What work or issues does the organization you are working at focus on? What has your role as an intern been so far?
I am working at the Urban Tree Connection this summer. The organization focuses on transforming vacant lots into greening and gardening projects within the Haddington neighborhood of West Philadelphia. They are focusing on food insecurity, community leadership, self-determination and autonomy, food sovereignty, and Black land reclamation.
Thus far, as an intern, I have primarily been involved with administrative work. The Executive Director sends things that need to get done my way, and I try to the best of my ability to do them. I have created a database for potential funding opportunities for 2017. This involved researching different organizations to see what their history of giving has been and what their eligibility requirements are. I have helped put together a couple of grants. I have searched for and compiled updated statistics about the Haddington neighborhood. I have helped to calculate back taxes and square footage of some of their properties. I have been involved in making posts on social media, and I have almost finished putting together their summer newsletter. I also work on their farm one to two days each week, usually with harvesting
What first sparked your interest in community service and social justice?
I was involved in community service groups from elementary school through high school. In elementary school it was my girl scout troop. In middle school it was a group called S.H.O.C.K (I can’t quite remember what it stands for), and in high school it was a group called Key Club. In middle school and high school, I was also very involved in martial arts, and I volunteered my time to be an assistant teacher for the lower belt classes. These were all very low commitment activities. I think I primarily participated in them because I had friends that did, and they were fun groups to be involved in. Many of our activities were one-off service days; I was never pushed to think critically about sustainable community engagement or about my identity within the context of the work that I was doing. It wasn’t until late in high school that I was introduced to the topic of social justice. The summer after my junior year of high school, the Rotary Club in my area sponsored me to attend a week-long conference in Wisconsin called the Global Affairs Seminar. The year that I attended the topic was Gender Equity and Social Justice. I met students from around the country and around the world, and I attended daily lectures and workshops. I heard a woman speak about her experiences growing up in the south as a Black woman during the Civil Rights era. I attended a speech in which I learned about a woman’s involvement in the cultural revolution in Egypt. That week was my introduction to social justice. I started to think about things more critically, and I wanted to keep learning.
My most transformative experience with social justice was definitely the gap year that I took between high school and college. I participated in a structured program called Thinking Beyond Borders. The program’s focus was learning about issues with global development, and it was about learning to engage in humanizing ways with communities abroad. I lived with host families, worked in a variety of communities, and participated in multiple seminars each week. During the experience I learned about the concepts of power, privilege, and oppression. I learned about sustainable agriculture, environmental problems, global health, and education. I learned about problems with community “service”, about humanizing relationships, and about higher-order empathy. I was constantly pushed to think critically about my identity in all contexts. Most importantly, I was pushed to think critically about everything.
What has been a highlight of your Community Engagement internship experience thus far?
The highlight of my internship thus far has been interacting with different staff members. Through these interactions I am starting to learn more about UTC, its history, and the direction that it is currently headed in. I am learning about the history of black agrarianism and the fight for land and food sovereignty. I am also learning about the lives of different staff members, and why and how they ended up working at the Urban Tree Connection. I love hearing about the way that they view the land and how important they think it is that humans connect with the land. Many of them view the earth as a source of medicine and healing. I want to keep having these conversations.