The Community Building and Social Change Group at Johns Hopkins

Community Development in East Baltimore: The Community Building and Social Change group at Johns Hopkins

It’s January 21, 2012, and it is STILL winter break! I love Hopkins. Not only because we have almost 7 weeks to relax before the spring semester, but also because we’re given access to just about everything we need to make a difference in the lives of Baltimore residents. I have had the awesome opportunity to direct the Community Building and Social Change group, a 503 (c) non-profit organization registered with the Center for Social Concern that works closely with residents of Baltimore city. CBSC aims to understand residents’ needs and then come up with an actionable plan to help resolve the problem. We go out into the community and poll residents on some of their greatest challenges. We compile the results and then ask residents what they would like to see as a response to those issues. We then sort through issues and solutions and receive student input to come up with a solid proposal. CBSC aims to be completely bottom-up—top down approaches to development are often paternalistic and ignore the ability of people to participate in their own transformation. So you can see that the process here is kind of complicated—you want to help others, but you want to do so with respect for their dignity and agency.

Every year, CBSC hosts the Hopkins Hunger for Help campaign, where students and faculty members work together make sandwiches with the homeless.

The CBSC approach is rather innovative. First, we have no “member base.” Instead, thereare a few leaders who manage and organize all projects and logistics. You can imagine that this is a huge task, but rightly so—the most dedicated leaders will be responsible for most of the behind-the-scenes work. CBSC thinks this is the right approach, since managing a member base is difficult at any school in and any line of work; weekly meetings, listservs and emails sometimes tend to put off people who would normally be interested in development. Instead, when carrying out projects, CBSC enlists the help of pre-existing student groups: community service organizations like APO and Campus Kitchen, health groups like Health Leads, Hopkins organizations like the student government (and the student activities center), religious groups on campus like the Jewish Students Association and the Muslim Students Association, and fraternities and sororities on campus. By mobilizing members of other groups, CBSC avoids the problem of under-commitment.

Hopkins knows how to have a good time at CBSC’s Hunger for Help in Spring Fair 2011.

Second, CBSC gives all group members voting power in that they can help determine the implementation of projects and the creation of new community ventures. While this poses the potential problem of information overload—that we have too much feedback and not enough time to sort through everything—we think it is better to have too much advice than not enough.

CBSC has accomplished quite a lot over the last five years. But there is still much more to do. While I would love to talk more about Hunger for Help and our other projects, I want to keep this entry more general so that you can get a better idea of the organization and decision-making involved in community development here in Baltimore. I definitely encourage you to visit our webpage at www.hopkinscbsc.org, or email me at khurram.ali@jhu.edu for more information. Until then, enjoy the rest of your winter break! Or, umm,enjoy the rest of your school year ;)

“It takes one to make a difference.”