Team Laser Cats

Folks in Philadelphia who love bikes, cats, and snacks.

Laser Cat Shaniyla Hard at Work at BUP!

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Quick Intro: A few weeks back, Team Laser Cats instagram featured a GoFundMe to help Shaniyla pay for a really cool summer program. That one didn’t pan out, but she managed to find another one that is doing great work in Baltimore. From the Baltimore Urban Program (BUP) website: “During this intensive 6 week internship students grow together in their understanding of the city, the ways God is at work here, and their own response and involvement as Christians. After initial orientation, students serve as interns with various Urban Ministries and non-profit organizations throughout Baltimore.” (Link to BUP “About” page

The following is cross-posted from BUP’s blog, an entry by Shaniyla Johnson. Excited to hear more!


By Shaniyla Johnson


I was reserved about leaving my house again as I’ve been all over the place this year. Do I really want to spend my summer away too? So many places, so little time.

I think I need rest, but honestly wherever I go I find ways to squeeze breaks in. I believe God sees rest differently anyway. During Chapter Camp (something else I did right before I came home) in Mark I learned the disciples thought they would get rest but Jesus said yeet boi and they fed others which serves as rest for Jesus. I believe that Jesus finds rest in fulfilling our needs and that is maybe why he chose to die for us to forever serve us and fulfill our needs. But knowing all of these things I was still a little reserved about giving up more of my time, but once I arrived all my reservations vanished.

Food. Community. Books. Learning.

And those are just four of my favorite thingsssssssssss……………

And BUP so happens to include these things.


Remember when all of you funded me, your $10, your $20, or your $50 are now feeding me and me and my stomach thank you. We get an allotted amount of money to go grocery shopping every week. This was exciting as I could buy snacks. If you’re reading this and you know my mom, she doesn’t buy snacks so I splurged. Pizza rolls for daysssss…., but I also got broccoli and other healthy things like chicken. Also we receive funds to go out to eat with our family groups on Thursdays. This Thursday I splurged at Mama’s Café a new soul food joint in Southwest Baltimore. I got macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, and collard greens. Again, if you know my mother you know that I don’t eat like this on the regular.



Even though I’ve only been here for a week, I have become a part of many different communities. The Southwest Baltimore (Southwest Baltimore=SOWEBO) community, Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church community, the Gallery Sowebo community, the Baltimore Urban Program community, and the Sunday Showdown community. I will talk about communities in the order at which I have discovered them, well I hope because usually I don’t do what I set out to do (like writing this blog –I have been working on it since Friday.)

Well back to communites…… The first community I was introduced to was the BUP community. We see each other everyday for 6 weeks straight, so I decided to be myself from the start. I came in, plopped down, saw the house was nice, and added my two books to the community library. I can say this is one of the best communities I have been in. Although we have a lot of things in common (We are all InterVarsity, Christian, college students) we all have very different backgrounds, so discussions can be interesting. Despite the fact that we have only been together for a week I feel completely ok sharing my honest thoughts with them.

The next community that we were thrown into was the Southwest Baltimore community. On the second day, we were forced to walk through the community to observe the premises and IT WAS AMAZING. I am a wanderer, but I have not been outside to intentionally just look in so long. Usually, I am walking to go somewhere or thinking of other things but walking to intentionally observe was great. I noticed how interesting the area was. One block has busted sidewalks with vacant houses whereas other streets had nice paved sidewalks with big college buildings with surveillance cameras and police escorts. The stark difference was very interesting to me. After that, we were assigned to go back outside with the assignment of interacting with our new neighbors. Something that I’ve noticed that people don’t realize when they barge into new settings is the knowledge that the citizens there already have about the area and life in general. I got into a deep conversation with a man about the drug game and the unconsciousness that comes with drug crime once the drugs get into your system.

The next community I interacted with was the Gallery Sowebo community and I loved it. Gallery Sowebo is a multi-ethnic church here in Sowebo. As a full believer in God’s vision of his true kingdom—equal and multi-ethnic, it was beautiful to see all different types of people come together and worship God together. Unlike other churches that I have been to, the people were welcoming and the vibes were good. The word was impactful, but succinct and I was out in a jiffy—just how I like it. Short and sweet.

After that we had free time. And this is how I met the most awesome people ever. The Sunday Showdown crew…….. 2 other Buppies and I knew the Baltimore Pride Festival was happening that day after church and decided that we wanted to go. I knew some other people at the church and decided to invite them. It turns out that at Pride we met someone else and then came back and chilled at my host’s house, listened to music ,and had pizza. After this amazing experience, we deemed ourselves the Sunday Showdown crew (I have a Facebook groupchat as proof) and promised to link up and show out every Sunday during BUP.

During our first full week at BUP (we started the program on a Wednesday) I was blessed to meet members of the Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church (WAMC). This small church does so much for the Southwest Baltimore community. Aside from worship on Sundays this church acts as a meeting space for community meetings and a day camp. The church also has a vegetable ministry which gives out fresh fruit and vegetables to residents. During my first full week here I volunteered at the Vacation Bible School that the church also holds. Although I only took pictures during VBS, I still had a chance to meet some more members of the Southwest Baltimore community and the committed members of the Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church. At the end of Vacation Bible School, there was a community cookout and I was the DJ (if you would like to book me hmu).


Oh the books….. I threw a whole slew of books into my bag since BUP is a no tech zone. One benefit of the limited tech requirement is that I have more time to read. I intended to finish my book “Camden After the Fall”, but now I’m just book hopping. How does one pick between Tahnehesi Coates “Between the World and Me”, Zora Neale Hurston’s “There Eyes Were Watching God”, and Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow”?


The books also supplement what we are learning. Each week we are given articles to read and discuss. This week we read an article focused around the topic of immersion, considering that we are fully immersing ourselves in the Southwestern neighborhood of Mt. Clare over the next 5 weeks. Another article that we read this week was around the topic of working with students in poverty, which went along the lines of what constitutes poverty and the “hidden rules” of poverty. I also love the discussion because hearing others input educates me and also shapes my own view. Hearing 5 different people explain a topic gives me different ways to think about the same thing. I am also learning by doing because I am reading about topics such as education and crime and as I interact with the community I can observe how what I am learning affects this community directly.

So das ist alle fur heute, but I thought I could close it off by publicly making goals for myself for some accountability. This week was cool, but I’m human, I get complacent and tired of routines. In the next week, I shall send out everyone personalized gifts (That’s why you should read to the end to hear this important news)……

By Shaniyla Johnson

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