Reflections by Clare Wildhack-Nolan (Director)
This year was an amazing year in the practice of Social Justice Leadership Camp. It was our fourth year of building: curriculum building, leadership building, community building, momentum building. It was all that! The Social Justice Leadership Camp has proven we are successful in achieving our mission of developing confident and knowledgeable leaders who analyze power systems in order to build a more equitable society.Our two-week day camp develops critical thinking, encourages personal reflection, leadership development, civic engagement, and creative problem solving; essentially, community organizing skills.
Our two-week day camp develops critical thinking, encourages personal reflection, leadership development, civic engagement, and creative problem solving; essentially, community organizing skills. Camp covers the themes of: personal identity, power analysis, social justice and leadership, media analysis, economic justice, justice within gender and sexuality, racial justice, justice and disability rights, art and expression, and event and action planning.
This year the impact camp has had in our leaders’ lives, over the past four years, became evident. We are seeing campers who own their leadership, with a clearer understanding of how institutional power works. It is inspiring to see them work!
Paije, who was in our first group of campers ever, stayed involved in our camp meet-ups and returned this year to participate in a second round of camp. Her ability to identify injustice and articulate the sources in institutional power that affect her life is a concrete product of her involvement in camp, she says. She uses her understanding in any atmosphere she is in: school, work, home, while watching TV, with friends. As her awareness and confidence has grown she has taken a leadership role in her school community, especially the Youth in Action Group she leads. The year before last they went to Washington D.C. to be honored for their work. After this year’s camp she plans to go back to her school and build more awareness about the challenges that immigrants face in the USA, as well as spread understanding of the multi-cultural and racial identities of the Latino community.
Ariana’s participation in Camp as a counselor is evidence that Camp is integrating youth in the power base of our practice. Ariana was a camper last year. After finishing her senior year at Herron High School, she joined us for camp before heading off to her first year at IU Bloomington. While at IU Bloomington she has gotten involved in a Filipino cultural organization and has continued her research around ableism and disability rights. During camp she expanded our curriculum to include an eye-opening piece on ableism, identifying personal to institutional impacts and a historical perspective on the framing of our concepts of normal. She brought a clear youth voice to camp leadership, and acted as a great role model to what is possible. She plans to head back to IU with her expanded facilitation skills, primed to push her cultural organization into deeper conversations regarding the impact of racism and interconnections between people of color and will continue her work for disability rights.
All of the campers make camp the positive and powerful space it is. This year we had 3 past campers, who although not enrolled in camp this year, came to support on specific days, sharing in our community and speaking to ways that new campers can stay involved. Calvin joined us on the community tour. He has taken time to use his poetry and art to speak on panels about the school to prison pipeline and host community building events with his family. Eboni joined us for the Social Justice Leadership Panel Discussion, the Community Tour, and our Final Event and Celebration. She is a sophomore in Ivy Tech’s Culinary Arts program. She attended and co-facilitated meet-ups throughout the 2015-16 school year, including a community discussion on Mass Incarceration, and she was a panelist in a dialogue on the future of I-Step.
Likewise, we see past campers jumping on opportunities that we are developing through partnerships. Three past campers were selected by the Desmond Tutu Center to be Youth Fellows and attended a social justice trip to South Africa this summer. They will then be returning to the city to complete a social justice community initiative. Additionally, SJL Camp co-founder/ facilitator Mat Davis has connected us with the directors of a Social Justice Scholars program at IUPUI, which offers full scholarships to accepted participants. We plan on informing all of our participants of the opportunity!
Although camp is a quick two week program full of intimate discussion and self reflection, without any ”direct action” we see that our campers embrace the commitment and critical thinking it takes to live a life of social justice. They understand why and how, they want to approach whatever they do.
Our next step is to expand our school year offerings to support students in completing a solid and thoughtful social justice initiative in their school community. We would like to offer specific workshops around the needed organizing skills, a trip to Chicago to visit youth organizations, and to provide small stipends to help teens prioritize the important work they are doing, when many of them need an income. Additionally, we would like to extend our reach to other teens who have grabbed on to specific causes to do their Social Justice work. We will do this by partnering with other youth social justice organizations to collaborate on a youth community organizing and power building summit. We have already been building partnerships with interested groups such as Earth Charter Indiana, IYG, American Friends Service Committee, shehive, Just Education Coalition, Felege Hiywot Center, and Planned Parenthood.
There is a beautiful genuine feeling of possibility and motivation at the end of camp. It is what we are together. Multiple campers sighted that they learned they need a community of people who understand them and challenge them to do the work they want to do. Annaleigh and Priscilla, from opposites sides of town, both came to camp looking for a home of open-minded people who want to learn and open their eyes to the diversity of experiences in this city. They often feel isolated in their usual school environments, alone and unsure of how to raise their perspectives and needs with the adults in power or their peers. At camp they found that they are not alone. Now, with confidence, they can build their power and voice. The whole camp family believes in them! As they move forward it is camp’s responsibility and joy to keep being that community!