2021 Week 1: Virtual Internships

CIONNE GATES | BY PEACEFUL MEANS

During my first week of working at By Peaceful Means, I have learned so much about the opportunities this nonprofit provides to children. Initially, I understood the main objective of the summer experience is to teach elementary and middle school kids how to be global peacemakers, but I didn’t realize how much learning I would gain personally from the start of my experience.

In fact, my first task was to research the peace heroes selected and document their contributions to society on an infographic. For this year, all the peace heroes are women of color with a wide range of activism in certain areas across the world. For instance, one peace hero is named Ahed Tamimi, a seventeen-year-old Palestinian youth activist who was imprisoned for months after slapping an Israeli police officer that was harassing people on the border. While this is a major issue occurring halfway around the world, America is suffering a similar problem in police brutality and the negative influence it has on our education system. Uniquely, Baltimore has over 500 million dollars in funding towards the police department alone, whereas expenses towards the failing education system is less then five percent of that. Unfortunately, this presents the notion that decorating the police cars is more important than children having a consistent form of transportation to school, a failing facility with misfunctioning AC and contaminated water. Being able to provide these kids with a role model that is currently going through situations like theirs strengthens my personal desire for them to actively transform their communities for the better.

Before researching these wonderful women, I had no idea who Ahed was and how insightful her experience was to the incarceration of women abroad, and often times, they are mistreated by the imprisoning institution that fails to provide them with sanitary napkins. Considering the misogynistic world we live in, its empowering to have the opportunity to provide a platform that celebrates the voices and stories disregard by most of society. It’s a blessing to not only learn about these inspirational heroes, but to be an instrumental part in advocating their stories to young adolescents is a gift I will always cherish.

FATIMA MENDOZA | OUT FOR JUSTICE

During the Bites of Baltimore on Thursday we talked about the education system and how much the public education system is failing Baltimore kids. This session left me with a lot of thoughts and had me reevaluating my own school experience and that of my little siblings. However, I’d like to focus on my siblings because they are ones that are going through it, and how they experience school is vastly different from some of the kids in Baltimore. My siblings are 8 and 6 years old, and on my way to return the chromebooks that the school lent to my siblings for their virtual school year, I was caught up with how relatively easy it was for them. The school lent them chromebooks and was constantly sending materials to us so that they could follow along. Before the pandemic, they took the school bus that would take them quickly and safely to their school. All these little things are not things that are afforded to every kid, especially not in the public school system in Baltimore.

Our family comes from a working class/limited income background, and that is not something I try to hide, but going through this presentation I realized some of our blessings that I do not think of because we happen to live at a place that has the resources to help out all its students. The issues facing the public education system in Baltimore are due to failed policy and it is not fair that kids suffer because of political action, or lack thereof. Throughout the presentation, I remembered another Baltimore education based presentation in the past that revealed that Hopkins does not pay taxes. There is no doubt that the university does a lot of things to help improve education for youth and this is reflected in some of the programs that the CSC enacts. However, property taxes are also a good way to help this issue because a portion of those taxes goes to fund the education system. It is great that Hopkins funds some great programs and initiatives to help with youth education, but when you look at the quality of schools and education the kids in public schools receive it feels more like slapping on a band-aid to a gaping wound because they could be doing more. Thankfully, there are people on the ground working on solutions for these issues.

MELANIE PILLACA-GUTIERREZ | OFFICE OF COUNCILMEMBER ZEKE COHEN

My first week working with the Office of Councilmember Zeke Cohen was exciting, I learned more about Baltimore than I was able to in the last three years attending Hopkins. One of my main responsibilities as an intern is responding to an assigned number of Constituent Requests, these vary from traffic/street code violations to community-wide issues about accessibility in public spaces. Participating in such constituent-facing work has allowed me to witness how people in Baltimore engage civically. Aside from constituent services, I was also given the opportunity to attend different meetings that are relevant to the work that the office does. On my first day I sat in and took notes for a meeting with a group called Advocates for Closing the Digital Divide. During this meeting I learned about the efforts of community and non-profits to provide equitable access to reliable internet and technology across the city. It was also interesting to see how local government can play a crucial role in supporting such efforts.

On Wednesday I attended the City Council Health, Education, and Technology Committee Hearing. One of the resolutions that was passed was a discussion on violence against women as a public health issue. Various government agencies and councilmembers were given space to give their remarks on the issue. It was encouraging to listen as various people in positions of power agreed that something must be done about the increase in violence against women in Baltimore. I also learned about the programs and systems currently in place that work to prevent violence and support victims who have experienced a form of violence. This willingness of community leaders, elected and otherwise, to engage in a meaningful discussion about how the city can use its resources to address this issue was inspiring and exemplifies the positive direction in which Baltimore is heading.

SUZY SCHLOSBERG | CENTRAL BALTIMORE PARTNERSHIP

This week I hit the ground running learning about several CBP projects and assisting in marketing and scheduling for the Outdoor Summer Programming series with community partners. There were a lot of materials that I began familiarizing myself with this week, such as understanding the history and needs of the 10 community gardens in our catchment area, reading over materials needed for the CDW application, skimming through CBP’s five-year Front and Center equity plan, and beginning to do research on resources, trainings, and various opportunities available for community gardens. One thing that I noticed this week is how all the community gardens we work with within our catchment zone have different needs, resources, and capacities. This was evidenced by the grant applications, in which some community gardens needed basic maintenance funds for things like replacing the rotting garden beds or fixing a broken fence line. Other gardens requested funding for upkeep and upgrades, such as better signage, a more advanced composting system, etc. I was struck by how deep the disparity was between the gardens- for instance, one garden that was struggling with maintenance of its composting method (open pile) submitted a request for implementing a knot compost system and referenced another one of our community partners’ systems as an example. Why are some gardens better equipped? I spoke with Aaron about this, and he pointed to how big a role individual capacity plays in these situations— some gardeners are experts who have the time and knowledge to ensure the health and upkeep of their community garden, while others might not. Aaron also mentioned something else that made me think— between these 10 Central Baltimore gardens, it may be more of a difference in individual capacity, but zooming out to look at all of Baltimore, the disparities that exist in community garden resources are much more systemic. Even with something that seems as hyper localized as community gardens, it still comes back to systems and structures.

STACEY TANG | THREAD

June 28th is an important day for a lot of reasons. For one, its a Monday and it will mark the start of my third week at Thread, but it is also the *ultimate* deadline for all the work that I am assisting with during the first phase of this summer. Coming into my first day at Thread, I thought that I would be prepared because I had already been volunteering with Thread for 6 months. However I quickly realized there are a lot of administrative things that volunteers are completely unaware of. One of the first things that I did was attend a supervisor training session for all of the employers that were working with Youthworks this year, and I was stunned to see just how invested the community is in providing summer employment opportunities for students. It was confusing for me to understand how Thread was involved in the whole Youthworks program, but my advisor later explained that we would serve as administrators for an employer site at the med school specifically for Thread students: DAASI. I was able to get my feet wet by creating an orientation presentation for the faculty that would be mentoring Thread students and felt comfortable with this program since it was something but my advisor and I had control over. But contrastingly, summer school is something that has baffled me since I first learned about the behind the scenes of this program.

Summer school is universally the same no matter where you go, but Youthworks has incentivized students to engage in summer school by paying students so that it almost becomes a job. While this is phenomenal, the partnership of Youthworks, a program through the Mayor’s Office, and summer school, something organized by Baltimore City Public Schools, seemed to not have been as seamless as they had hoped. Youthworks students are required to show up from June 28th- June 30th in order to continue their placements, but simultaneously, students can be placed into summer school as late as June 28th. This has created a stressful last minute scramble that my supervisor and I need to sort out as several Thread students need to be rearranged into credit recovery. This administrative chaos is indeed stressful, but also made me realize how sometimes good intentions (both Thread’s and Youthworks’) don’t always follow through with positive consequences. As long as one gear in the whole machine is slightly clogged or rusted, its enough to throw off the entire machine and I fear that this might happen with the program this summer. Youthworks is the largest employment program in Baltimore which highlights just how invested the city is in providing opportunities for their youth, but I can’t help but feel that this sort of investment should be more prevalent inside the classroom as well so that more students can spend time outside in the real world as opposed to credit recovery. As I come into the next few weeks, I hope to continue to reflect on this balance between the value of education through institutional versus outside means, but until the start of the Youthworks program, the best I can do is help Thread get out of the trench that we’ve been placed in so that we can optimize the summer experience for as many students as possible.

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