2021 Featured Blogs

RYAN AGHAMOHAMMADI | IMPACT HUB – Week 6

Impact Hub’s work is inherently intersectional; being an organization that facilitates and catalyzes relationships across different sectors in the city of Baltimore, plus being an organization who prioritizes systems change work and viewing the city as a social ecosystem, Impact Hub constantly has to take into consideration the reverberations of its work and others’ work across the city. Its position as an intermediary between different groups has been an interesting one to learn from and view in action. While absolutely coming to the table with a certain, specific set of values, morals, philosophies, and ideas around how systems change, Impact Hub does not claim to have all the answers. I think this puts the organization in a really fascinating (and wonderful) position where their work is to desilo resources and propel growth forward. As I’ve navigated my placement, familiarized myself with its culture, and written (a lot!) about it, I’ve come to recognize the value of working within an ecosystem and systems change framework, one inherently intersectional and holistic in scope.

We’re so often expected to do everything alone. We’re expected to find the answers to a problem ourselves, to navigate our career alone, to process our emotions alone. Why is that? This pressure on being solitary limits our capacity to be at our best; all of us need other people. Why would we ever expect to move through our lives alone? I’ve found myself increasingly frustrated at how we are expected to silo ourselves off and do everything without any help. It doesn’t make any sense! We’re designed, fundamentally, to be in community with others. On the flipside, seeing work being done that is inherently collaborative, mutually beneficial, and where everyone learns from each other has dramatized how awful this societal pressure is. To be sure, there are certainly moments, circumstances, and fields in which solitary work might be the best course of action, but long-lasting systems change work requires all of us working together toward a shared future in which every sector in the ecosystem is taken into account.

WILLIAM SHAO | GREENMOUNT EAST LEADERSHIP PROJECT – Week 5

Haste makes waste. That’s the translation Baidu gave for the Chinese idiom ingrained in my mind: 揠苗助长. A more literal translation would be “pull sprouts to help them grow.” I can’t remember how young I was when I first heard the story behind this idiom, but it has stuck with me ever since.

A farmer, eagerly anticipating the growth and yield of his newly planted grain, wakes up early every morning to go to his field and tug on his sprouts. He works very hard to do so, bending down to every single one and pulling them upwards. The effort he puts into this daily routine makes him very proud; he goes home tired but satisfied with the progress he has made each day. One day, the farmer’s son hears of what his father has been doing, and rushes to the field. Alas, he is too late. The sprouts have already wilted and died.

I remember thinking as a kid that the lesson behind this story was completely obvious. All a plant needs is water and the sun; how would pulling a plant help it grow? My parents, to their credit, did not try to force me to understand.

I’ve seen this same story (almost) play out time and time again this summer—in my own failures to adapt the life design curriculum to the youth, in Isaiah’s efforts to help the Greenmount youth realize their full potential, and in GELP’s continuing growth as a fledgling organization. When you put a lot of work and effort into something, you naturally expect a commensurate result. You’ve been patient; you’ve gone through the slow work of watering your sprouts and giving them ample sunshine. “What is” should have already become “what can be.” Yet there is minimal progress to be seen. As patience wears thin, what started as soft, measured guidance can drift almost imperceptibly to forced contrivance. The obvious mistake of pulling on our sprouts becomes not-so-obvious in real life.

I owe this realization to Isaiah; our quick chats at the end of each day and our end-of-week meetings provide the time and space necessary for reflection. It is these conversations that have helped me recall stories like that of the farmer’s and avoid making a crucial mistake. Distancing myself from my day-to-day experience, and reflecting on it through the lens of others, gives me the clarity I need to move forward. This is a lesson I will carry with me no matter what I do in the future.

HUIYAO CHEN | BALTIMORE JOB HUNTERS SUPPORT GROUP – Week 4

Reaching the midpoint of the internship, I have also been arriving at some milestones in my internship. The research guide is still under revision while close to the end as I am adding more new resources to the guide. I have also finished working on completing our list of potential sponsorship contact to reach out to in the future. And we have also been starting to send out birthday cards!

What I would like to give special attention and reflection on in this week’s blog is actually the bite session we had on Friday. For the 1-hour bite session, we learned and talked about the arts in Baltimore (specifically, murals and graffiti). I was lucky to have had the chance to appreciate them at Station North during Orientation in freshman year, as well as when I go around Baltimore occasionally. The topic we hit on today, however, has been a particularly new perspective that I haven’t had a chance to openly talk about or thoroughly think about before: problems and issues like gentrification that accompany this beautification process. What we discussed today brought me back to two weeks ago when in the Wednesday bite session breakout room Michael and I were talking about how emphasizing “the large picture” too much makes it easy for people to miss and overlook the urgently in need individuals under the “big picture”. The giant beautiful paintings seem to in a way resemble the “big pictures”: they are there oftentimes with an intention to convey something or cover something with the community and align the vibe with an intended one, while the reality is, people (especially residents of the neighborhood) are much more sensitive to the superficiality and deficiency of such works in terms of the works’ use and intention; are these merely a coverup? Would issues that are ongoing with the neighborhood be resolved or attended to through a wall of colors?

Going one step further from what we talked about in our bite session today, I would also like to rethink and bring up questions that I have been having regarding the role of art in community building/rebuilding and bonding: As Yvette said, arts are good. But how “good” is it indeed when it comes to resolving community issues? Would we need/have there been any scientific/evidence-based support for the effectiveness of art in making a change? If it works, how do we do our advocacy and community communication to incorporate this into the field and gain people’s acceptance? And like the example Bentley gave on “trash cleaning vs. art”, how do we figure out a priority hierarchy of what we would like to allocate our limited resource towards first/the most? And would art, while being enjoyable and beautiful, distract us from exploring, exposing, and addressing the underlying systematic and institutional issues that impact a community?

KOYE OPUTA | EPISCOPAL REFUGEE AND IMMIGRANT CENTER ALLIANCE – Week 3

My days often start with smiles. From Sally at the front desk, Kait in interdepartmental support, Bob in maintenance, or whomever else I may encounter on my way upstairs. Betty, my supervisor, is often hard at work with some task, or conversing with another staff member. While I wait to begin our morning check-in, I resume research for ongoing projects, or make calls.

After about fifteen minutes, Betty is ready to set our goals for the day. We review progress from the previous day’s work, or prepare for a meeting with a program participant— the latter often occupying a large part of our day.

No meeting is the same. From one program participant, I gather a glimpse of what it is to come to the U.S. with two kids, a baby, and no job prospects. From another, I learn how some Baltimore community members have come to support one another, or how others have come to scorn each other. From another, I learn how social security benefits could potentially serve a green-card holder.

With each meeting, I realize all the more how learning is paramount in my job. To welcome a stranger and make them someone known, they need to know more about the community that they’re joining—which means I need to know more about that community. Of course, knowing a person comes first in welcoming them, and it is a value never to be overlooked. However, as someone who has lived in the U.S. my whole life, I did not properly recognize how an understanding of my surroundings contributed to my ability to welcome a person, until I watched my supervisor—someone far more familiar with Baltimore and migrant life in the U.S.—commit herself to continue learning more on a near-daily basis, as if she had known nothing the day before. I noticed not only how she made herself aware of the news headlines, social infrastructure changes in Baltimore, and migration policies, but also made sure she understood them well enough to adjust how she introduces program participants to their new homes.

After such meetings, I often spend the rest of the day learning. Perhaps about job opportunities for a participant, or how the UN vets refugees so I can properly disseminate such information in an orientation program. Or sometimes, it is learning that the day is nowhere near over, and we have another task to get done before heading home.

ERICA’s greatest focus is to serve and welcome each person, however they may need. No person is the same, so no day is the same. It means no routine and little slack, but it privileges us to welcome program participants the way they ought to be.

MICHAEL VIDAL | ESPERANZA CENTER – Week 2

In this week, the internship has fully integrated into my summer routine. I have a pattern — from the morning getting dressed, the day-to-day tasks at the clinic, to the drive back home. Although some dread the normalcy, I take it as evidence of routine within the clinic. As the routine becomes common, I can begin to work more efficiently, leaving more space for other projects.

Communication is incredibly important for me. It allows the exchange of ideas between people with unique experiences and perspectives. I decided to test my communication this week. As trust grows, I have been tasked with refining and verifying the community resources given to patients. Due to COVID, many of the services offered in the community have changed or require extra steps before being utilized. Going through the established resources, I felt something was missing. Where are the resources for LGBTQ+ patients? And what of those experiencing domestic violence? These questions prompted a conversation with my supervisor to expand my project to create a resource sheet that is targeted to individual needs, removing the need from the patient to contact and vet the resources. This is helpful as many patients are limited in resources and time. Any way for expediting the process is precious for the clinic’s patients.

For those experiencing domestic violence, I proposed to my supervisor a peer-reviewed method of helping. In courses, I learned that placing simple, semi-discreet pamphlets in bathrooms gives survivors an opportunity to get resources without fear of retaliation from their partners or the hesitancy of disclosing to a doctor. Currently, doctors in the clinic screen patients, and while this is a prime method help survivors, the pamphlets allow those unable to a much needed resource. For this, I am to develop a presentation for the next staff meeting elaborating the idea for group consensus.

These moments of extra, independent responsibility show the collaborative nature of community organizations. It is fun to add learned material to a new setting. The trust and openness of clinic staff is even more so rewarding. These patients deserve any and all support the clinic can provide. I’m looking forward to contributing to that help and hearing the feedback in the upcoming staff meeting!

Photo of Ozioma Anyanwu, smiling OZIOMA ANYANWU | MOMCARES – Week 1

This past week was spent getting accustomed to and learning more about my placement this summer. I’m working with MOMCares, which is “a postpartum doula program designed to support mothers of color in the NICU who identify themselves as under-supported and facing financial stressors”. On my first day, I had the opportunity to learn more about the founder, Ana Rodney, her experiences, and how they led her to create MOMCares.

Ana’s journey began when she gave birth to her son prematurely, subsequently leading to a 6-month stay in the NICU. Throughout her son’s stay in the NICU and through multiple interactions with healthcare professionals, Ana found that there was a need outside of the traditional healthcare setting for compassionate and unbiased care, particularly for Black women. As a result, MOMCares was born. Although she initially started with forming healing circles to give mothers the opportunity to be in community with one another and encourage self-care practices, they’ve now expanded to a slightly larger team of about 5 people and regularly hold several programming events including Breastfeeding support programs and supply drives.

Having the opportunity to learn more about MOMCares was amazing this past week but above all else, it was very affirming. For as long as I can remember I wanted to go into healthcare, but in the same vein I’ve never wanted to work in a hospital; they’ve always felt so cold and impersonal. Today, I now know that our current healthcare system is full of biases, racism, and other injustices that detract from what’s most important, the person seeking care. And as a black woman, I’ve witnessed and experienced first-hand the ways in which the healthcare system can work adamantly against you. Fortunately, MOMCares takes a completely different approach. This became incredibly evident to me in learning about their values, the first three of which being Anti-racist thought, Collaboration, and Community. In very recent history, these ideals have been brought into discussions surrounding healthcare, yet still in a very performative way. On the flip side, MOMCares has been using language like this since they began.

In all, I’ll be working amongst people like me who have been doing work I thought only existed in my hypothetical future. Part of me is a bit anxious to join in on their incredible work, but overall, I’m ready to be part of the team.

DAPHNE MORAGA | NEIGHBORHOOD DESIGN CENTER – Orientation

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot this week are the various tensions we sit with as students, Baltimore residents, and people. It’s an uncomfortable tension, but necessary to do good work and be better advocates.

It is always difficult to hear about Hopkins’ role in the exploitation and abuse of Black communities here. Like some of my peers explained, I was familiar with most of the information, but each time relearning it I notice different patterns. In small groups, we talked about how the damage Hopkins has done to Baltimore makes us nervous to be identified as Hopkins students. I resonated with this: at my first job here as a freshman surveying Baltimore residents, we were told to flip our Hopkins researcher badges so only our names would show, and not the university logo. As our supervisor explained, we didn’t want to run the risk of scaring or making interviewees uncomfortable, and then reluctant to be honest with us. When I first got to Baltimore, I was thrilled to explore the city, but couldn’t find anyone to come with me, so I spent several months walking around alone. Far from lonely, though, I loved it. The newness of the city excited me, and its art wowed me. Feeling somewhat out of place at Hopkins, I also relished in the invisible boundary – maybe a 10 or so minute walk in any direction away from campus – between where I would automatically be read as and presumed a Hopkins student, and the real world, where I felt like I could just be taken as a person.

All these things were the beginnings of a Baltimore-consciousness I couldn’t at the time place or put into words, but which is now more developed. I thought about this a lot in our discussions. While exchanging stories about the “Hopkins bubble” tinged with frustration and a degree of shame about being associated with a institution that does so much harm, I thought about how fine a line it is between underappreciation and knowing the complex realities of where we go to school. I will never not be grateful for Hopkins, or proudly wear my paraphernalia outside of Baltimore; going here is a big deal for me and for my family. I think it’s about striking a balance, holding those tensions and multiple truths in our hands and hearts, and using them to do equitable work where we are continually striving to do the least harm and most good possible.

As for my favorite part of Orientation, it was definitely the TAG workshops!! The TAG team was so, so engaging, and I loved the team-building and reflection exercises. The team was so genuinely kind, supportive, and attentive, and I was beyond impressed by how they use theatre as a tool of advocacy and social justice. It echoed what Awoe was telling us (also a mind-blowing workshop) about how what you want to do – say, advocacy – can take many and any forms. My favorite TAG workshop was the one-on-one conversation using only “I can tell you about…” phrases. I’m a giant proponent of the power of breaking down supposed social boundaries (like niceties, keeping early conversations superficial, shying away from sensitive topics in the name of politeness, etc.) to establish immediate intimacy. It’s a tactic I celebrate and use in my interviewing, and I so appreciated it in this TAG workshop. Thank you, peer mentors and CIIP staff for organizing such a fruitful experience (we really see all the hard work that went into making it dynamic in spite of the challenges of zoom, and appreciate it so much).

Tags: , ,