YOUTH & FAMILY WELLNESS

KAETLYN BERNAL | STRONG CITY BALTIMORE, BARCLAY - WEEK 2

After my experience in CIIP last summer, I knew this internship would present obstacles that I could not foresee or prepare for. However, I did not think this would happen so early on in my time at the Nate Tatum Community Center. My supervisor, Ms. Lottie, left earlier in the week for a two week trip in order to begin using her vacation days before she retires at the end of August. On Monday, she gave me the keys to the center and left me with a task list to work on while she was on vacation and suddenly, I was the only person who would be staffing the center full time.

Due to the timing of her vacation, this week was spent completely on my own working in the office as her replacement wouldn't be starting until the next week. I wasn't too concerned because I was left with plenty to do but at the same time, I wasn't prepared for the tasks I would acquire outside of that list. I found myself starting something on the list and getting interrupted more than five times whether it was a community member at the door, children trying to escape the heat and boredom of summer, an email that needed an urgent reply or action, or having to leave for a meeting. I figured the tasks left for me would be easily completed in the time that my supervisor was gone but now I find that this may not be the case. However, this does almost seem like a lesson Ms. Lottie (in her absence)left for me to learn. It is often easy to come up with ideas, plans, projects, and more to serve a community that is looking to strengthen itself but these things are not easily accomplished unless the basic needs of the people are met.

I am working on projects that are meant to engage the community and provide them with fun opportunities to not only better themselves but also the community as a whole but this means nothing if I am unable to lead them to the basic resources for survival. At first, I felt disappointed that I may not be able to finish all of the tasks left for me by Ms. Lottie but now, I find myself realizing that the work outside of those tasks (even if it were a simple task) is just as important as the ones on the list I was given. I was taken away from my task list to brainstorm with the councilman for our district to solve a greening project issue. I was taken away from my task list to help serve lunch to inmates as they were cleaning the local park. I was taken away from my task list to help stand up a tree that had been blown over in the middle of a rainstorm. I was taken away from my task list to learn an important lesson in community organizing. I am incredibly lucky to be able to serve this community and I wouldn't want it any other way.

MARIANA RINCON CAICEDO | BALTIMORE SQUASHWISE - WEEK 2

This week I learned two things I did not know about Abraham Lincoln: one, during the Civil War in 1961 he alone made the decision to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, which allowed the army to arrest and hold prisoners indefinitely without any charges, in order to keep secessionists in states like Maryland from voting in favor of secession from the Union. I also learned that, according to multiple historical sources analyzed in the book Queer, There and Everywhere by Sarah Prager, President Lincoln was a queer man. Despite being married he sustained a relationship with a man named Josh, as evidenced in letters and other documents.

The fact that I didn’t know either of these facts is important, but not surprising, given that history books and the media present Abraham Lincoln in a very specific light: a heterosexual, white man who was perhaps one of the best presidents in the history of the United States. However, upon learning these two things about him, my perception of him acquired a depth that I had never seen in him when I studied him in history class. I no longer saw an incorruptible and strong man, but a flawed, brave, and even vulnerable one. I saw him more human.
One of the most important projects I’m working on right now is creating 2 lessons that fit in with the theme “Citizenship”. My instructions were vague and I was left to decide pretty much on my own what materials I could fit in the course of two hours that would help middle school-aged youth understand how to become better citizens. Could it be government? Current events? Citizen duties and responsibilities? There were just too many subjects that seemed too important. Then I considered how learning that about Lincoln changed my perspective of him and of some aspects in education and history that we accept as norm. I thought of the LGBT youth who might see themselves in Lincoln as he struggled with depression after his (male) lover left him for a woman. I also thought of the children who admire him blindly, without considering some questionable and rather unethical choices that he made, who might now look at him in a different light.

There’s a saying that says something along the lines of “We need to know our history in order to avoid repeating it.” I decided to include a section on US history in citizenship week not so that the kids can avoid repeating history, but with the hopes that if they have a more complete knowledge of it, they may one day write their own history.

AWOENAM MAUNA-WOANYA | BLACK CHURCH FOOD SECURITY NETWORK, ORITA'S CROSS FREEDOM SCHOOL- WEEK 2

New week. New challenges. New learning opportunities. New questions.

This week, instead of just working for the Black Church Food Security Network, I was given the opportunity to broaden my horizon and work also with the Orita's Cross Freedom School. I spent the majority of the week however, working with the later.

Before getting to the main story of this week's post, here is what I did for the Food Security Network. So the BCFSN is a network of churches. We organized all the churches onto a google map so that it would be easier for others to see our reach. In order to better promote the network and spread the reason for the network, I have been travelling around to all the churches part of the network and making videos of a spokesperson for that church's garden. You see, each church is a part of the narrative we're trying to tell and what better way to do that than for them to speak for themselves.

Now, back to the Freedom School. A freedom school is a school which primarily highlights and teaches African-American history to young students (aged 3-12 years). The point of this is for the next generation to not lose a sense of their background and for them to understand what their ancestors went through for them to be where they are today. Orita's Cross does not stop there however; students are taught to also look through the various persepectives of which information is presented in order for them to stand up and fight for what they believe in.

When I first heard of the freedom school, I thought "wow, what a great idea" but with some skepticism followed up with "would these 'kids' really care?"

Boy, was I wrong.

These students are straight-up so woke about their ancestry and culture. On Wednesday, we did an activity where the students answered the question "why do I love my melanin?" Here are a few of their responses: I love
-my hair
-our energy
-that I get to be a part of this community
-our heritage
-being black because black is beautiful
I was genuinely so shook and impressed with the students. They really come to learn and it is something I sorta wish I grew up with. As young as they are, they seem prepared already to face the harsh world. For them to have this opportunity to be aware of racial issues will have a lasting impact on their lives.

I spent the majority of my free time the last few days really thinking about race: what it really means to be not white in America. During our Bites session, someone brought up how their mom packed their lunch as a child to be just like American kids out of fear of being isolated for being different. While I completely understand that (in fact, I am guilty of doing the exact same), in hindsight, I am realizing that we were basically saying that "white is normal" and "white is right". This action can definitely be seen as attempting to assimilate into a culture, however this inherent fear of being different culturally has in a way contributed to systematic racism in this country. I know that's a bold statement to make and I definitely jumped a few hoops to reach this conclusion but hear me out. Think about this, the simple act of adjusting our lunches to fit the "white way" in a way not only diminishes our culture and origins, it also validates and reassures the belief that "white is right". Throughout history, people fought SO SO HARD to become a part of this nation- to be considered "white" in the eyes of the law. Let's keep going with the established idea that "white is normal." Anything that deviates from this norm is met with vary levels of curiosity, some of which leads to a positive sharing of culture or other times leads a from of ostracization. Even at my age, it is as if non-whites must act white to earn a certain level of respect. Micro-aggressive statement like "you're so nice for a black guy" or "you're so well behaved!" While I do not personally deny being genuinely nice and decorous, I find it interesting that we come to associate these perfectly normal traits to "white traits". Often times in middle school, I was isolated for being "too white for the black kids" yet I was not "white enough" for the white kids simply because of my skin. The more adult version of "not being white enough" becomes apparent in police-on-black violence.

I am beginning to wonder a few things: how does knowing our ancestry and culture really help us in today's world when it seems the only way to save your life in is to act white? In what ways does this form of education help usher in a change for a better world when even being a model citizen still doesn’t save your life? I ask these questions in wake of the verdict for Jeronimo Yanez, the man who shot Philando Castile. This honestly opened my eye and shifted my perspective. I now have so many questions and I don’t know if they can be answered.

For now though, I am signing off, hoping to continue this conversation next week.

PAULINA PARSONS | RUTH M. KIRK REC CENTER - WEEK 2

This week has been incredibly fun! I have gotten the opportunity to meet so many more community members and finally start working with the children who are coming to the rec center. Even though this week the number isn’t too large managing six kids has been tiring, but at the same time very fun. From watching their creativity flow by make masterpieces as we like to call them to reading books and making sure every one was paying attention and understanding the material I have already seen them start to grow. The other thing that I have really enjoyed watching is how whenever new kids come by the kids her at the camp are very welcoming and are always just so thankful for other kids to play with them. Lastly, in reflection what makes me really smile is that I get more and more hugs each day in the morning and afternoon and that each day also gets easier and easier! I am a little bit worried about next week because a lot more kids are going to be coming, but I hope I will be able to rise to the expectations and still be a personable teacher and care taker and still be able to keep thinking of new and exciting crafts and activities! If any one has any ideas please let me know!

ISADORA SCHALLER | THE MONUMENT QUILT / FORCE - WEEK 2

This past weekend I had the amazing opportunity to attend that Baltimore Pride Parade as a representative of the Monument Quilt. I staffed a booth in the youth area of the event where individuals were encouraged to write, draw, or craft a message of support for LGBTQ survivors. It was an incredibly touching experience being able to interact with people and explain the powerful work that FORCE does. I struggled at times to describe the activity to younger participants; is there a right way to explain sexual and domestic violence to a child? However, I was surprised by the ease with which many of the youth understood the message and were willing to add their voice to the quilt.
Working in the Monument Quilt studio constantly pushes me to explore my emotions and reactions. One moment that I remember vividly from this week, was a word of advice that one of my supervisors gave me. After having apologized close to a dozen times for being very slow at accomplishing a task, she stopped me and asked, “can I tell you something that I feel might help you in your life? Instead of saying ‘I’m sorry’, say ‘thank you for being understanding, and flexible as I try to figure out this system’”.
Her suggestion really struck a chord with me; I have this incredibly obnoxious habit of apologizing for just about everything in my life (sneezing, driving the speed limit, the weather etc.) So this summer I am challenging myself to stop saying sorry, and instead thanking people for their flexibility and understanding.