Interview with Miles Rapoport EFC Alum 1966 KY

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

I had two impressions. First, how different an environment Barbourville, Kentucky, was from metropolitan New York. Second, how extraordinarily diverse and energetic this group of young leaders was that I was encountering. It was both exciting and challenging.

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

1966 was a remarkable year in the Civil Rights Movement. Black Power and the Black Panthers were beginning to form and stake out positions that were different from the traditional integrationist Civil Rights Movement. SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), which had been formed in 1960, was under the leadership of Stokely Carmichael, who popularized the term Black Power and advocated new tactics and goals, including self-reliance and the use of violence as a legitimate means of self-defense. Many of the African-American Encampers were attracted to it and involved. The issue of race and how young white liberals should relate to it, as people and as activists, became the major topic of conversation. There were deeply difficult and discomforting moments, but the amount that all of us learned from being in those discussions was remarkable, and permanently changed our lives. As a result, when my friends and I came back home, the Great Neck South Civil Rights Club, which we were heavily involved in, decided to invite Ivanhoe Donaldson—the national field secretary for SNCC—as a speaker for a major event, which caused tremendous controversy at the school.

What community service projects do you remember?

Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty had just begun with the creation of the Community Action Program (CAP). The local CAP agency was trying to get people in rural Kentucky to come to the centers and participate, and they were having a hard time. Ed Peeples, our EFC director, conceived the idea that we would offer to help people by painting their mailboxes and other chores as a way of demonstrating that the CAP agency could offer concrete benefits. We Encampers went out into the hollers and offered to paint people’s mailboxes. About half of the people were appreciative and the other half wanted nothing to do with us. Either way, these were important formative experiences for us [as community organizers].

We went out in groups of two and knocked on people’s doors. They were not used to people from “the North.” We talked to them and learned from them about their lives, situations, opinions; occasionally getting into a political conversation. It was remarkable. In some ways, it’s what the EFC was designed for—to give young civil rights leaders experience in the community. It was important for us to think about what it meant for the people to have two young liberal teenagers from New York knock on their doors and offer to paint their mailboxes.

How did the Encampers get along? How did this change over the time you were together?

[I would say there were] three phases: Initially, everyone was on their best behavior, wanting to meet new people and make a good impression. Then there was a middle phase where tensions developed around the racial issues we were debating and some gender issues as well. Some of the African-Americans were disdainful of lily-white liberals wanting to come down from the North and help just as the sense of the Black Power movement was coming into being. The intensity led to hurt feelings and arguments.

By the end, there was a tremendous amount of mutual respect and community. A lot of real understanding on all sides. Smart young folks don’t look at the world in just one way—everybody learned that through the interactions and discussions that we had. It significantly changed the direction of my life. It was a big deal.

What did you learn at the Encampment?

The biggest thing that I learned was how deep and ingrained racism was and still is in our society. That was really the first time I encountered the life experiences of young African-American kids from different backgrounds. By the end, I had internalized it and it transformed me from a liberal to a radical.

How has the Encampment influenced your life?

It encouraged and cemented me into a lifetime of activism. When I went back to my senior year of high school and then to college, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to join organizations and become active in the anti-war movement in college. Then I became a community organizer after college. All of the career choices that I’ve made have involved the fundamental understanding that grassroots activism and citizens standing up for their rights themselves is a critical part of making change. All of the activities that followed—community organizing, serving in public office, being president of Demos and later Common Cause—have been tied together by a commitment to the citizen activism that I learned at the Encampment.

Why is the EFC important today?

To the degree that young people can have the kind of eye-opening and meaningful interaction that we had in 1966, they will be better activists and leaders as a result. It’s really exciting that the EFC is renewing itself. I hope it will be able to give the kind of experience to young people that it was able to give us 50 years ago.

(See other alum stories on our website EFC Alum Stories)

 

 

THE ENDURING POWER OF LIVING DEMOCRACY

Naomi Brodkey Feldman participated in the 1950 Encampment at the Fieldston School, NY. We interviewed her about what she learned at the Encampment. (Soon to be available at encampmentforcitizenship.org under Alum Stories).

What did you learn at the Encampment?

The most lasting attitudes that I took home from the Encampment were of not sitting by when I had the chance of making a difference; of doing what I could to make happen the ideals of social justice I believed in; not tolerating indifference, injustice or apathy. I remember many conversations about freedom of speech and how dangerous setting limits on it can be. I remember Hank Herman reading Plato’s “Parable of the Cave” at a Sunday morning gathering. I had never heard anything that explained so much about how we know what we know. It was seared into my brain forever (and, in fact, I had my high school students read it every year I taught history).

I remember Al Black’s “fascist” speech, which made us realize how easy it could be for a fearmonger to take over under the guise of needing emergency powers (a useful reminder during this horrific presidential election year).

There was an enormous range of backgrounds in our group, but the friendships that developed crossed apparent differences. What we had in common was a desire to change what we saw as problems: political apathy, disparities of income, educational opportunities. We learned how to confront racism in social interactions, how to build programs for change.

I learned that I could make a difference, that I needed to act to be able to live with myself, that I had an obligation to speak out against injustice, that it was easier to do the above than I thought, that together we can do even more and that change is possible, eventually.

How has the Encampment influenced your life?

In the most obvious way, the EFC changed my life because I was married for 30 years to another Encamper: Hugh Brodkey. Two of our children are also EFC alums, Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman (‘70NY) and David Brodkey (‘77NY). However, there were also other ways that the EFC affected me. I became far more involved in the political life of my college community, held many positions there. I worked for a labor union during college breaks (the ILGWU). I worked hard as a young person living in Chicago in the ’60s and ’70s in areas involving segregation in housing and schools and later for many election campaigns in Chicago, and in Evanston when we moved there. Eventually, as a high school history teacher, I spent a lot of my energies talking to students about the need to create a caring society that believed in and supported the social contract.

Encamper’s resolve to support her fellow Dreamers ends in victory in her home community

In my sophomore year, I asked the principal for a space to host immigrant youth, but was refused. I knew it was critical to ensure that immigrant youth understand the issues that affect their lives. For months, I advertised the club and recruited more than 30 students to meet weekly and discuss laws in California that both benefit and limit their education.

In the summer of 2015, I participated in the Encampment for Citizenship, where I was challenged to think critically about society. Being in a place with youth who were equally as passionate as I am about achieving social justice allowed me to speak openly about issues in my home community that affected indigenous undocumented farmworker youth. Toward the end of the program, I dug deep inside myself and made some promises.

One promise was to help the Dreamers Club that I had co-founded thrive. Due to the lack of support from the administration, I contacted Congresswoman Julia Brownley. This created visibility within the school and district. Further efforts led to attending statewide events such as “California Dream Network,” “IDEAS” and other conferences geared toward the undocumented. The mission for this group was to be a reflection of the larger campaign of Safe Zones that would be implemented district-wide for undocumented students.

The hate comments made by the president-elect evoked fear from undocumented students across the nation. It was evident that students throughout my school district needed a space where they can be with others who also feared deportation. I presented a resolution to the school board that protected students from ICE, established a student “healing” space and provided a counselor designated to guide undocumented students. The resolution received unanimous support – and passed.

The club served to mobilize, create consciousness and empower youth regardless of citizenship status in the larger social movement for equal access to education, immigration reform, and economic and social justice.—Litzy (15MS and 16MA)

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.
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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.