Week 3: Neighborhood Improvement/Community Organizing
My week began slightly discouraging, but by the end I was reminded why I want to keep doing this work. Tensions run high in the nonprofit world, the workload is high, the staff is low, and the rewards are variable. This is the first week I sat down for a staff meeting and got to see how things run behind the scenes with each department. During this staff meeting, tensions boiled over and frustrations came to a head. Discussion became yelling and all I could write in my notes were that things “popped off.” This just reminded me of idealistic world we are in at Hopkins and in the program. We have the privilege of learning self-care techniques, as well as the time and resources to make use of them. Especially at places like the Franciscan Center, people go though so much and experience so many emotions that overtime if not dealt with can lead people to just leave organizations that they care for. The burnout is real.
I went throughout the week conflicted on how to feel about the tensions in my workplace, but Friday reminded me why I keep pushing forward. As I walked down Saint Paul street, I saw a familiar face sitting down in the Friday afternoon heat. She was a client from the YES that I had worked with last year. I walked up near her and her boyfriend as they held up a sign reading, “21 dollars would help feed my family.” In that moment, instead of just walking by, I knelt next them and asked her “do you remember me?” At that moment, her eyes lit up and she immediately began telling her boyfriend who I was. As soon as I asked her how she had been, she began crying and wiping the tears from her face. She had been having a bad day, and just a bad few months in general. But when she saw me and we began talking, she said how she knew God would put something or someone in her face that she needed.
Despite all the hardships, from losing her home to sleeping in the Ynot Lot of Station North, she keeps her faith. They do not let their situation stop them from moving forward and trying. I told her to start coming to the Franciscan center so that I can help get them set up with services they’ve been needing, as well as food. Yet, despite all the ways I wanted to help, they were the ones telling me to take care of myself. Life is hard and the world has its issues, but there will always be someone out there that appreciates you and what you offer as a person. Those are the memories to cherish.
This week I made the first real progress on my primary project for the summer, which meant leaving the store and heading out into Baltimore to meet some of the members of our network. On Monday, I went down to the Baltimore Museum of Industry to explore their gift shop, which stocks a bunch of locally made products. And on Friday, I met up with the owner of Get Shredded Vintage right here in Charles Village. I’ve been planning to lead a blog spotlight series to engage the retailers in our network, but one surprising takeaway was just how character-driven the stories of these retailers are.
At the BMI’s gift shop, the manager, a lifelong Baltimore native, explained to me how she uses her position to feature a diverse group of local artists to better reflect Baltimore’s full population. She spoke directly on racial equity, remembering the first time she’d witnessed racial profiling by the police while skipping class with her friends in Patterson Park. As a retailer, she said, she wants to use her resources to empower more black and brown business owners in Baltimore to thrive. She explained that she wants to be intentional with the space, so that anyone who comes through the museum, particularly Baltimoreans, feel better connected with the city’s community.
The owner of Get Shredded explained that they transplanted to Baltimore a decade ago and spent years embedded in the city’s rock scene. I never could have predicted the way they drew parallels between the music scene and their transition to entrepreneurship. To me, the story speaks to the strengths Baltimore offers any industry — dedicated, welcoming people who work together to get things done. Now, they use Get Shredded as a platform for local artists and designers (oh, also — they only feature women and genderqueer creators).
Meeting these incredible people reminded me that behind all the recognizable institutions in Baltimore, even specifically in the nonprofit sector, have such a diverse range of people behind them. And getting out into the community, making connections with those people and not just learning but sharing their stories more than fulfills my personal goals for the summer.
Inspiration comes at the most unexpected times and places.
My days this week became routine – answering the front door, scheduling for Youthworks, and emailing potential community partners for the Health Fair. This was my last week of the endless cycle of office tasks as the excitement in the center would surge July 1st with our Youthworkers and PeaceCamp kids coming in.
As I was working on programming for our Youthworkers – an unfamiliar face walks into the center, nicely dressed and poised. He joined the other Youthworkers supervisors and I in the multipurpose room to speak logistics about our Youthworkers schedule. At some point I brought up the Health and Wellness Fair I have been planning and coordinating for the Baltimore community – and suddenly the conversation took an abrupt turn towards organization and outreach for an event. Little did I know I was sitting in the room with the President of the Harwood Community Association, Miller III, who offered eye-opening advice that may have saved our event. From grant resources to fund the event to sending information about our events to the local community newsletters to increase publicity for the FREE Health and Wellness Fair. He became an unexpected, yet phenomenal source of inspiration – that the Health Fair could truly succeed.
As my weeks have been filled with anxiously checking my email to see if any of the community partners have responded – where even one reply would brighten the rest of my day. It was very hard not to lose hope when I haven’t received responses for weeks on end from groups that could serve the underrepresented and underserved communities here in Baltimore. Miller III inspired me through his stories of traveling to 44 countries, how to organize a successful event, and how he’s continuing to achieve his goals and serving the surrounding community. I hope to use the connection I made that day to not only make the Health and Wellness Fair successful later this July, but for future events held at the Community Center.
This week at Waverly Main Street (WMS) I attended a “Clean, Safe and Green” Committee meeting. We’ll be working on cleaning up the small garden lot, which has become overrun with weeds, within the next few weeks. We’ll also be considering more ways to deal with the litter on the streets, and to involve business owners and community members in the clean-up efforts. I also had the opportunity to join WMS Design Committee meeting, with business owners, board members and historians. Not only was I able to learn a bit more about the history of Waverly, particularly it’s architecture, but I was able to brainstorm new ways that I could use my own skills in graphic design to contribute to WMS and the Waverly community. A few days later, I put some of those ideas into action.
For example, the owner of a new business on Greenmount has been trying to advertise the additional services she and her co-workers provide. In a meeting with myself and the Executive Director, Matt Smith, she said was having trouble creating marketing materials, since she had so little time between applying for grants and running her business. Shortly after the meeting, I created and emailed her individualized business card templates and options, based on her logo and business services. Once she informs me of her preferred background, logo and format, I’ll create a business card (and possibly other collateral materials) that she can use to promote her business. This is a pilot project, but hopefully, we can provide this service for other Waverly businesses in the future.
Finally, early Saturday morning, Mr. Smith and I ran in the 4th Annual 1-Mile Run/Walk at Fort McHenry for the Urban Children Foundation, which was an absolute blast! So many people participated, including kids (one of whom was no older than 12 and ran a 6:18 mile–holy cow!). I myself placed 1st overall for women, which was pretty cool. I hope you have the chance to check out the Urban Children Foundation. They’re doing great work and I had a blast meeting everyone and participating in their event!
After the race, Mr. Smith and I volunteered at the Waverly Market, passing out coupons directing people to lesser visited parts of the market. All in all, it was a busy, but fulfilling week. I’m looking forward to starting back up on Monday!
This week, I’ve been thinking about perspective. I think, read, write, and talk a lot about “the struggle,” a broad and somewhat abstract movement for liberation that could guide and encompass all our actions, if we let it. The struggle, to me, is a lot about revolutionary ideas and collective action, radical and committed to change. But often, that vision is hard to fulfill in everyday life. It’s hard to conceptualize what concrete participation in “the struggle” looks like, to incorporate these values and ideals into the minutiae of living, working, studying, being.
So this week, I’ve been thinking about the struggle as the broad, overarching framework, and the data entry I do every day as a zoomed-in, narrowed-down snippet of the larger work. When I am combing through thousands of names to collect phone numbers, keeping track of which people came to which events and devising ways to follow up with them, researching the LLC-speculator owners of vacant homes, or knocking on doors to expand the possibilities for community land ownership, I am doing the groundwork of “the struggle.” On the most basic level, these types of actions are what building a movement looks like.
Political education and mobilization also look like organizers ordering food for community meetings held in hot church basements after the work day, warming up leftovers for the next day’s meetings, picking up community members from around the city so they can participate in those meetings, painting signs, attending block parties, phone banking for the next action, attending the meetings of other community organizations to build coalitions, printing hundreds of flyers (thanks CSC) and proceeding to fold all of them. Although these tasks are disparate, somewhat taxing, and comprehensive, they are what it takes to make change in what feels like an entrenched and unmovable system. We must be as vigilant and informed as the systems of power themselves. I am constantly in awe of my supervisor and full-time supervisors who offer the full extent of their capabilities to the movement, and draw on them as motivation to show up every day. Microscopically, but building on itself, this work is the struggle as presented in front of me.
So this past week has been an incredible week at Peace Camp. I got to meet almost all of the youth workers and everyone on the staff and they are so incredible! Throughout the past few weeks, I have been slowly learning the meaning of peace camp.While there is a mandate to teach the kids about peace and what it means to deal with violence and conflict in an peaceful way, the most important thing for me was the emphasis of the camp on giving the children a peaceful environment to be in. In school and probably households, emotional violence in the form of yelling or even physical violence is present throughout their environment. Therefore giving the idea of giving these kids a peaceful environment to be in for 3 weeks is incredible. Also just planning camp with these incredible teachers, Nawal, and the youth workers was an incredible experience. While Nawal led the conversations, she gave so much space to talk and very intently listened to our input. I listened but I think I also gave very valuable input. As a result of this small yet dedicated staff, I think I am getting to know them really well and I am really excited to be working with them as peace camp gets rolling both in the 29th street center and the St. Frances community center!Tags: 29th St Community Center, CIIP, ciip 2019, Franciscan Center, Made in Baltimore, United Workers, Waverly Main Street