THE POWER OF A UNITED COMMUNITY FOR CHANGE — Ayana Henry’s Alum Story

What did you learn at the Encampment?

The most-important thing I learned at the Encampment is the power of a united community for change. EFC embodies that power: If we do things together, we can do so much. In response to racial incidents at my college, I helped spur action by organizing our floor in the dorm. It showed the power of unity in standing up for what is right. The initiative grew when another floor followed our lead. The EFC helped me identify my voice and make change in little ways.

Why is the Encampment important to you?

I learned to value different members of the community and what they contribute to conversations and projects. We also explored different strategies to enact change. The EFC helped me to build confidence, especially about issues that I’m passionate about, and it helped me find my voice. It helped me become the person I am today and focus my activism efforts. As a part of my activism, I volunteer at the New England Aquarium, which ties into my passion for climate justice.

What is your favorite memory or story from the Encampment?

During my first Encampment, we went to a community center in Selma, Alabama (Selma Center for Nonviolence), nurtured by Faya Ora Rose Toure’ (formerly Rose Sanders). They cooked dinner for us and the young people gave a performance. The children doing African dancing helped me connect with a part of myself I never knew existed.

Faya Ora Rose Toure’ and young people at the Selma Center for Nonviolence.

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

My first year (2018/Jackson, Mississippi), I was in a workshop about community activism. We explored the role of communities and states in the larger workings of the U.S. government. We were exposed to theories about the role of racial and class divisions in politics and how governmental systems maintain unequal power structures. As I said earlier, in both years, the power of unity and community was emphasized.

In my second year (2019/Camarillo, CA), we focused on immigration rights and environmental justice particularly for workers in the farming industry. For farmworkers and their families, pesticide pollution is a major issue, causing greater incidences of cancer, birth defects and lung ailments. Many of the workers are undocumented, so they have no way to obtain better conditions. In addition, environmental justice is not just about farmworkers. For instance, air pollution can cause asthma among people who work or live near industrial plants.

I also learned that climate justice is multifaceted. Since the Encampment, I have educated high school students about our role in keeping the world environment safe. I have also been a volunteer intern at the aquarium, where I shared information about the impact of plastic pollution on the ocean — the damage to animals and habitats — in conjunction with climate change. The aquarium is not open to its full capacity right now due to the pandemic, but I love science and sharing what I know to raise awareness about our environment. One way we can help is to consume consciously, use less plastic and know about the environmental records of companies that produce the goods we use.

What field trips do you remember?

I remember vividly the “lynching museum” (The National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum)in Alabama. It was very powerful and one of the reasons that I’m most grateful to the EFC. I’ve been to many museums, but none of them had portrayed the history of Black people in a way that humanized what they have endured in slavery and in mass incarceration — a link I hadn’t made before.

2018 Mississippi Encampment at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

What community service projects do you remember?

We helped to clean up trash from the reservoir on the Choctaw reservation — right before a thunderstorm — it was memorable! It was good to be involved in activism with Native Americans, who are often overlooked. It’s special that the EFC made a conscious effort to include the Choctaw people — there were several Encampers from that nation in that year.

What motivated you to go to the Encampment?

I participated in the Commonwealth Seminar in the fall of 2017. Its focus is to expose members of diverse communities to the process of how state government works. After the election of Donald Trump, I was curious to learn more about how to be an effective voice for change. I met Mabel Lam [an EFC board member] at the seminar and she told me about the Encampment, which is meant for younger activists (the Commonwealth Seminar is focused on adults).

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

I had been homeschooled although I had attended camps with my sister. This was the first time I was on my own for a long period of time. I was excited but when my dad was about to leave, I thought, “Oh, no — my dad’s going to leave and I’m going to be stuck here!” I talked a lot the first day, then I was quiet for the rest of the experience. I needed to find my voice and listen to others. People were really nice and that helped me be less nervous.

Why is the EFC important now?

The EFC will always be important because activism never stops. Even to maintain progress is constant work. The Encampment trains the upcoming generation on how that can be done. Especially with the turmoil in our country, we need leaders, not just for today but for the future.

Anything you want to say that we haven’t asked?

Sometimes when people go to the EFC, they don’t automatically start activism, but it plants a seed to be a catalyst over time. It really opened me up to be part of the greater change.

Ayana and other Encampers canvassing for CAUSE in Ventura County as part of the 2019 Encampment.

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