Black Lives Matter at Summer Camp
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela
Today marks a Summer Camp Day of Action for Black Lives Matter. North Star unequivocally supports the Black Lives Matter movement. As we were gearing up to begin pre-camp orientation this summer, the world began responding to the killing of George Floyd. North Star has always valued diversity, equity, and inclusion, but we wanted to do more this summer to instill those values in our campers and staff. While we are proud of the steps taken in 2020, they are only part of an ongoing effort to ensure that North Star remains an inclusive environment where everyone can be their true self at camp regardless of their race, religion, or sexual orientation.
During pre-camp, one of our first-year nurses Molly told us that she wanted to lead a Privilege Walk. The Privilege Walk was an activity that highlights how people benefit or are marginalized by systems in our society. We gathered on the athletic field and stood in a straight line along the 3rd baseline of Dan’s Diamond. Molly began by reading a series of statements and every person either stepped forward, stepped backward, or stood in place, depending on whether they agreed or disagreed with the phrase. For example, two of the statements were “If you ever tried to change your appearance, mannerisms, or behavior to fit in more, take one step back,” and “If you have always assumed you’ll go to college, take one step forward.” At the end of the Privilege Walk, the exercise generally resulted in white males being further ahead than other groups, an unfortunate yet also unsurprising reality to the systems deeply rooted in racism within our society. Certain privileges are woven into the mainstream fabric of society that it is often hard to even recognize them, which is exactly why we were proud Molly wanted to lead the Privilege Walk during pre-camp. Unless we are able to recognize our unconscious biases or understand that there are societal norms that provide roadblocks to marginalized groups, we cannot begin to make the changes needed to make society more equitable and fair to everyone regardless of race, sexual orientation, or background. The most powerful part of the evening was our debrief discussions afterward. We broke into our pre-camp pods and discussed how certain statements made us feel, what statement made us think the most, or how it felt to be at the front/middle/back of the pack. It was empowering to sit on the athletic field and look at the debrief groups, seeing how serious everyone was taking this exercise. It set a tone for other similar discussions throughout the summer.
One of the staples of the North Star program is our Friday Night Services. Every Friday, we gather at the Council Ring to reflect on the week. There is always a theme to the service such as “Overcoming Mistakes,” “Character,” and “Grit and Perseverance,” to name a few. As soon as the George Floyd protests began to take place, we made the decision to put together an Anti-Racism themed Friday Night Service. Many of our staff this summer were passionate about racial inequality and volunteered ideas and support for the service, including sermonettes, readings, and musical selections. We had readings from Michelle Obama, Civil Rights Leaders including Malcolm X and Coretta Scott King, and excerpts from books like “How to Be An Antiracist.” The musical selections were particularly moving: Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind” which has been described as an anthem of the civil rights movement. “Blowin’ In The Wind” went on to inspire “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke, which was another musical selection that evening. “A Change Is Gonna Come” was written about various personal events in Sam Cooke’s life, most prominently the experience of being turned away by a white-only motel in Louisiana. In the song, Sam sings, “it’s a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.” The song was written in 1964. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of work to be done. The final song of the evening was “All Some Kind of Dream” by Josh Ritter, a 2019 song that takes a stand against anti-immigration policies and offers hope that human compassion will win out in the end. It was a powerful evening.
We did a similar activity to the Privilege Walk in our fall camp orientation, where one of our counselors read statements about North Star and its culture, and staff members went to one side of the tennis court depending on whether or not they agreed or disagreed with the statement. Example statements were “A person from any walk of life can thrive at North Star” and “The ways in which I am different are valued here, not just tolerated.” Despite only being a few days into knowing each other, it was powerful to see so many staff members speak so passionately and openly about why they felt the way they did. The exercise was an incredibly moving session and part of our ongoing effort to learn about our culture and what we can do to continually improve upon making sure North Star is inclusive and promotes equality to every member of our community.
Following that session, one of our new counselors, Karson, shared some of his personal experiences growing up as a black child in a predominantly white community. He shared how he was once told that he was hired for a job to be the “minority hire”. One of the more powerful moments of Karson’s speech was when he shared a conversation he had with one of our other black counselors, Shay. Karson went up to Shay during pre-camp and asked him why he loved working at North Star and why he had returned this year for his second summer (and then also came back for fall camp). Shay replied, “when a kid gets off the bus, I want them to see someone who looks like them and know that they’re not alone.” Sometimes the best way to learn and understand inequalities is to hear stories from people who have experienced them firsthand. Karson helped spearhead plenty of thought-provoking conversations during fall camp and we thank him for having the courage to share them with the rest of the fall camp group.
Karson and one of our Fall Camp campers
Camp is a better place when its people are diverse, and when tolerance and empathy are pillars of the camp culture. Every year, we work hard to ensure we are hiring as diverse of a staff as possible to help instill those values in our campers and fellow staff members. Diversity comes in many shapes and forms – cultural, racial, religious, sexual orientation, etc. At the end of the day, we want to hire great counselors who will be excellent role models for the campers and help them appreciate that differences amongst each other are good things. Accepting others for who they are is incredibly important, both in our camp environment and in life itself.
North Star is also a proud founding member of Camp For All Kids. Camp For All Kids was established in 1997 to facilitate racial diversity at summer camps by sending kids from under-served communities to overnight camp. Our partnership with this organization simultaneously makes North Star a better place and helps instill the values of inclusion and anti-racism in all of our campers as they seek to make the world a better place. Every summer, through generous charitable donations raised from alums and other donors, we have Camp For All Kids campers at North Star to provide them with an opportunity to grow and learn life skills at camp, experiences that they otherwise would not be able to have. To date, Camp For All Kids has given thousands of camp years to campers since its inception. If you are interested in donating to the cause so future campers can attend North Star and other Camp For All Kids camps, please consider donating here.
Standing up for racial equality has always been in North Star’s cultural fabric, dating back to our original founders Lou and Renee Rosenblum. The steps we took this summer were positive steps in the right direction, but achieving the level of diversity and inclusion we strive for is very much a work in progress with plenty of room for improvement. Today we stand with the summer camp community in their support for Black Lives Matter, and we vow to work hard every day to make North Star more inclusive, diverse, and equal for all campers and counselors who come through the North Star arches in the future.