By: Leandra Williams

Before the Obama administration, I believed that someone who looked like me could not be in a position of power in the government. My recent experience in Baltimore’s City Hall showed me how diverse our local government is in Baltimore. 

As a summer intern with the Centers for Civic Impact at Johns Hopkins University, I had an opportunity to attend a Clean Stat Meeting – a group that uses data to monitor trash pickup – at Baltimore’s City Hall with Civic Impact’s Senior Implementation Advisor Tiffany Davis. It was inspiring to see the human side of government, and that real people are working not only to solve problems, but to find sustainable solutions to ensure that they do not happen again.

As kids learning about the government, we just imagine faceless, nameless men and women in suits magically getting things done. It’s easy to call 911 and forget there is a person on the other end of the phone. It’s easy to call 311, have your dirty alley cleaned and not even think about the process it took for that to happen. 

On my first visit to Baltimore’s City Hall, I learned two things. First, that there are real live people working behind the phones and computers. Second, and most importantly, I learned that just like you and me, those people have their flaws, arguments and problems when it comes to taking care of our government. They still make those silly mistakes we “kids” make everyday – but they work through the mistakes together, toward a common goal of a safer, cleaner city.

There is a different feeling in reading about diversity versus seeing it hands on. Baltimore’s government is diverse, with all people of different backgrounds. I was inspired by the fact that there were so many black people not just taking notes, but leading the meeting. Is Baltimore a totally diverse, structurally non-racist place? No. Are we better than 400 years ago, a month ago or yesterday? Yes. We are improving day by day. Who would have believed 100 years ago today, a young black girl would be sitting in City Hall in a meeting about taking care of the government? 

So, could I work in the government? Yes, I can see myself working for the government, but I think I came with a different view of what it means to work in the government. 

Like many teens my age, I am still trying to find my path. Although I might make a few mistakes along the way, I am finding the strength to face them and learn from them. Thanks to movies and political campaign ads, I always believed that you had to be some perfect being who is great at everything to work in government – whether it be working as a mayor or President of the United States. I was wrong. You truly only need to work hard, always be ready to evolve and remember that you work not only for the people, but with the people.