My freshman year at Hopkins was characterized by a pleasant bubble-like atmosphere, as the thrill of new encounters imbued everyone with intrigue. As an international student from Pakistan who had just relocated to the States, I was in a quasi-honeymoon phase with my campus social circles. However, as my sophomore year unfolded, things began to intensify. Juggling between academic and extracurricular commitments, I became acutely aware of our community’s privilege. Concurrently, my home country was grappling with severe financial and political crises. I was dismayed to realize that my American peers struggled to comprehend the role that their country, its institutions, and foreign policy had in jeopardizing my heritage. I started noticing how the growing hegemony of westernization was subtly influencing my views about certain practices and circumstances of my own people. While the Hopkins community mostly shows sympathy for and advocates for progressive causes, many remain oblivious to historical injustices that have left certain communities and nations exploited, hence lacking the conviction to endorse radical solutions that might encroach upon their own privilege.
By spring of my sophomore year, a trip home had become an unaffordable luxury for me. I, therefore, started exploring opportunities to give back to the city of Baltimore, especially considering that I was benefiting from an institution historically implicated in harming local communities. That’s when I encountered the Life Design Lab’s InBaltimore Internship program. A small but pivotal step in the right direction, this program offered me an opportunity to work with the city’s communities by connecting me with Dent Education and equipping me with a stipend to live here over the summer.
Dent Education is a Baltimore-based social work organization cooperating with the Youth Works program. It ensures that high school students from the city’s various underfunded school districts get access to education that can lead to financial independence, all while receiving remuneration during the program. Their Bet on Baltimore Summer Program this year had a broad array of tracks, ranging from education in 3D printing and physical fabrication to internships with other grassroots movements in the city. Dent employs local entrepreneurs, artists, craftspeople, and social entrepreneurs to mentor the students. This summer, I had the privilege of working as an on-site supporting college fellow with Dent. In this role, I was entrusted with various tasks, including managing data entry and payroll information, procuring meals for students from Summer Food Services, troubleshooting technical issues, setting up websites to showcase student projects, and filling in the gaps between students and coaches as a younger team member.
My work with Dent this summer given me a unique perspective of Baltimore City, a viewpoint uncommon among non-Baltimoreans at Hopkins. One of the most impressive aspects of Baltimore was the significant number of social organizations striving to help the city’s inhabitants. While collaborating with Dent, I coordinated several field trips to organizations offering resources relevant to our students. The number of community-led institutions and their passion for empowering local small business owners was impressive. For instance, Open Works offers members a plethora of resources to manufacture physical products, Impact Hub offers coworking spaces for social organizations and fosters targeted collaboration and networks for fundraising and Made in Baltimore collaborates with small business owners to enhance production, market their products, and provide a collective storefront for sales. These are just a few of the many more organizations whose resources Dent’s students utilize, working towards fulfilling the city’s needs with local businesses and products so that the money and economic power of the city lies in the hands of its own people.
My second major realization was the profound sense of camaraderie among the city’s inhabitants. The aforementioned organizations are more than just institutions; they embody a closely-knit and collaborative community comprising activists, social workers, and artists. Coupled with these people’s passion to help this city heal, these collaborations have filled me with much hope and optimism, dispelling a sort of cynicism that had started to take root in me over the past year due to my circumstances last semester.
This summer allowed me to forge meaningful connections and gain an in-depth understanding of the city, its communities, and its people. It allowed me to really get to know the city, its communities and people, and have the opportunity to work in the most empathetic and community-oriented workplaces that I have ever worked in. I hope Life Design Lab’s InBaltimore internship can partner up with more social organizations of the city in the future, and that more people from the Hopkins community can get involved with meaningful work in the city. This is the least we can do for a city that has been exploited and marginalized by the very institutions we benefit from.