Lived in Baltimore
Growing up in the Towson area, just over the county line, trips to the inner harbor, the science center, or Camden yards were semi-regular events. Yet Baltimore City remained somewhere ‘traveled to’ and not ‘lived in’. At Loyola, through Messina, sociology professors, Mercy hospital physicians, local Church attendees, York Road community advocates, loads of books and a few close friends, I learned more about Baltimore City as a home and community, not as a mere geographical neighbor. I spent the lion’s share of my first semester learning about the community, strength and diversity of Baltimore, but I wanted to have the experience of a ‘lived in’ and ‘worked in’ Baltimore.
My first year I began volunteering at Healthcare for the Homeless (HCH) weekly. I worked at the volunteer desk connecting people experiencing homelessness with reading classes at Enoch Pratt free library, acquiring bus passes and finding routes for immigrants trying to get to their hospital appointments. Sometimes, my service involved talking with a weathered yet vibrant man about local sports. I found many kind and sensitive souls who had been struggling to secure a house, who had been let down by employers, friends, and society writ large, yet kept trust in Baltimore as a community.
I carried these experiences while working in Baltimore’s Mercy Hospital as a Health Outreach Baltimore (HOB) advocate and clinical coordinator. Here I was able to work alongside my Loyola peers to engage with health equity and racial justice in the healthcare field. I led conversations on Loyola’s campus on the social determinants of health and found ways to effect change with the patients we walked with. Aside from our activities on campus, we would work with young new, and expecting mothers to make their transition to motherhood easier. I would often spend my time at Mercy filling out applications for food stamps, free cribs, or car seats, or consoling a mother who miscarried and didn’t need social resources but rather needed social connection. I felt a better sense of life, and sometimes death, in the Baltimore community. I continue to volunteer with Health Outreach Baltimore working with mothers of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds. I have gained a truer sense of what a diverse community looks like in Baltimore.
During my four years at Loyola, scholarship grew in its importance. Research in both the humanities and in biology and biochemistry became a way of using my talents to address societal needs in a more comprehensive way. I was encouraged to not only ask, but pursue the answers to large questions I had encountered in college. In the humanities I researched and presented on the dignity of work in the Catholic tradition. Aside from the obvious link to Loyola’s Jesuit identity, this pursuit allowed me to understand the role that dignifying work and labor held in our society. Presenting my work to fellow burgeoning theologians helped me to connect my academic research to real life challenges like finding fulfillment in one’s labor, while reinforcing the duty to protect vulnerable members in my community from being exploited. In a second research project geared toward understanding how language and faith intersect with someone’s social identity, I explored the language and historical use of pro-slavery rhetoric in St. Paul’s scripture.
I complemented this work with rigorous scientific probing of important contemporary problems, namely, plastic pollution and cancer. I researched and presented on microplastics in sustainable irrigation systems in an attempt to understand how we as a people can develop better, healthier, more sustainable options to provide for one another. I continue to explore this question as I focus more specifically on its effect on humans as I treat human cells with fluorescently labeled nanoplastics. I have engaged in research intentionally and with purpose on both Loyola’s campus and at University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Loyola helped to round me out as a person and inspired me to care for my community in various ways. It decidedly taught me about Baltimore, its residents, and what ‘home’ meant on campus and in the nearby community, yet it also motivated me to push myself outside of my immediate area. As a result I took the skills I enjoyed and was good at (carpentry and construction) and applied them living in an intentional community at Bethlehem Farm in rural West Virginia each summer during college. I spent each summer for several months leading retreat groups, participating in sustainable agriculture, and building homes for low-income homeowners in Alderson, WV. My work each summer cumulatively totaled over 1,500 hours and amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars in home repair and new construction. There I learned what socioeconomic diversity looked like among the under-served of rural areas. I led exclusively low-income home repair worksites and built roofs, wheelchair ramps, and solar panel arrays for residents who couldn’t afford repairs. I sat with homeowners displaced by mountaintop removal mining and heard their stories. When the pandemic hit, I spent the remainder of the semester and summer serving in this community. As I geared up for junior year, a massive flood hit Alderson destroying lives and livelihoods. Our home repair organization responded by dedicating months to flood recovery and rebuilding in Alderson. This was a longitudinal effort I felt called to lead and I took the entire year off of school to lead Bethlehem Farm’s flood relief and home repair efforts. Leading a non-profit low-income home repair program with lots of experience in construction and little experience as an adult, during the pandemic, proved to be one of the most challenging experiences of my life, but I leaned on the mentors and support I built at Loyola to change that corner of the world in small and not so small ways. I made homes more accessible and livable producing proper repairs that would be able to last decades. This year of service totaling over 2,500 hours of work enabled me to serve a community utilizing my skills and interests to improve the safety and quality of life of low-income Appalachians. Loyola empowered me to make these measurable material and emotional changes in a community distinct from my campus community.
Through my research, scholarship, and service on and off campus, and commitment to diversity through each of these pursuits, Loyola, Baltimore City, and I have had reciprocal effects on each other, bolstering the idea of ‘home’ as a sense of inclusion. Baltimore has become my home, and my experience at Loyola has been the catalyst for this development. I plan to enroll in the fall at University of Maryland School of Medicine to continue my journey of ‘lived in’ and ‘worked in’ Baltimore: a community I have and can continue to serve, a community of diverse people, and a home in every sense of the word.