We started our work this summer with the pressure of COVID and a full-on effort to provide camp with physical and emotional safety for campers and staff being paramount. The rest of the world was going on outside our bubble including the tragic killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubery, Dion Johnson, Travon Martin, and too many others. We were all consumed in our mission about Camp Runoia Harmonyville 2020 and not thinking about the message silence was creating for our organization.
On June 2, I received a wake up email from three of our 15 year old campers. “We are disappointed you have not made a stance on Black Lives Matter. What is your stance?” We were so focused on how we could operate camp during a global pandemic that we had overlooked the importance of sharing our belief that Black Lives Matter and moreover, being a strong female organization where girls specifically need to be lifted up, that Black Women Matter. Thanks to Emily, Keira and Margo for helping us to get to work.
And we went to work. I didn’t even know the expression, The Work, I’d known Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work but not The Work. Hello! I like it. For 30 years we felt we started the work. We had reached families of color to include them to attend camp, we reviewed our hiring practices to try to find more people of color for summer camp jobs in with college students majoring in education, health care and social work. We provided staff training about celebrating differences and inclusivity. I’d been on conference panels about diversity in camp in our very white northeastern privileged resident camps. We were doing work other camps hadn’t even considered. In the late 1990s we added our Community Statement in our Staff Manual – a statement that needs revising and updating:
Camp Runoia has fostered a culture of celebrating diversity and encouraging campers and staff from around the world with a spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds as well as different religious backgrounds. Each person in the community is treated with respect and acceptance regarding their race, religion, country of origin, sexual orientation, creed, socio-economic standing, gender, disability, and culture.
Our work so far is just the tip of the iceberg. We need to do more. This summer we did a few things immediately to support Black Lives Matter thanks to the prompts of our 15 year old campers. We researched and made a plan. We celebrated Juneteenth with staff (camp was not yet open on June 19), we implemented a three part anti-racism training for staff during our upcoming staff training with anti-racism trainer, Love Foy. We added books to our library on diversity and inclusion as well as novels with black protagonists. We created a Black Women Matter advisory board to the Runoia administrators with four alumnae who are people of color, plus a representative from the 15 year old group and one Runoia administrator. We removed the old bell post at camp that clearly screamed cultural appropriation that we had never seen before. It had just always been there and was carved by two women back in the 1930s. It seemed innocent although I never liked that there was a man at the top of the bell post at our girls camp. Blinders are hazardous. We took it down to go in our future museum and our 16 year old CITs with no prompting proposed they make a new bell post. they did it! Incredible!
When I read the newsletter, Ideas in Progress, by Crystal Williams, Vice President and Associate Provost for Community and Inclusion at Boston University, I realize we have so much more work to do. Our book club just met to discuss How to be An Antiracist. I purchased it from a black owned bookstore. If you’ve not read the book and want to visit with Brene Brown and Ibram X Kendi, here’s the podcast. Supporting black owned businesses is another way we are doing the work. I need to pace myself because I feel we are so far behind it is overwhelming. After just attending a conference on DEI, in virtual breakout rooms I heard from others that they feel overwhelmed. We can take small steps toward affecting change and success. Here’s one way we can start. Share with your family about 10 phrases that are racists that you may be surprised to learn and practice removing them from your vocabulary. Be kind. Be patient. It takes time to unlearn.
In summary we have a lot to do. Alex and I have been connecting about how to honor the people who lived and walked on the land our camp is on before we arrived. Stay in touch and we’ll have more to share!