CCEJ Camp Opens Talks of Race and Unity
By Dianne Anderson
Racism: It’s that never-ending conversation that raises blood pressure and long-simmering hostilities over the top.
And, if that dialogue seems intense for adults, it’s all the more emotionally charged for the kids.
In 2007, Jamaica Carter was a tenth grader attending her first camp for cross-cultural dialogue. It had such a profound impact on how she sees the world that it became the basis for her studies and career path.
From that first Building Bridges Camp, the shift in perception was so powerful, and each year she returns back to her point of enlightenment to guide a new group of students into social unity.
Carter, 26, now at Cal State University, Long Beach, is working on her Master’s degree in education.
She had attended other camps in the past, but none so open and honest about social justice, not only with students across Long Beach, but also Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. In the chill of the mountains, the students talked it out. The discrimination, the stereotypes, and they learned how to help each other heal through the process.
“It opened my eyes,” she said. “It made me think that there’s more than a Black experience or a woman’s experience. We all need each other to make sure that everyone is okay to further justice.”
Carter said she earned her Bachelor’s in elementary education because she loves the kids and teens, but the camp moved her toward a deeper study. Her Master’s degree is in cultural and social analysis of education, which is another name for social justice.
“I’m learning larger theory, about policy and educational practices in higher education and at a nonprofit level,” she said. “I still want to be an educator, but I want to teach on issues of oppression, and on leadership to make people whole.”
Coming up, Daniel Solis, associate executive director of the California Conference for Equality and Justice (CCEJ), will lead their free three-day trip to the Yucaipa mountains in December draws students from all over the Southland, from Long Beach to Santa Monica and Riverside to the High Desert.
The goal is to get students talking about race, to dispel the stereotypes, and take strategies back to their schools to break up the cliques on campus.
Since the early 1940s when the program started, tens of thousands of kids have gone through the program, including Solis, who participated in a version of the camp while attending high school in the 1990s. Currently, the program is working with 43 schools.
“I loved my first camp,” he said. “We all have that direct experience. For a lot of us that is where our first passionate exposure led to making a difference in the world.”
In recent times, he also feels students are growing up fast. The conversation is a lot heavier than usual, and youth are not oblivious to how race-based politics is playing out everywhere.
“They see Charlottesville. They are aware of the magnitude and how it’s connected to the history of racism in this country, that has definitely shifted in the last year after the election,” he said.
Emotionally, he said it’s harder for teens to digest what they see versus the older generation, who have lived through rougher times.
“A lot of the students we work with came of age or started being aware of the bigger world under President Obama,” he said. “A lot of things they had taken for granted were really shattered, they thought the country was more progressive.”
Part of the programming is to help students see the other side. Latinos may not understand how African Americans navigate discrimination, or what the Asian American community experiences. The kids open up to their differences and commonalities. It also creates an opening in the dialogue with white students.
“It’s] not us saying, hey, white privilege, but it’s students that they’re connecting with here, that they’re forming friendships with,” he said.
He said the events of recent times have been enough to shock the conscience, even for white students that may want to avoid the conversation.
“I think if anything it’s making folks decide, what kind of white person am I going to be? Am I going to try to speak out against people that feel emboldened,” he said.
Students usually return from camp with a new revelation. They go back to campus and get involved in clubs to address the division. They’re passionate about issues of poverty. He sees a lot of students get activated, who, like himself, come back to serve and work for the next generation.
It is exciting to cover the hard topics, and not avoiding conversations that need to be confronted. He feels that every school should be working on these issues.
“What gives me hope is their role in trying to make the country stronger, whether it’s a life path they follow, social workers, or business folks,” he said.”[It’s] how do we build a better country for everybody.”
For more information on camps, call CACEJ at (562) 435-8184