2015 Fall Leadership Institute Report

Nine 2015 Encampers from six different states (SD, MA,TX, CA, FL, NY) came to Albany, New York, by train, plane and bus to the Blue Mountain Center in Blue Mountain Lake for the 2015 Fall Encampment Institute. They arrived at this idyllic setting in the Adirondack Mountains eager to move forward on the projects they created at the summer Encampment program. The Blue Mountain Center is a wonderful incubator for artists and social justice activists from across the country and is a catalyst for community building and creativity. “What touched my heart the most was how friendly and supportive the Blue Mountain staff were.”Kendra, CA

The Encampment youth worked hard to be able to attend the Institute, raising funds for their transportation and bringing extra assignments to make up work for missing school days. There was much joy at being reunited again after the summer and conversations immediately delved into the activities and challenges of the fall. The Encampers were prepared to talk about how their projects were going and had an opportunity to present to the group to outline their challenges and successes and get support and ideas.

They also spent time on looking at how each project related to a larger social issue and at strategies for engaging and motivating people. We employed some of these strategies (including music and theater) during the weekend so they had an opportunity to practice.

As we know, it’s difficult to take an idea and put it into practice, particularly as a teenager. Some of the challenges the youth face are apathy amongst their peers and juggling all the demands on their time. The most useful thing for me was when we were given tools on how to get a group excited for a presentation. We learned different activities and games we could use to engage people in what we planned to present.”—Deanna, SD

There is an overwhelming consensus that the institute was an important and valuable experience, especially in terms of youth re-connecting and feeling the power of community. The young people shared deep, vulnerable feelings about the challenges they have faced on returning from the Encampment where they had changed, when their family and friends were unchanged. They faced the isolation of thinking differently and having a different set of priorities from many of their peers. It is clear that these Encampers have deep bonds of friendship and trust. For some of them, the EFC community is a beacon of hope in an otherwise discouraging world. For all of them, it is a source of support and encouragement for their projects and lives as social justice activists.

The group continued using music as an inspiration and often found themselves gathered around the piano, singing the songs of their Encampment and more. The Encampers’ singing brought other people staying at Blue Mountain Center into the room to share in their musical exuberance.  An unexpected addition to the weekend was how the Encampers helped each other with their homework, especially the essays they were writing related to social justice issues.

The institute concluded with a moving ritual where each person gave a gift of something to everyone: “I give you the gift of _____” (perseverance, community, balance, etc.). “What touched my heart the most was the end circles where we all went around and said something loving to everyone in the circle, it was so uplifting and beautiful!”—Sejeia, TX

 Young People:

  • re-engaged and participated in a reunion with some of their fellow Encampers
  • presented and discussed the status, challenges and successes of their projects
  • expressed their concerns, growth and needs for both their projects and the greater Encampment community
  • felt a genuine connection to and role in the development of the Encampment
  • gained skills in ways to do outreach and engage their peers and others in their projects  through a series of simulations that modeled such activities
  • investigated the process of teasing out the macro issue from the micro focus
  • received individualized attention from staff on their specific needs related to their projects and other life challenges

 “The most important activity to me at the Fall Leadership Institute was analyzing our community projects on the big paper in the sitting area. It was nice to introduce our ideas to our fellow Encampers and get feedback. I was able to get ideas from everyone and further my project. It was also nice to sit down, reconnect and feel like we came back to the Encampment all over again with the morning singing and enjoying the meals all together at the big dinner table.”—Marquise, NY

Suggestions for improving future institutes:

  • More time. It was too short.
  • More discussion of building community in home communities/asking allies for help with projects.
  • Work at the summer program giving some core templates and having some workshops and discussions about how to identify a project; be clear what need that project is addressing; what larger issue it is addressing; and a strategy and resources for implementation.
  • More systems for follow-up and support after the summer program for youth to support one another as they confront the difficulties of re-entry and isolation.
  • More systems to provide additional adult support for youth when they leave the summer program. Some of this did happen on its own, but we want to increase their access to adult resources for expertise and other kinds of support.
  • Some of our youth are very isolated, especially the rural youth, and we need to find additional ways to support them. We need to engage some of the organizations more and have an “organizing “ or project development toolkit for them to pull from. We have already begun working on this plan.
  • We cannot underestimate the power of their connections to one another and the staff. The question is how to expand upon that and keep those connections alive and growing in the larger context of social justice work. The Encampment becomes a kind of family that is very important in the lives of most of these young people, but especially those who are facing huge obstacles on a daily basis.

Getting the ball rolling for EFC in the 21st century

1970 White Plains EncampmentRuth E. Thaler-Carter attended the Encampment in 1970 in White Plains, New York, and was pivotal to the revitalization of the Encampment in the 21st century. We spoke with Ruth about her early EFC experiences and how she came to start the ball rolling for the new Encampment in 2009.

Ruth is an award-winning freelance writer/editor and the owner of Communication Central, which hosts an annual conference for freelancers. She also is in the process of launching ownership of a publishing business to work with independent, self-publishing authors. Ruth recently received a Big Pencil Award from Rochester, New York’s Writers and Books, for being “A teacher of adults who has inspired the creation and appreciation of literature” who has “contributed significantly in the advancement, creation, and understanding of literature in the Rochester community.”

What was your first impression of the Encampment?

It was an adventure, and I hoped to make friends and learn something about the world. My first impression was that I had found a community where I could be comfortable, useful and involved.

 What topic did you spend the most time on at the Encampment and what did you learn?

I participated in the United Nations Youth Assembly. It was fascinating! I knew French, German and Spanish, and was very interested in languages and international relations, so going to the UN and being part of that, even at the youth level, was very exciting.

At the Encampment, seeing the projects that other groups did was a great way to show us that one person could do something that made a difference. It showed us that it’s possible to get together with people from completely different backgrounds as friends and colleagues, and that young people could get things done in their communities. The Encampment showed (and shows) that ideals can work in the real world. EFC was hands-on, practical. You could take it home with you. Even if you didn’t use it right away, you could use it in later years. It was experience of a practical nature that you could use at various points in life – and it still is.

How has the Encampment influenced your life?

I didn’t go into a formal community organizing or public role, although I did work for the Urban League, a fair housing association and a national neighborhood nonprofit. Much of what I’ve done in regular jobs and almost everything I do as a freelancer, though, is with community nonprofits or organizations that are helpful to other people, and I see that as a result of the Encampment. I also made friendships that have continued to this day. There are lasting impacts beyond the friendships. Because of the Encampment, I had a greater and deeper exposure to people of other backgrounds and to activism, community leadership and the idea that one person can make a difference.

What is your favorite memory or story from the Encampment?

Oh, there are several, but the most important has to do with a first love. I’ll just leave it at that.

Tell us how the revitalization of the EFC evolved.

At a milestone number of years since my EFC experience, I wanted to reconnect. I contacted the Ethical Society and asked if there was any interest in a reunion, and they loved the idea. I had kept my Encampment yearbook, and I called or wrote to as many of my fellow Encampers as possible. Beth Daniels and Marina Chang from our Encampment helped me find a few more via the Internet. Margot Gibney had records of our Encampment, which also helped. Then it grew from just being White Plains 1970 to including as many people from other Encampment years and locations as possible, and then to creating the EFC alumni association.

All it took was one person saying, “Hey, let’s get together for a reunion. And, now that we’re in contact, what else can we do?” Other people said, “Let’s restart the organization!” Just as we learned in our Encampment, one or a few people can make things happen.

Ruth at 2015 Big Pencil event2

It’s different when it’s your friend

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Kendra Dawson attended the Encampment in both 2014 and 2015. She is currently attending Loyola Marymount College in Los Angeles. Deanna Mousseau, a fellow 2015 Encamper, interviewed her recently. Kendra is shown above on far left with Marquise and Anakiha at the 2015 Encampment. 2016 Application.

Kendra, what was your first impression of the Encampment?

That it would be a long three weeks!

 How did the community government work?

The Encamper self-government was different because I was not used to making the rules myself. I believe the self-government worked well—after we agreed upon all of the rules.

What did you learn?

What I learned from the Encampment is that there is always a way to connect different people from different stories and backgrounds, as well as how to think critically about everything. The topic I spent the most time talking about was race relations in America and its effect on policy and law.

Your favorite memory?

My favorite memory from the Encampment was the time that Litzy shared her story about being an immigrant and coming to the United States for a better life. Her story helped me see immigration in a different perspective. I want to be lawyer specializing in civil rights and immigration issues. It’s different when it’s your friend who is involved in a social justice issue. The place she comes from and her story inspired me.

Most compelling field trip?

I was most affected by our visit to the Emmett Till Museum. It is built on the place where he was tortured and murdered, and the director was related to him, so the civil rights movement came alive for me in a different way.

You also attended our first Fall Leadership Institute–what were the highlights for you?

The most important activity was the presentations of where we are on our community projects and suggestions from other Encampers and staff. I attended the institute to clarify and improve some of the lesson plans that I have created for the program and the institute also helped me get a clearer idea of what my overall project goal is. My heart was touched by how friendly and supportive the Blue Mountain Center staff were.

Tell us about your project in your home community.

My project upon returning home was to establish a social justice workshop at Peace4Kids, a foster youth program that I have attended and for which I have volunteered. The goal of this project is to bring awareness of social justice issues to the foster youth community. Ultimately, the youths who show outstanding growth from the workshops could attend the Encampment. We will be meeting on Saturdays and I have lesson plans on the food desert and the school-to-prison pipeline. My program director at Peace4Kids is providing support. I have partnered with two donors (one is an EFC alum) who have agreed to sponsor youth to attend in 2016. It will launch later this month and will run until June, and the youth(s) will go off to the Encampment!

Interview with Bill and Joan Shannon 2013 by Jackie Frank

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In 2013 Bill Shannon accompanied the summer program to Washington, DC to meet with Eleanor Holmes Norton who is an EFC alum (1957). Ada Deer, EFC Board Chair (EFC alum, 1956) was part of the joyous reunion pictured above and the inspirational meeting with Representative Norton.

Below is EFC Board member Jackie Frank’s account of her interview with Bill and Joan Shannon that same year.

It could be said that Bill Shannon and his wife Joan married into the Encampment. Shannon, director of the Encampment for Citizenship from 1952-1958, became involved thanks to EFC founder Algernon Black, a leader of the Ethical Culture Movement in New York City. Black performed their marriage ceremony after Bill and Joan were turned down by Catholic and Jewish clerics unwilling to carry out a religious ceremony for a mixed-faith couple.  Their connection led to a friendship and Black asked Shannon to direct the Encampment when then-director Henry Herman moved on to the University of Wisconsin. Shannon agreed and directed the Encampment while he continued his doctoral work in education at Columbia University.

“Once he got involved with the Encampment, it just took over our lives, really,” Joan said. “All encompassing,” Bill added.  He went on to say that for nearly ten years that included: over 1,000 Encampers, including their children Carol and Jeff; numerous yearly recruiting trips around the country; and the expansion of the Encampment program to Berkeley, California.

In the early years, the summer Encampment took place at the Fieldston School in Riverdale, New York, which was conveniently across the street from the Shannons’ home.

Shannon, who lives in Kensington, Maryland, outside Washington, D.C., found many inspiring people to address the Encampers, among them the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in July 1957; Al Black who was also vice president of the NAACP; Federal Judge Julius Waties Waring of South Carolina whose desegregation rulings made him an outcast in his home state; folk singer Pete Seeger; and former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt at Hyde Park who invited the Encampers to her home in Hyde Park each summer.

Shannon noted how the 100 to 120 youth would arrive each summer, somewhat bewildered, and a little startled at more diversity than they might have encountered in their lives. “Then the assimilation process took over and they became very good friends,” he said.  “The Encampment opened their eyes.”

In one memorable incident, Shannon said an Encampment group came to Washington, D.C., which at that time was segregated. “No restaurant would take the mixed group,” but they were served in the Hot Shoppes on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda. “It was one of the first times the color line was broken in Montgomery County,” he said.

Interview with Dan Isaacson, EFC alum 50NY, May 2015

Dan Isaacson

Dan Isaacson

Dan Isaacson, 50NY, lives in Boca Raton, Florida with his wife Marie. Between the two of them, they have four grown children. They traveled all around the country in a motor home for 15 years before deciding to settle in Boca Raton where his mother’s first cousin lived.

We spoke with Dan about his Encampment experience (see below) and his current passion – voter education and voting rights.  Dan, your work dovetails perfectly with part of the curriculum this summer at the Encampment – the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Tell us a bit about how you became interested in this area. I started working as precinct captain in 2007 for the Democratic Party of Palm Beach County.  I saw that they were doing what I call “retail politics” – one-on-one contact with hundreds of people and not reaching hundreds of thousands of people.  People were not voting. They saw no difference between the parties and thought it didn’t make a difference if they voted or not. They didn’t know what was going on and didn’t care.

I thought to myself, I have to do some kind of education. I started a newsletter on my own and sent it around by mail. That turned out to be too expensive and I had no way of knowing how well we were doing. The Demo Party put in on their website and we sent to their mailing list. I had to do something to get it out further because there were not enough people to do data analysis. Eventually, I sent to Democrats and Independents through email or mailbox so that everybody in the precinct got a copy every month (1200 people). In the 2014 primary election, out of the 842 precincts in Palm Beach County, voter participation in this precinct was 71% higher than the average of other 841 precincts. I am now seeking foundation funding and more buy-in from the Democratic Party. I am amassing an email and mail list for all of Palm Beach County to do solicitation. I also attend meetings for the Voter Rights Coalition group here and I am on the board of the Palm Beach County League of Women Voters.

It’s such a turn on! Now I know what turns on sculptors, painters, etc. They spend every waking moment doing their craft. Working with the Enlightened Voter (www.votereducation.net), I have my eyes on everything that is happening, all the daily and weekly news articles. I want to find out more and write intelligently. Last weekend I attended a convergence of young people nationwide concerned with voting rights and inequities (National Prison Divestment Convergence). So many people of color are disenfranchised from voting, having a decent job, etc. Our governor Rick Scott won by very few percentage points. My feeling is that if more people were reading the newsletter he would not be governor. Voter education is effective and important.

Dan, let’s go back to your Encampment experience.

What motivated you to go to the Encampment?

I was a student at Fieldston Ethical Culture School where EFC was being held. My father was on the Board and our family was close friends with Algernon Black. Al’s son David was a classmate.  I had visited EFC in previous summers and wanted to go. In 1950, between high school graduation and college I had the chance to go.

When you arrived, what was your first impression of the Encampment?

I had taken many ethics classes at school from Al Black, so I knew what to expect. Of course, the place was like home as I went to school there. I found the campers interesting and diverse–from all over the country.

What was your initial impression of the offerings at the Encampment?

Very impressive and exciting. The knowledge of the staff was impressive and welcome.

 What field trips do you remember?

The most memorable trip was to Hyde Park for a picnic lunch with Eleanor Roosevelt.

Did you find you had a lot in common with most of the Encampers?

What all of us had in common was a desire to understand others and to help others.

What were some of your favorite leisure time activities?

Lots of music, performances, we had performers such as Woody Guthrie come to perform for us. We had outside politicians and educators also come to speak.

What did you learn at the Encampment?

I learned a lot about the lives of my fellow campers, about the difficulties minorities faced.

 How has the Encampment influenced your life?

It gave me a view of what public service is like. 60 years later, that interest led me to being extremely active in politics in southern Florida. I publish a monthly voter education newsletter, The Enlightened Voter, which has received many accolades and a large readership in Palm Beach County. www.votereducation.net


Isaacson, Dan advertisement 1950

What is your favorite memory or story from the Encampment?

Woody Guthrie came to perform for us. As the resident folk singer, I was asked to greet him and find out what he needed. He told me he wanted a place to warm up so I took him to a school classroom. He struck several chords and pronounced the room too dead. He asked me to take him to the boy’s bathroom where he liked the acoustics and warmed up for his performance there.

Encampment Alum Interview: Shauna Marshall, 1970, Great Falls, Montana

We interviewed Shauna Marshall who is a Professor Emerita at Hasting Law School, San Francisco, CA. She began her career as a trial attorney for the US Department of Justice, Antitrust Division.  Later, she joined Equal Rights Advocates as a staff attorney working on impact cases, policy initiatives and mobilizing campaigns on behalf of low-income women and women of color.  She then spent four years in the Stanford and East Palo Alto community, lecturing in the areas of civil rights and community law practice at Stanford Law School and directing the East Palo Alto Community Law Project.  She served as Hastings Associate Academic Dean from 2000 – 2002 and Academic Dean from 2005 – 2013.  Professor Marshall writes in the area of community law practice and social justice. Her greatest joy is mentoring future social justice advocates. She is married to Encampment board member, Bob Hirsch (70MT).


What motivated you to go to the Encampment? I wanted to do something where I was working with a community to help that community. I didn’t know about social justice in particular but I wanted to serve. And, coming from a mostly-white suburb, I wanted to meet a wider diversity of teenagers, especially teenagers of color. A friend had gone in 1969, Ezra Swerdlow, and he recommended the Encampment. Then I went to the library and read about the EFC.

When you arrived, what was your first impression of the Encampment? Actually, my first impression was before we got there. I signed up to go to on the Encampment with a girlfriend. We wanted to travel on the EFC chartered bus but we signed up late and didn’t get a spot so we ended up going on a greyhound bus. I was excited when I saw the diverse teenagers on the chartered bus even if I wasn’t on it. And to make matters worse, our greyhound bus broke down in Montana before we made it to Great Falls. The Encampment sent a van to pick us up with a couple of staff members. Everyone was so welcoming that I thought, ‘This is going to be a great experience!’

The accommodations were bleak; we were housed in the Heisey Memorial Youth Center gym. There were two rooms for 40 girls. We had bunk beds with 12 girls in one room and 28 in a larger room. All 40 boys were in one room. At the first meeting of all of the Encampers, the director stood up and turned the meeting over to us and told us we had to build our own community, develop our rules; essentially we were responsible for designing a civic democracy. We felt overwhelmed at the task.  We were all high school students, some of us had had part- time jobs, had been involved in student government but we had never designed an entire system from scratch.


What topic did you spend the most time on at the Encampment and what did you learn? One topic that was new to me and changed my life was the introduction to the women’s movement and feminism. As a young woman of color, I realized that summer that for me to be successful I would have to tackle barriers put before me because of my race and my sex. I had always understood racism but not sexism. I was probably heading down a career path that involved social justice but the Encampment confirmed that that was what I wanted to do with my life. I became a lawyer and spent many years working on issues of discrimination facing low-income women and women of color. I later became a clinical law professor; again, I think the Encampment inspired me to teach and help create the next generation of social justice activists. The EFC staff were great role models and I wanted to replicate that experience in some way.

That summer I learned many things, my world was expanded. We had a speaker from the John Birch Society. He presented a point-of-view that was both controversial and antagonistic to Encampers. I thought it was amazing that he had the nerve to come to tell us about his bigoted hierarchical organization. We also had someone come from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Their approach to “supporting” Native Americans was patronizing, demeaning and with an intent to maintain the status quo.  The Encampment created an environment where we were allowed to challenge the views of the presenters and to probe more deeply. I also learned about the lives of small family farmers and their struggle to maintain their way of life through the Montana Farmers’ Union. I learned that it is possible for people from diverse backgrounds to form a community and to break through cultural differences and perceived barriers.


How did Encamper self-government work for your Encampment? We were thrown in the deep end of the pool and told to swim. There was a regular time for meetings. I can’t recall who led them. Perhaps we rotated? These were intense meetings. We dealt with the mundane—like how late people talk or listen to radios given that we were all living in tight quarters.  And, there were deeper issues, like the one recounted below in my most memorable experience. The Encampent did set our schedule for meals and programs but we had to figure out the other rules for the community in town meetings. Staff would help guide us if we got too out of control. It was a great lesson in community democracy.

What field trips do you remember? Montana was beautiful. We went to Glacier National Park. I remember the beauty of the glaciers and Lake McDonald. We hiked and climbed the Bob Marshall Wilderness. In addition, we went to the Montana Farmers’ Union Family Camp. We played softball and had a campfire, something which I had not experienced being a city-suburban girl. The farmers who were members of the Union were struggling to keep their small farms and their livelihoods but were being pushed out by agribusiness.


What community service projects do you remember? I worked on a tutoring program for Blackfeet Indians who attended public school in Great Falls.  The program was developed in the summer for the following fall.  The program was designed so students would tutor each other. We were in charge of getting together the logistics and materials. I got to visit the next summer and see that the program had taken off.


How did the Encampers get along? How did this change over the time you were together? By working together on projects and building a democratic community, we became a close and connected community even though at the beginning, we weren’t sure we had that much in common. Like any group of 80 kids, cliques formed. My clique was very diverse with Black, White, and Latina kids.

We had an incredibly gifted staff. They were smart and psychologically attuned to the needs of teenagers.  And they were young enough that we saw them as hip (ages ranged from 20s to 40s). They knew how to ask questions when needed and diffuse situations when necessary. By participating in workshops, projects and town meetings together and by doing fun outings together like camping and hiking we formed a community.

What were some of your favorite leisure time activities? Basketball, and we had a Black performance group. Our group learned African dance and drumming and we sang, read poetry, danced and drummed for the other Encampers and at community events.

How has the Encampment influenced your life? Well I met my husband (Encampment board member, Bob Hirsch 70MT). That was a big deal! In addition, as I mentioned earlier it influenced my choice of career.

What is your favorite memory or story from the Encampment? The most memorable experience was a community meeting during which we learned that some Encampers had had personal items stolen. Some Encampers suspected that one of the black Encampers, a guy from Harlem, had taken the items. A few white Encampers, while well meaning, made comments that displayed racist assumptions and were quite naïve. We talked really late into the night. We weren’t going to end that meeting until someone came forward and we reached resolution on how to handle the matter. I don’t exactly remember how it was resolved but I do remember that we ended up having heated arguments until we had a “break-through” late into the night. That meeting was a turning point; we became a closer community, one that was more open with one another. By the end of the session, it was heartbreaking to leave – being wrenched from that close community.

You participated in the 2014 Intergenerational Weekend in Chicago. How was that for you? What impressed or touched you most? It was great. I was put in a group led by an incredible staff member Michael Carter who had us do great interactive exercises. Most impressive were the Encampers—they were amazing. They were smart, honest, talented, and enthusiastic. The performance at the end was educational and entertaining. 

Where do you see the EFC going in the 21st Century? I’d like to see it grow, thrive, and serve more students from diverse backgrounds. It is important that privileged youth attend. The year I went to the Encampment, there were three Encampments held in different locations. Those were different times. People were more concerned about civil rights and the anti-war movement was growing. Parents were more likely to send their teenagers to the Encampment so they could explore issues of social justice.  Today, parents are more likely to send their kids to programs that enrich their students’ educational opportunities, like camps focused on technology. Our society has become very competitive and focused on money-making opportunities and it is a challenge for the Encampment to recruit a diverse group.

Any thoughts on the upcoming 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act? It’s interesting to look at the erosion of some of the provisions and the way disenfranchisement has taken hold. We have to look more broadly than the Voting Rights Act. Now there are so many more sophisticated ways to inhibit voting, i.e. screening tests, having insufficient numbers of ballots in certain urban areas, limiting voting times and eliminating or restricting mail-in voting.


Do you see a connection between the Encampment and Ferguson, Missouri?

The Encampment can make a difference by providing young people with the tools to take on the causes of injustice that create events like Ferguson.

Interview with Aaron Richardson (2014 Encamper) & Beth Ward (Aaron’s mother)

What made you decide to come to the Encampment? My mom told me that it was a social justice program with a democratic aspect. When I read up on it I liked it that discussions would be specific as opposed to slight.

You wanted an intensive experience? Yes.

BW: I liked that too and I knew that Aaron was moving toward social justice.

So your mom told you about the Encampment and then you read about it but what was the strongest influence on your decision to go? I knew the basics but having my interview with Mike (staff member Michael Carter) really made a difference. He knew about the workshops and what the schedule would be and what the days would look like. I liked the one-on-one conversation.

It’s the end of November so you’ve had a long time to think about your Encampment experience.  What’s the first thing that comes to mind? The circle discussions, especially at night. And, specifically when Ms. Sapp was calling us out on interrupting during an event that day. She made it clear that we were all responsible for the whole group. A lot of groups miss that. For example, with my club, everyone is responsible; it’s not just ‘do your own thing’.

I remember the activist Barbara Ransby (Social Justice Initiative at University of Illinois at Chicago). She was interesting. She talked about capitalism being at the root of issues. And that different psychological issues cause disbelief in feminism.  Issues a lot of people wouldn’t want to touch on. I self-identified as a feminist before the Encampment but I came out really strong as a feminist in the group of males and as an ardent supporter of girls who identified as feminists.

For our workshop (Agents of Social Change), we had to choose five issues that were most important to us.  We chose music, education, violence in our communities, feminism and medical assistance. I chose feminism along with three girls (Alexis, Kaiyana and Rachel). We had to give reasons why we chose the issue, give solutions to specific problems, and present to the group for problem-solving. Mike asked me, How does it feel to be a male feminist in a group of females? I said, ‘Not only should men be feminists because it’s the right thing to do but if you have people in a social hierarchy then a lot of people have the privilege not to think about women’s rights. Men can leave it to the women and if men are always in power then it’s not going to change. Not being involved in struggle and not helping is remaining ignorant.’  I’m in a position of power as a male then if I talk about it, it brings a different audience to feminism.  I’m not just talking about Black issues. If I talk about it then it puts a light on what the women and girls are saying already. Maybe they will listen to them directly.

BW:  I figured EFC was right up his alley and that he would love it. We have been active in social protests since he was a baby in the stroller. I knew that the Encampment would mean the making of an activist. I like the fact that he made friends so quickly. Even though he didn’t talk about it. I think it was an overwhelming experience —  and that he had so much fun. I wish he could do again. I noticed that his connections with everyone have been outstanding. The kids seemed to have formed a really cool bond and I feel a little like an ‘outsider.’ Fine with me! I’m just appreciative that this was something that he was able to connect to, make friends, and LEARN from. When he told me he met Fr. Michael Pfleger, I knew things were going in a direction that he needed. The EFC is a part of how he is becoming who he is supposed to be.

What’s the strongest piece that stayed with you and stands out? What is something you would tell someone your age? There were a lot of opposing views and some of kids took it strongly. But the attitude of the staff kept the Encampment together. They helped make things happen and things were not random but connected for each day and week. There were specific events and activities based on the topics for that time.  We met Father Michael Pfleger of Santa Sabina Church and then we went to the Korean Cultural Center. It was great watching them dance, and do spoken work and other performing arts. They make spoken word videos on immigration issues and they send them to members of Congress asking them to do something. They really seemed like they were into it. That was an interesting mix of young people, not just Koreans but African-American kids too. I still think about that. There are many issues going on about immigration now I didn’t know anything about it before EFC

So it opened your eyes, exposed you to issues in a way you hadn’t been before?  It’s a big issue for some of the young people at the Encampment. One person in my music workshop is the son of farm workers who are un-documented. We got to talking and he told me he wished Congress would pass the Dreamers Act so he could try to be legal citizen and get to go to college. I talked with the other kids in this same position and it’s something that is always subconsciously bothering them even though they don’t talk about it. It’s big—like talking to someone after a death in their family. They don’t know how their life is going to go. So I’m wondering how the government is going to handle it.

It’s a living breathing human being. Yes, and some people don’t think immigrants have rights and they are against the Spanish language being used here.

What was difficult? Think broadly from beginning to end. The transition from at home to the start of the workshop. After that, I was engaged mentally and physically for three weeks. Proposing ideas to people and not being able to explain well why I believed what I did was hard. Choosing a type of government was hard. Some people didn’t know what I was talking about; some people knew exactly what I was talking about; and some people were against it. The first week we came up with a type of government to run the camp. Eventually we got down to idea of small committees to make rules for different things we do in the dorms and in sports. When we first started to talk, we were going off into different kinds of governments. I remember a girl saying communism sounds good because everybody shares. Then someone made some reference to history and someone else blasted them on that point. We passed around a feather to take turns talking. But we were all working together, educating each other. We made that connection.

Summed up, what did you walk away with? A sense of support –at the end it wasn’t “take your stuff and go.” More like: “Take everything you did and go home and do something with it. Have a meeting about what you do when you get home. We’re going to follow you and help you. Staff really cared about us and our issues.”

Do you feel like you changed?  I found out that anything in the realm of social justice is possible if you have connections. Social justice is community. It’s not a game where you see who can do this or that. It’s getting people together.

Beth: I know something is happening although he doesn’t tell me a lot (laughing). He joined a couple of organizations and started a club at school.

How have you put your experience to work? My friend Jake and I started a social justice club at school. We wanted it to be an activist club – world awareness and activism. We take different articles, look at the biases, look at extremes on both sides. We talk about it and then make a group decision about where to stand on the topic. It’s not a leader-based thing; we want everyone to get involved. We facilitate but anyone who wants to can talk. We have open discussions, not a school class.

‘There are more girls than boys and when we came up with the first topic—feminism— it was proposed by a girl, Margaret. We plan to do activities and have an event at the end of each topic. For feminism, we had a bake sale and gave the proceeds to the Springfield YWCA. Everyone baked something. We made over $100. We may go on to the next topic or go back with feminism. We could go back to that.  I’d like to discuss males’ roles in feminism and females’ roles and get to a deeper level of what boys and girls think about feminism. Guys say “Oh, I agree with it” and girls know what it really is. It will be hard and difficult but if we are going to have a tight group then we have to get into that. “

What support do you need from EFC? I have thought many times to ask for help with my ideas but I don’t tend to reach out. I’m independent and make too many mistakes. My friends check me all the time. It means a lot to know the EFC people support you very specifically. They know what we are doing. They know what it is and what it stands for and how we’re doing it.”

Are you interested in returning? Yes.

What would you tell a peer? How would they benefit from participating in the Encampment? I’d look for someone who doesn’t have a voice but you can tell they want to do something. They are interested in some way in doing some sort of social justice work and not sure how to go about it, what direction to take. I didn’t know how to go about the club before the Encampment.

BW:  Yes, someone interested social justice. These issues are so important. We need to develop more young leaders. In politics not enough of us are being represented in the decision-making process in communities or nationally. There’s a tendency to take what comes versus running the machine. If we let the kids learn how things work from the ground level and they build way up it will be different.  Parents don’t want to send kids away. It’s taking a risk but someone who believes in social justice has to have no fear. You have to believe in what you’re saying and you stand by it if you want to make change. Don’t wait for someone to hand it to you. Send your kids and let them find out how it works and go from there.

AN: Yes, do it despite the fear but do it because something else matters more.