Week 3: Nonprofit Management & Development
I grew up on the outskirts of Las Vegas, Nevada, as the child of a single immigrant mother from the Philippines. When she wasn’t breaking boundaries in the burgeoning yet male-dominated internet industry, she was putting everything she had into raising a child that she had at the young age of 23. All the while, she was helping support two of her other children — my half-brother and half-sister — who were living in the Philippines with our grandparents. Despite all of this, I never knew how difficult growing up in a single parent household could be. I never had to worry about where my next meal would come from or whether or not I’d have a place to sleep that night.
As I was growing up, I came through a middle and high school that were both located in the inner city. It was a magnet school that any student in the school district could apply to that shared a campus with comprehensive middle and high schools in inner Las Vegas. The idea was that by sharing resources, faculty, and a student body with a broader neighborhood population, these magnet programs would improve the schools in which they were located.
But the most important lessons I learned at those schools came from outside of the classroom. Just by being in and around inner city neighborhoods for most of my life, every day, I was humbly reminded that the life I had — attending extracurricular activities, hanging out with friends on the weekends, and applying for elite colleges — wasn’t a typical one for people who grew up like I did. More accurately, it wasn’t a typical life for people who grew up like I could have. By all the numbers and statistics, I shouldn’t be where I am today.
And yet, here I am. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about where I’d be instead if it weren’t for what I have to chalk up as pure, dumb luck. I was lucky to have friends and family who wanted to support me in everything I did. I was lucky to be able to interact with the right programs and opportunities at the right time. I was lucky that a lot of those opportunities ended up working out in my favor.
Meanwhile, millions of kids across the country grow up just like I did and work harder than I’ll ever have to. They take up jobs, they raise their siblings, they support their families far more than anybody their age should ever be called to do. But I’m here. And they’re not.
For them, things don’t always work out the way they did for me — because of the pervasive flaws in our systems that, whether by malice or by accident, make it all but impossible to reach the exclusive spaces that luck’s handed me. Barring institutional change on a level that we haven’t seen in decades, those with power will continue to make growing up like I did a crapshoot with monumentally weighted dice.
I guess that’s why I feel obligated to help bring that institutional change to bear on the walled-off powers that be. That’s why I applied for CIIP in the first place, and that’s why I was thrilled to be matched with a partner like FreeState Justice, a place where I can contribute to that fight at every level — from state-level policy advocacy to individual service provision.
In my time there, I’ve met so many people who have committed themselves to that same crucial work, each one driving me to put even more of myself into the work that I do, but none has inspired me more than Jennifer Kent, our Managing Attorney. She leads the team that interacts with everything in the legal sphere, from interacting with legal professionals on our pro bono panel to taking on casework for LGBTQ+ clients across the state.
What has been most inspiring to me, though, is that she has done exactly what I aspire to do — she’s brought real institutional change that has improved people’s lives for the better by taking on legal cases that have profound impacts across their jurisdictions. As a member of a legal team representing a transgender high school student, Jennifer helped secure an opinion that ensured that transgender students across Maryland would be able to access facilities such as restrooms and locker rooms that match their identity. Just recently, along with partners across the region, Jennifer submitted an amicus brief to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit regarding a case where a hate crime conviction for a man who had assaulted his gay coworker was overturned because, as a lower court claimed, such “bias-motivated violence” is categorically “noneconomic.” A few weeks ago, the conviction was upheld, ensuring the strength of critically important hate crime laws.
As much as I’d love to learn from Jennifer, I haven’t gotten to speak with her much. But just from what little interaction I’ve had with her along with perusing our website’s news and biographical sections, I’ve been able to see what it takes to create institutional change. Maybe by learning from her and everybody else at FreeState Justice and across the country who have taken it upon themselves to fight these most crucial of fights, I can, some day, help make it so nobody needs luck to get to wherever they want to be in life.
SOFIA CUENCA | CENTRAL BALTIMORE PARTNERSHIP
One of the things I have loved most about my placement this summer is the opportunity to collaborate. I have been able to meet with the Director of the Collegetown Network, individuals from the SNF Agora Institute, and other nonprofits to talk about how Central Baltimore Partnership’s initiatives and their respective organization’s mission align. At the same time, I’ve had the chance to sit-in at community meetings and work along projects with other fellow CIIP Interns. For example, Angela from St. Ambrose Housing Aid and I are working together to make a supplementary resource guide for the Housing Upgrades to Benefit Seniors (HUBS) program, Ben from the Nate Tatum Community Center and I are trying to reach out to different organizations to improve maternal health resources in Barclay, and there have been multiple other scenarios where simply brainstorming with others has produced tangible ideas.
Central Baltimore Partnership is all about gathering different people, with different skills, and putting all these different stakeholders from different levels together, to create community-wide solutions. Especially in the field of community development, it is crucial that different voices are brought to the table throughout the entire development process. Whether it is contacting community partners to identify community resources or choosing individuals from different backgrounds and experiences to partner with and plan initiatives with, the success of of a community development organization is highly dependent on the inclusivity of community members. The more voices that are heard and genuinely considered throughout the process, the greater the final satisfaction is.
I have interacted with so many different types of people already, and I am excited to see how all these touchpoints and partnerships flesh out and shape my internship experience by the end of the summer. During our Bite Sessions this week, I had the opportunity to reflect on some of the most important lessons from orientations that have risen in my internship and I found myself asking: “Who is not at the table?” As much as my work has been extremely collaborative, I want to ensure that the latter question remains in the forefront of my mind. Collaboration is an important value to uphold and I want to make sure that throughout my experience at Central Baltimore Partnership I am choosing to purposefully collaborate in an inclusive manner.
One of my favorite things about working at Impact Hub is being surrounded by so many different people who are so passionate about Baltimore and serve the community and have so many different talents and exciting projects. I knew this coming into Impact Hub; it was why I was so happy to get the placement.
This week, however, I met someone who was an unexpected source of inspiration: a small, barely two-feet child.
I began my placement thinking that I wouldn’t be working with kids. Secretly, I was a little bit relieved. As much as I like children, I don’t think I’m particularly good with them. I smile and nod when they talk to me, but I’m not good at engaging with them. I don’t quite speak their language. Sometimes they misbehave and then I’m at a loss. What do I do? Am I responsible for disciplining them?
So when I first saw this kid (let’s call her B) the week before last, I was delighted, and then I remembered how I lack confidence around kids. I felt unsure of myself. She was wearing nothing but her diaper, running around one of the open spaces that have become my weekly haunts at the Hub. Every now and then she would fall, or bump her head against a wall. Her mom would chase after her, but she would be too quick, giggling and sprinting across the space. Later in the day as I was leaving the space with my fellow CIIPer Jacob, she yelled bye repeatedly at us from several feet away, waving and beaming.
Throughout this past week I’ve seen B almost every other day, and we’re slowly getting closer. One day as I was eating lunch, B sat at the other table, eating her own lunch from a pot. Later she came and presented me and fellow CIIPer Sofia with little gifts: books from the Impact Hub library, some of which she tossed about on the floor to her mother’s annoyance. Another day she asked me to choose some colors for her coloring book.
B is reminding me of how fluid my role at Impact Hub can be. I have my administrative tasks, my personal storytelling projects, but at the root of it all is community engagement. There are so many forms that can take, and I am learning that through engaging with B, who is not your typical Impact Hub visitor. Befriending B will be a little personal goal for this summer, one of my ways of helping make the Hub a more inviting, engaging space for everyone.
Monday night, I was surrounded by heroes. Not your typical head-turning, cape-wearing heroes, but just everyday Baltimoreans who were presenting nine months of work at the annual Elevation Awards Showcase. For some context, Elevation Awardees are granted $10,000 to leverage assets of the community and pilot novel solutions in social entrepreneurship. They are all Baltimore residents, all people of color, and all ingenious in their own way. From connecting homeless LGBTQ youth with wrap-around services to creating a wellbeing collective focused on holistic care for black women to everything in between, this year’s Elevation Awardees were nothing short of heroes in our city.
One of the first Awardees that I talked to was Ashley Williams, founder of Infinite Focus Schools. She used her grant to create a software that can track a child’s socio-emotional growth while also teaching them how to deal with toxic stress in a healthy way. She wants to offer this software to schools in Baltimore and beyond as a tool for increasing mindfulness among youth, especially for those growing up in particularly rough neighborhoods.
I also talked to Kanav Kathuria, who started The Farm-to-Prison Project. His objective is to mitigate the effects of mass incarceration by providing local, nutritious foods to correctional facilities and detention centers. Since learning about his non-profit, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the idea of a nutritious meal is considered a privilege that can be taken away from people who are deemed “parasites” in society. It was inspiring to talk with Kanav and hear how he’s using his Elevation Award humanize the carceral system one healthy meal at a time.
D. Watkins said it best: “Don’t make it out, make it better.” These people are doing just that.
MADELINE AMONICK | STATION NORTH ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT
Despite being a writing major, I often find it difficult to fully encapsulate my own reality and experiences through writing. So pardon if my sentences come off stilted or thoughts incomplete. I often sit on ideas for hours on end, incubating them like eggs. But like eggs, while there is a delicate system in balance to protect what’s within and the extent to which we go to protect this balance is great, eggs, like many things, have a tendency to break. How badly I wish for you to see a list of my objective experiences and grasp and name what I have been unable to this past week. A lot happened. Lots really good: long talks about the future of the district with venue managers, free food at not one but two meetings, adding finishing touches on our new website rolling out on the first of July, and meeting the major at a promotional event for Brilliant Baltimore in November. Moments like these remind me of the exciting future and opportunities that exist in Baltimore and the hope of people to make substantial change in our community. However, like most exciting things, they are underscored by concern and worry as a way to remind us that we are not invincible.
Monday morning clung in my eyelids at the first meeting of the week. I sat near the end of a large conference table hearing about various updates in Central Baltimore by members of the CBP office trying to remain as alert as possible. Ellen, the executive director of CBP, said there was an incident. That caught my attention. On Friday a business owner on N Charles had been punched in the face. On Saturday a different man came back with a gun. The suspect was apprehended after twenty minutes when the police arrived. Ellen announced that the business on that block have decided to move forward with hiring private security as a buffer in these incidents. When Tuesday Bites session was on incarceration it was unsettling. The conversation of policing and private policing especially has been a hot topic of conversation on the Hopkins campus for the past six months. So while accustomed to conversations of gun violence and policing, the incident in the past weekend reverberated more closely with me, reminiscent of these conversations as a Colorado resident after the Aurora theater shooting and two school shootings after that. By Wednesday I was conflicted in reconciling my own values of increased regulation, if not a complete ban, on fire arms and automatic weapons and individuals in a District I now represent, requesting more police presence and private security for personal safety.
The issue only gets more complicated by Friday when I attended a meeting of these business to express their concerns to three high ranking officers from the BPD and the councilman. The best part of the meeting was the donuts, I had two. The worst part was watching white people requesting more police presence from officers working in a corrupt system and absolutely no authority to speak on the matter. Everyone should feel safe. Not just business owners who have the privileged ability to speak directly to the police department about, frankly, nominal concerns compared to other (read as poorer and neighborhoods primarily populated by people of color) areas of the city. My understanding of racial injustices in regards to violence and policing make it difficult for me to simultaneously sympathize with these business owners who have been experiencing continued harassment but still maintain an advocate for safer spaces for everyone. What’s the middle ground between keeping people safe without feeling like the work done to do so is disproportionately racist? Are short term solutions even remotely effective in addressing issues of public safety when historic poverty and oppressive capitalism lead to injustices outside the purview of so called solutions? What does this experience ask of me as a white intern working with a majority white board when the people we serve are people of color? When does the egg break?
It feels like the past four weeks in writing these blog posts, I’m left with more questions than answers on the best way to serve and my future in Baltimore City. I was asked this week why I would ever leave a place like Colorado to come to Baltimore (see my week one blog post). While having though through this idea as a hypothetical, I never expected anyone would ever ask me out right. It only created more static in trying to understand the greater balance and systems at play in Baltimore. People acting as if they (white people usually) are stuck here, blaming “the City” (the nebulous idea not the local government) for the weathering of their outlook on the city as if trying to escape a sinking ship. This is in direct contrast with the numerous individuals who see beauty in colorful row homes and the hope to create progress. I wish I could provide a more tidy resolution or a shining nugget of positive lesson in the face of this tension. But this work is messy and it is hard. The least I can say is for the latter group of people a huge thank you and the utmost admiration.Tags: Baltimore Corps, Central Baltimore Partnership, CIIP, ciip 2019, Freestate Justice, Impact Hub, Station North Arts & Entertainment District