2022 Featured Blogs

Photo of Aiman Altaf, smilingAiman Altaf | 29th St Community Center – Week 7

I see intersectionality at 29SCC through the activities I do with the kids and adults who come to the community center, and in the ways the center interacts with other local nonprofits.

One of the first times I noticed it was after a kindergarten health lesson, where all the kids were really excited to learn more about healthy eating and share their knowledge. I would eat lunch with the kids during the week, and noticed that one girl’s packed lunch every day was the same: mini donuts, a pack of doritos, and a juicebox. She was one of the most engaged during my lessons, and on this day she was telling the kid across from her, who was eating the lunch provided by the center, that the cheese he was eating had dairy and the tuna had protein. She told him he was being really healthy, while side-glancing at me to show that she had been listening. As happy as I was that this girl actually cared and was engaged during the lesson, I was also frustrated that she couldn’t really eat healthier on her own. The kids just eat the food they receive from home, and not everyone is in a position to make that change, whether that be for financial reasons, time constraints, accessibility, or other problems. While researching for my wellness table, I had read statistics about the local community and learned that 60.6% of the land in the Waverlies is covered by food desert, compared to 12.5% in Baltimore City overall. The median household income in our community is also $10,000 lower than in Baltimore City and the percentage of children in single parent households is 63.3% compared to 25% nationally. There are so so many factors that affect the children who come to our summer camp, and eating healthier food might be the least of their families’ priorities or just plain impossible for them to achieve. To add to the intersectionality, a healthy lifestyle has such pervasive effects on all other parts of livelihood as you grow up, including your brain’s capacity to function, your longevity, your mobility, and more. This means that the disadvantage persists from childhood to adulthood. It’s why the community kitchen the 29SCC has received grants for and is now starting construction on is so important, because alongside the classes that will be held at the kitchen, this initiative will be so useful for overall family health.

Aside from my own contributions, I have also seen intersectionality in how 29SCC collaborates with so many nonprofits. For example, on Friday I visited the Neighborhood Design Center and the Central Baltimore Partnership, where the directors of each gave me and the other CIIP interns at these organizations a tour of Station North and talked a bit about how our organizations collaborate with each other. In my time here, I have also attended the events of the Summer Connect Series, which is a collaboration between seven different organizations, and I have attended so many meetings that involve people from these orgs. There’s so much collaboration rather than competition, which can be an issue for nonprofits competing for the same resources. However, these organizations have chosen to collaborate instead of compete, which has opened so many opportunities for helping the community.

Photo of Kobi Khong, smilingKobi Khong | Rebuild, Overcome, and Rise (ROAR) Center – Week 5

I am absolutely terrible at icebreakers.

Name, major, year–I’ve got all of those down pat, but when I get to that dreaded “…and tell us something about yourself!” portion of facilitation, I, much like the ice we attempt to break, freeze up entirely. In an instant I forget about every experience I’ve had in the past two decades of life and all my thoughts are replaced with an incessant buzzing, like the static of a TV covered by Comcast.

When I consider myself in my entirety, it takes a moment for me to process what my identity is. I, like everyone else in the world, am composed of a multitude of things, all of which affect me and shape me in a different way. One of the identities that have had the greatest effect on my mindset and decisions is my status as a child of immigrants. My parents left Vietnam almost half a century ago as refugees from the war, but it is still an integral part of our identities here in the United States.
There is a stereotype for immigrant families, whether they have immigrated from Vietnam or from Uganda, every expatriate wants their children to be one of three things: 1. Doctor, 2. Lawyer, 3. Engineer. It’s been the subject of everything from sitcoms and comedy specials to therapy sessions, but it’s understandable. My parents came only with what they could hold, the boat that they left on had little room for belongings, it was packed with other families leaving in the dark of night who paid fortunes for the chance to escape. On the boat my mother left on, pirates pulled them over and took everything they had, the only wealth they had were coins my grandmother had hidden in a small urn.

They came here for a better life for themselves and their children, me and my sister. Over the years, they’ve been able to build that life for themselves that they dreamed of despite the obstacles. My dad took classes at community college while working at multiple fast food restaurants to support his twelve siblings and parents. My mom had plans to be a doctor, received acceptance at a prestigious university, and was the first and only in her family to attend college, but had to turn it down when her mom’s kidney failed so that she could collect used bottles for change and attend a local state school so that she could take her mom to the dialysis center three times a week.

In the end, they were able to achieve THE American dream, they were able to get their dream house in the suburbs, send their kid to a fancy college on the east coast, and raise a (dare I say splendid) son, daughter, and mixed miniature pinscher. My mom spent 16 months at a refugee camp in Malaysia and then another 7 months in the Philippines at the age of nine, but now refuses to go camping in anything less than a fully furnished cabin with electricity and running water and now has more letters at the end of her name than those that make up her name (MSN, RN, NEA-BC if you were wondering); my dad now has weekly pickleball sessions on the beach with the other retired dads in his group, friends he used to go to high school with back in Saigon. As much as there are times that I lose my breath arguing with them, I can’t help but be in awe of them.

Me getting into Hopkins was unbelievable, I applied entirely on a whim fully expecting to follow in my parents’ footsteps of attending an in-state university near home. The video of me opening the email with my acceptance is 2 minutes of me forgetting my password and 10 minutes of me on the floor sobbing before going outside to call my parents, who had previously made a secret pact to not mention college decisions unless I did.

When I first attended Hopkins, like many at our school, I had dreams of becoming a doctor. My parents never pushed it on me explicitly, but something that I always felt like I had to do. I felt like it was my duty to pick up the torch and carry it onward. I felt like I, the son of immigrants born into the nation we lived in, I, who was given every advantage in life my parents never had, finally had the opportunity to achieve the dreams that they never could. It’s probably never great to use money as a measurement of success, but it’s something that I had always considered. Our familial love isn’t transactional, but financial security is part of how we showed we care. Your parents take care of you and help you grow so that one day when you’ve finally made it you can return the favor and take care of them.
I don’t want to entirely put the blame on AS.030.205, my fall semester class of Introductory to Organic Chemistry I, was just collateral damage in my figuring out who I was and wanted to be. After the fall semester of Sophomore year, and a long and reflective Winter Break and Intersession I decided to drop pre-med. I just couldn’t see myself continuing along that path, and enjoying the future that I had so meticulously planned in my tables and cells in Google Sheets. Along with that, the tantalizing temptress of public health began reeling me in, while every second of learning about carbonyl groups felt like an eternity, learning about systemic issues and social determinants of health invigorated me to learn more and do more in the ways to improve communities. I finally felt like I had a calling and with public health, I felt like I could make real changes for the benefit of communities.

However, one common trend you’ll find searching through public health career forums on the internet is the phrase “Don’t do public health for the money.” This is something that I’ve spent countless nights worrying about, I’ve skimmed every post on every public health forum, stalked a multitude of professionals on LinkedIn, and considered every possible path.

Along with the overarching worry about the economy and world etc., etc, there’s a deeper fear. It’s the idea that in the future I will make less money than my parents and as egotistical as that sounds it’s not from a place of pride it comes from a fear of disappointment. How can I, the recipient of generations of sacrifice from my parents, and their parents, who gave everything they have so that I could have a more successful life than they could have ever have hoped to experience, not accomplish that goal? It’s the undercurrent of feeling that tells me that if my parents were given the same opportunities that they had fought tooth and nail for to give to me, they would have been able to achieve anything that they set their eyes on and take care of everyone that they care about. My dad who quit his first job at The Jack in The Box after a group of high schoolers came in and laughed at his broken English and swore to go to his degree so that he would never have to be treated like that again. My mom, who went back to school to get her master’s degree and couldn’t attend her own graduation since she had to take care of me and my sister.
This past week for my Community Impact Internship Program at the Rebuild, Overcome, and Rise center, I tabled at a community event in the City of Baltimore. A bus ride and a couple of blocks of walking away, I sat with my table on the sidewalk for the Community Connect Summer Series Family Fun Night event from the Central Baltimore Community Center Collaborative, handing out fliers, talking about our center’s services for victims of crime, and listening to people’s stories. In them I saw my own parents’ experiences: the lives of people who had everything going against them, yet continued to persevere through, and I had the opportunity to assist them by reaching out to the community. The systemic inequalities in our nation are a bit a ways away from being overturned and dismantled, but with the work, through community organizations, there was a way we could help give people a leg up and a fighting chance.

I felt like I could make an impact (oh so that’s what the letter I stands for in CIIP), and could be proud of the success in the work I could one day be doing. It’s very cliche, but I felt like I could find a new way to define success in a way that I could both make my parents proud and also be proud of my own work. To give their children the chance to pursue their aspirations and ambitions: that is the success of the American dream that my parents believed in and still do believe in.

If all else fails, at least now I have a one thousand five hundred and thirty-two word way to break the ice.

Angelica Brooks | Farm Alliance of Baltimore – Week 4

My goals for the summer have definitely changed, although it is nuanced. My initial goals involved building a sense of community and fostering deeper connections through outreach. This goal is still important to me, as community cohesion is necessary for the success of nonprofit work. However, my outlook on these goals have changed a bit after working for a few weeks.

Prior to working with the Farm Alliance, I knew that I desired a greater connection to the Baltimore community, but I viewed this desire in a lens that would aid my endeavors in leadership/representation in environmentalism. I cared (and still care) about hearing the concerns of marginalized people who historically did not have voices, but I focused on how their perspectives can lead to problem solving, rather than appreciating the beauty of sharing time with other humans.

The highlights of my internship thus far all have a common denominator: instances that involved great conversations with people, even if they were not about problems relating to my career or internship specifically. I bonded deeply with people I had only spoken to once prior, or never at all, over short, unique, and powerful conversations. I spoke to the market manager of the Waverly Farmer’s Market about farmer work inequities within the first hour of meeting them, and in the second hour we spoke about our shared interests as artists. I laughed with trainees at the Curtis Bay teaching farm while gathering bunches of garlic and doing other farm tasks. I listened to one of the managers at Hidden Harvest farm talk about the downsides of having a collective shared garden, but then we also talked about our favorite flowers. I even appreciated the simplest conversations, either with my supervisor about my interests while driving in the Farm Alliance van, or with an international intern I met (who studied soil science in Indonesia) as we bonded over our favorite Asian fruits.

In summary, I realized that my goals have changed because my new goal is to value and take in every experience as it occurs. I’m trying to worry less about the significance of these experiences for my career path; if I’m making the right connections, or if I am remembering every word someone says about solving a problem. I can just enjoy the fact that I am speaking to new people and creating new safe spaces for dialogue. For these experiences, I am extremely grateful, and it actually makes me realize that I am sad to see the program winding down soon. This internship is about more than the work that I do, or the work that the organization does. Forming bonds with people from entirely different backgrounds and sharing moments of empathy and understanding are moments that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.


Will Polen | Neighborhood Design Center – Week 3

When I’m not surveying the fields of the Northwood Baseball League or plugged into Zoom meetings with community partners, I’m at my desk in the Motor House (whose back wall anchors Graffiti Alley, the artistic destination of Station North) working on a map of community partners we’ve helped pro bono throughout Baltimore. The idea for this map stemmed from CIIP orientation, when we asked important questions about working conscientiously in the city. Are we supporting the Black Butterfly as much as the White L? Are we working with small community associations just as much as institutionalized nonprofits?

These questions were at the forefront of my mind when I first came to the office and reconciled a beautiful workspace in the flourishing Station North Arts District with NDC’s mission statement of helping disinvested residents. Interestingly, unlike many other CIIP locations, our office is located in the White L, not the Black Butterfly where we try to do most of our work. And during onboarding, when my supervisor showed me a list of all of our projects, I noticed that crucial information was missing. Addresses, council districts, and neighborhoods of each project were left blank. I wanted to see if our work had been as intentional as we thought, so I spent a lot of Week 1 and Week 2 retroactively filling the blanks. By Week 3, I was finally able to use mapping software to chart the projects together.

The results of this project were eye-opening. NDC has certainly done great pro bono work throughout the city, but the map made clear that our greatest impact has actually been in our own neighborhood of Station North — where we’ve worked with businesses and community partners that I can see from the office window. If we want to ensure that we represent all of Baltimore in future work, we should aim to leave the comfort of our immediate vicinity.

This map has also shown great things about our work. When I overlayed our projects over the specific Baltimore neighborhoods, I saw that we had high density in Penn North and Upton — both are neighborhoods that we explored during orientation! When I overlayed our projects over the city council districts, I saw that we’ve had a least a couple projects in each underinvested district. There was much worth celebrating.

CIIP and NDC have shown me that little activities like these — looking back and reflecting on our work — help us be more intentional and resourceful in the future. Though I’m not sure how we’ll use this map going forward, I hope it instilled important reflection amongst the staff members of NDC.


Carlos Gamboa | Office of Councilmember Zeke Cohen – Week 2

As I walked into my room with my third cup of coffee that day, I was greeted by the sound of a new Outlook message. I sat down, refreshed my email, and watched helplessly as my inbox was flooded with replies from city agencies, as well as a handful of fresh requests from residents. I sighed and rested my head in my hands. This was going to be a long day.

The bulk of my work with councilman Zeke Cohen’s office consists of constituent services, including helping residents file 311 requests, expediting delayed inquiries with the relevant agencies, and keeping constituents updated about the status of their requests. I typically only handle cases about city parks and parking, all of which originate in District One. Even so, the workload can be considerable, especially considering that certain cases, like stump removal and sidewalk repair, can stretch on for as long as a year. This frequently proves frustrating, both for staff and constituents. I am left with a sprawling spreadsheet of unresolved inquiries; meanwhile, frustrated residents wait for months on end for the city to remove a dead tree.

Although some cases are open and shut in a few days, delays prompt the occasional message from an annoyed constituent, which range from polite to downright virulent. Prior to my internship, I cynically assumed that these delays were the result of bureaucratic incompetence, but the truth is more nuanced. In reality, long wait times are reflective of a city facing myriad challenges. Like the rest of the world, Baltimore’s government has suffered labor and supply shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many agencies without the manpower or equipment to provide essential services. Additionally, certain agencies, such as the Department of Transportation, have recently withered sharp budget cuts. Though the city’s response time has slowed, the tide of constituent requests has not: if anything, pauses in service during the pandemic have increased the volume of messages.

This has left Baltimore City employees in a difficult spot, buried in service requests and without adequate resources to address them.
Despite this maddening situation, however, the mood in City Hall is generally cheery: in fact, I have never worked in a more upbeat environment in my life. Councilmembers and staff alike are more than happy to chat about anything from recent ordinances to local restaurants. Furthermore, they are relentlessly optimistic, highlighting the city’s attributes and tackling its problems with unwavering dedication. The office faces its fair share of obstacles, but it is fueled by the most powerful driving force of all: love for Baltimore City and its people. So, even on the most hectic days, I am always ready to help the team in any way I can. Although the work can be tiring, there could be no better cause.


Diksha Iyer | Out for Justice – Week 1

Upon arriving at my placement for the first time, I had a conversation with my supervisor to discuss onboarding and review my goals for the internship. During a lull in the conversation, I inquired about eateries in the area and wondered if we, as a group, could go out to eat sometime. My supervisor then proceeded to explain to me that I would have to bring my own lunch to work every day, unless I could afford to have food delivered to the office, because they were placed in the middle of a food desert. To examine her point, I decided to walk around the neighboring blocks just to see if I could find a small business/shop that had food items. However, the closest thing that I could find was a Family Dollar which sold food items, but they were largely processed, packaged goods without much nutritional value. This highlighted an important social issue that Baltimore residents face: lack of access to nutrition. Without a car, a way to pay for gas, and the time to go grocery shopping, many of the residents in the area surrounding my placement are forced to rely on the Family Dollar to provide them with affordable food options. “Instacarting” their groceries to their front door was not a sustainable option for them, as it is too expensive.

This issue was also brought up in a presentation in BITES, where we discussed the reason why supermarkets are largely located along the White L. The density of grocery stores is higher within the White L than in the Black Butterfly. We learned that this pattern arose because supermarkets only placed locations in areas where they felt they would make a profit, thus causing them to gravitate to richer, white, areas. This left areas, such as my placement, which are largely Black, without a source of nutritious food. The members of the community that I work with have to go the extra mile to get fresh food, and they do not always have to resources to do so. When I asked community members about methods that they use to obtain fresh food, many of them said that they lacked transportation to get to the nearest grocery store, and were therefore reliant on whatever the Family Dollar had. That first conversation with my supervisor really caused me to question the layout of the neighborhood where my placement is. Without her specifically stating that they were located within a food desert, I would have assumed that there was a grocery store or at least a restaurant within a couple of blocks. Now, I am more likely to actively (not passively!) note the available resources that a community has, rather than assume that they have them (as I did, since I grew up with a source of fresh food nearby).


Koye Oputa | BCPS Special Education – Orientation

It’s easy to live like the exception, to unthinkingly live like some rule or principle does not apply to me. My mind does not run on delusions of grandeur nor any particular spectacularity, but it can be rather adept at escaping confrontation—and it does so with great irony.

For the past few years, I’ve placed myself in spaces that require constant confrontation of self, of community, and of society. Those spaces, one of them being CIIP, enable me to walk with purposeful direction as they offer me with a variety of new, thought-provoking words on a near-daily basis, such as the following:

“You can’t connect the dots without looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” —Steve Jobs

“Everyone makes mistakes. Be oriented towards solutions not blame.”*

“The community you seek to serve is the expert in their own experience, not you.”*

Alongside all the new, lovely words I hear every day are the old ones. The ones I thought I had internalized, the ones that had become comfortable, were also the ones that suddenly opened my eyes to see that the issue is me.

This week, those words were “What challenged you most?” It was a question posed after almost every workshop hosted by the Theater Action Group (TAG) during CIIP orientation, including after an exercise wherein TAG had the whole CIIP cohort undergo a series of exercises to help us better understand others and ourselves.

I was most challenged by TAG’s request for everyone to organize themselves into groups, without using any words, according to one word: skin.

A few of my peers tried to seek out fellow peers with tattoos and freckles, but we eventually defaulted into grouping by skin color. The Black people gathered together in one part of the room, then a group of our South Asian peers joined us. I was quick to make quiet, mental accusations of audacity as I wondered how they felt so bold as to join our group with such confidence. However, as I watched a light-skinned Southeast Asian person struggling to find their place in the room, then sheepishly decide to join the group of black and brown people, my haughty attitude was replaced with a mix of shame and a desire to be more welcoming.

I had realized (1) everyone in our group entered rightfully. I had conflated race with skin tone and while my South Asian peers weren’t black, their skin was brown as mine. (2) I had assumed far too much of my peers’ intentions—they entered the group as they saw similarities between us, not because they were disregarding or disrespecting our differences, and (3) it was unsympathetic attitudes like mine that foster a lack of understanding in communities, and leave people to struggle in the outskirts simply because they weren’t exactly the same as everyone else.

When TAG asked what challenged me most, it was not simply societal constructs or pressures, but it was my tendency to focus on differences and assume the worst of others. It’s a common tendency—a bias, really—that I have always taken note of in many social groups, but never took note of within myself. I never consciously thought myself to be innocent of such a bias, it wasn’t until that TAG workshop that I paused to consider whether I might be guilty.

I write this blog post with gratitude to the wise and vulnerable people in CIIP who remind me daily that we all need community and self-confrontation to grow, and to this, I am no exception.

*Quote provided by CIIP speakers, whose names I cannot remember.

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