Race Dialogue and Building Bridges Camp
By Dianne Anderson
Segregation is not some awful signpost of the distant past.
It’s on the playgrounds, it’s in the lunchrooms and follows kids throughout the middle and high school years. Even when students are close neighbors, they are not necessarily positively sharing their experiences and cultures.
On Saturday, January 25, the California Conference for Equality and Justice is hosting open discussions around the impact kids who are raised in racism.
“We have the framework for it,” said Solis, interim co-executive director of CCEJ.
He said one priority for the organization is to look at how racism divides and prevents the community from working together. In the coming months, they are partnering with “Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation” in Los Angeles to bring five dialogues to address racism, and what can be done collectively to fight it.
Under the current public school model, Solis said there has not been much space for students to interact with each other. He points to the last year’s Poly High School race-related violence as one example of how conflicts continue between African American and Latinx students.
“When the issue started happening at Poly High School and at other schools, we started thinking about how can we support parents. There’s not a lot of guidance on how to talk to your kids about race and racism,” he said.
While Long Beach City is proud of community diversity, he said not much happens beyond the acknowledgment of diversity. A lot of conflict still exists locally along racial lines.
“We wanted to give kids a space to reflect, and think that besides your neighbor looking different than you, what else are we doing to address racial justice in Long Beach?” he asks.
Self-segregation and other long-standing education equity issues will draw kids together again at an upcoming camp through the CCEJ.
Since 1985, the program’s Building Bridges Camp takes students to the mountains to talk about race and reconciliation. They provide the program to LBUSD, where it has expanded for several years.
Participation is diverse. African Americans represent about 25-40% attendance with each camping trip. They also work with several outside schools, including San Fernando Valley, schools in Orange County, West Los Angeles and Santa Monica. Students get a chance to meet up with others who share their racial identity, and interact in a deeper way.
Last November, the camp pulled about 100 students. Two more are coming up soon, one in February and in March. It’s not too late to participate, and it’s open to all students.
He said schools cover the costs of attending. At the last camp, some students came out from as far as Oceanside.
Except for a small handful, all schools in Long Beach are participating, he said. Students can also talk to CCEJ directly about attending the camp.
Each camp hosts 90-120 students, about 350 to 500 students each year. Students arrive Friday morning, and connect for three days with others from their schools, some that may never have talked while sharing the same classes.
“They learn a lot about each other. The camp helps build close relationships and helps students share some really powerful experiences,” he said.
Students see each other in a different light, and take those experiences back to their schools. They reconnect and start clubs with stronger advocacy for racial justice at their campuses. They make close friends at the camp, they cross racial barriers, and develop friendships that carry on into the schools.
Beyond acknowledging racism in the schools, by the final day of camp, students focus on action.
“They’re thinking about what they can do in various spheres of influence, whether that’s in their own personal behavior, that they don’t have to avoid certain people or say things that are hurtful,” he said.
Racial injustice is another key aspect of their organization’s work with restorative justice. The goal is to create solutions to the disproportionate impact of Black and Brown students unfairly punished, and shuttled to the pipeline to prison.
CCEJ programming helps students who may be up against smaller crimes to avoid the criminal justice system by taking personal responsibility. It includes a youth diversion program, which operates in partnership with the Los Angeles County District Attorneys Office, with the Long Beach Police Department, the LAPD and Signal Hill PD.
“Everyone recognizes that we need to do something else to help students who come from communities where there are big systemic barriers, history of trauma. Arresting them isn’t going to help with the issue,” he said.
For more information on joining the CCEJ Building Bridges Camp, call (562) 435-8184 or email, Info@cacej.org