Monday being Orientation day it felt long and particularly challenging because there were a lot of things to take care of. We had to make sure all the CodeWorkers were oriented with how the program will go, what our expectations were, how they are getting paid by YouthWorks, how to access Slack and Zoom, the best ways to communicate with us, etc. We also had to sort out connectivity issues and make sure all our links were working for our zoom room so all the CodeWorkers can receive proper instruction. I had a tough time working on the advisory and work group attendance sheets as our roster was getting finalized at the end of the previous week and the advisory and work groups were finalized that weekend too. This led to me working much longer hours than usual earlier in the week and adapting and takings parts of the day later on in the week off to ensure that all the attendance trackers were good to go for us to use throughout the program. I was happy though because we were able to adapt to any issues faced as a team and roll with the punches and have an overall successful first week. In terms of accountability it was quite a task to make sure attendance was taken properly and go through the rooms to make sure CodeWorkers were engaging in the way YouthWorks deemed that they need to so that they could earn their pay but we got through it. Additionally, some of the CodeWorkers had issues having to use their phones and stuff like that so we tried our best to gather all that information within the first week so that we could get the resources they need to them by the second week and they will be good to go for the rest of the program. I really enjoyed getting to hop in on work group calls and advisories and seeing the stuff the CodeWorkers would put in the random channel on Slack and getting to know them and their interests and their humor. One thing I learned after speaking with one or two CodeWorkers one on one is how much that one on one interaction can affect their experience. Sometimes it just takes someone making the time to get to listen to the CodeWorkers and talk with them for a little bit and hear what’s on their mind and effecting them in and outside of the program and help them reframe their experience and have a more positive mindset moving forward. I was glad I had that opportunity and this experience really reinforced the need for a restorative justice approach as discussed in the YouthWorks training the previous week and brought back to mind the idea of reframing experiences that we talked about all the way back in our CIIP peer mentor orientation that we had at the beginning of the summer.

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

As a governmental organization, BBMR has a large ability to impact Baltimore’s nonprofit and government organizations. Specifically, because of Baltimore’s strong-mayor system, BBMR is a gatekeeper in the policymaking process. Most of the City of Baltimore’s spending, whether at the level of a budget to be set or a vendor contract to be signed, must be approved by our agency. Naturally, this has large implications for other agencies, but it also creates the context and environment in which Baltimore nonprofits must operate. Many nonprofits partner with their communities to better connect them to the services that their local governments provide. Others work to fill in the gaps in the provision of those services. In Baltimore, these services are facilitated by BBMR and the Department of Finance.

In this light, there might be room to work with local nonprofits to promote budgetary equity and proper service provision. By working with community partners to identify local priorities and factor them into budget decisions, communities’ needs could be more wholly met. Among CIIP placement areas, community partners that work in similar spaces to city agencies, such as Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition, Bikemore, FreeState Justice, and the like, might be opportune colleagues.

However, there may be some difficulties in creating these relationships. For one, rules and regulations governing the financial aspects of Baltimore City’s operations may make such cooperation difficult to formalize. Additionally, because of BBMR’s focus on financial policy, our budget analysts might not have the specific areas of expertise that officials at other agencies do.

For these reasons, having those agencies work with community partners and other stakeholders throughout the budgetary and programmatic consideration process might lead to more productive conversations. Additionally, such relationships might create more opportunities for further cooperation in executing the agencies’ goals, should they intersect with those of the partner organizations. My specific work in laying the foundation for BBMR’s Equity Assessment Program may be able to help identify places in the governing process where such relationships can be built. By ensuring that agencies are asked about their stakeholder relationships during the budget process, BBMR can encourage them to think more critically about how they cultivate them.

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

Often, while interning at BHRC, I find the work of harm reduction to intersect with other communities and causes – racial justice, environmental justice, trans rights, and especially sex workers rights. Up until this week, I was assigned to do a weekly reading pertaining to the intersection of sex work and harm reduction. Through Rajani’s and Harriet’s mentoring, I was advised to look for articles, literature, books, and pieces written by sex workers for sex workers. Initially, I experienced great difficulty finding pieces written and published by sex workers for sex workers. Often, the voices I found online were celebrities, people in academia, or anyone who was privileged and very distant to experiencing the struggles and challenges of sex work.

Eventually, I was guided to read articles and books suggested from the Sex Workers Outreach Project and many of the pieces I found very much confronted my reality: despite being a cis-gendered woman that battles against structures of patriarchy and misogyny, I still have some privilege to be heard for my opinion more often than someone who reveals to their audience that they are a sex worker. Furthermore, reading the piece “White Feminism, White Supremacy, White Sex Workers” by Juniper Fitzgerald, I confronted my reality of how often I have been complicit to White Supremacy and White Feminism. Far too often, the sex workers rights movement is carried away by saviorism by celebrities, never really hearing the concerns and needs of sex workers. In addition to this, White feminism is concerned with preserving White womanhood at the cost of the wellbeing and liberty of people of color. This is evident when feminists have the mentality to support women’s choice and liberation but would abstain from supporting sexual agency (and thereby have a disdained view of sex workers). Sex workers contradict the mentality of White feminism because they uphold their agency by having the liberty to put a price on what are considered “performances of femininity.” Having read the bold confrontations made in the article, I realized there were times I was complicit to “mainstream feminism” or in other words White Feminism, that would exclude or neglect recognizing Black and Trans sex workers rights and their needs. Even through my time interning with BHRC, I have begun to reflect on how BHRC can include Black, Trans, and any ethnic/racial group in the conversation of sex workers and harm reduction.

The question of how BHRC and I can be socially conscious and culturally competent in the conversation of sex workers and harm reduction was beginning to be answered through this week’s internal training. In this week’s training, we began with discussing how overdose prevention tools/strategies can directly support people who support sex. I have learned that overdose prevention sites (OPS) are great sites to create a welcoming space for sex workers: Naloxone/Narcan, testing strips, and safe use supplies support sex workers who use drugs; and even if sex workers do not need to use the OPS, the space can be an environment where sex workers are not criminalized for who they are. Furthermore, the safety and welcoming environment of OPS can eventually become a trusted area where sex workers can refer their co-workers and friends for resources and guidance. Of course, establishing a trusted harm reduction space for sex workers requires being trained and aware of how to communicate with sex workers without ostracizing them. Then, the conversation moved to a more vulnerable question: when doing our work, what assumptions are we making about sex workers? Even though I have not directly worked with sex workers through BHRC, this question prompted me to reflect over my experience with sex workers through volunteering at an emergency department. Through the discussion, I became aware of assumptions I made unconsciously: assuming trans women do sex work, but not assuming cis-gendered men are trading/doing sex work; or making the assumption that someone is doing sex work for survival purposes; or holding implicit biases based on outfits or location. It is dangerous to assume gender for sex workers because it prevents having honest conversations and connecting them to appropriate resources that pertains to their lifestyle. It is also dangerous to assume purpose of sex work because it removes any recognition of a sex worker’s agency and independence. Lastly, it is dangerous to judge someone based on the clothing they are wearing or where they are located because that simply leads to the criminalization and dehumanization of who they are.

Lastly, the discussion ended with a reflection of how we can move forward from confronting our biases. Even though our discussion prior to this point focused on sex workers, we particularly focused on the question of how to engage and retain women, people who are gender non-binary, and queer men in BHRC work. This is because before we focus on retaining sex workers and work that looks like sex work, we need to address gender and sexuality in general and the dynamics that are present in partnerships and services. While this portion of the discussion took more reflection, we found that centering queer and trans people in BRIDGES coalition and OPS would be an appropriate, sincere step in the right direction. Truly, I have found the internal training and readings to be an eye-opening experience and I hope to carry the lessons I have learned to my future workspaces.

This week, while interning with DewMore Baltimore, I found myself diving deep into the intersection of the work, mission, and philosophy of DewMore Baltimore and mental health advocacy. So far, I have been preparing an outline on content to feature and include in the Onboarding Video. The purpose of the video is to educate and inform incoming interns, teaching artists, and new members of DewMore Baltimore the work, vision, philosophy, and values of DewMore Baltimore.

Originally, I was planning on drafting an onboarding video without making an outline. Wow, that would have been very reckless! I am very glad I stepped back to make a detailed outline so that I can make sure all ideas and messages are thought out and communicated appropriately. Since I am only interning with DewMore Baltimore for two months, I need to gain insight and perspective on “what is the DewMore way” from staff, teaching artists, and young people that have been part of DewMore for many years. This led me to attending the orientation meetings for incoming young interns of DewMore Baltimore. During the week, the young new interns would participate in deep discussions such as the meaning of African Diaspora, poetry, and activism vs allyship. In one the ZOOM call meetings I sat in, we had a conversation on what is the intention of DewMore and thus what does DewMore Baltimore mean to young people. I was truly inspired to hear how DewMore Baltimore has given young people a space where their art is valued rather than just being validated. In addition to this, many of the young interns emphasized that DewMore Baltimore is the treatment for the community rather than the cure.

To specify, DewMore Baltimore has a platform of engaging young people and even older people to use poetry as a medium of expressing one’s feelings, thoughts, and opinions. Through workshops, programs, open mics, leadership education, and other opportunities, DewMore Baltimore has created a space for the community to find closure in traumatic or frustrating experiences; find solidarity in the best and worst of times; and find opportunities to invest into the future generations through youth leadership and mentorship. The work of DewMore Baltimore has revealed its intersection with mental health advocacy work – DewMore Baltimore provides a way of addressing frustrations, pains, anxiety, trauma, and other emotions that plague an individual and give them an opportunity to focus on self-care, self-growth, and bettering the health of oneself, the community, and beyond. Of course, through the discussions with the young interns, we realized there is so many more ways that DewMore Baltimore can address healing and its intersection with mental health. As we continue discussing and learning from one another, I hope to find more clarity in the DewMore way.

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

I’m still bewildered that I’ve been working with MIMA for six weeks already. As fast as those six weeks have been, there’s been lots of space to grow professionally and personally, especially as the pandemic continues on. Being able to stay connected to Baltimore and Southern California simultaneously has made individual positionality a significant part of my reflection process, and I’m still unpacking what the differences between these two places mean.

I heard someone say that when it comes to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, inequality is the pre-existing condition. Infection and mortality rates have become numerical measures of institutional oppression, and it was striking to see how this has shown up in my own work. Among the areas most impacted by the pandemic in Maryland is the 21224 zip code area, where a significant portion of our immigrant community lives. As of this week, Hispanic or Latino individuals in Baltimore face a per capita case count that is four times that of those who are not Hispanic or Latino, further elucidating the disparity along lines of ethnicity.

Through MIMA’s work, the complex relationships between race, ethnicity, English proficiency, nativity, country of origin, citizenship status, socioeconomic status, and other identities have already been apparent. With the development of city programs to address COVID-19, it’s clear that some of these intersecting identities are not addressed in ensuring access for all. If an application form for temporary assistance does not allow someone to submit it without including a particular document, while also not making this explicit to applicants due to a poor translation, people are left with barriers to resources. Now that my placement entails speaking to people facing these barriers, I better understand the role that MIMA plays in providing support for the immigrant community despite not being a direct service provider.

At the same time, I’ve valued being able to better understand the multiple layers of my own privilege, including those that I had thought little of before, such as access to the Internet and literacy. I hope that my last two weeks allow me further space to refine how this understanding shapes my role within MIMA and the greater community.

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