Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that we all have the right to freedom of expression and that we can “receive and impart information and ideas through any media . . .” This important right gets a lot of attention at Peacebuilders Camp, where we encourage the exchange of ideas and honor each person’s perspective. We also have the privilege of meeting extraordinary people who, in their own creative ways, bring new ideas to the forefront, encourage others to share their beliefs, give voice to those who have been silenced, or amplify the incisive words of others.
Such was the experience of our Session 2 campers on their last full day of camp. Our guest was Scott Stanton, also known as Panhandle Slim. Scott’s work is well known in Savannah, where neighbors enjoy his portraits that they see popping up around town. His simple drawings coupled with thought-provoking quotes entertain, educate and challenge others by sharing the words and wisdom of well-known and not-so-well-known people from the past and present.
In the weeks leading up to camp, Scott generously invested many, many hours creating portraits of campers from photographs that they provided. When he walked into Fuller House on Friday morning, he immediately recognized the campers whose portraits he had painted!
Although Scott may not define himself first and foremost as a peacemaker, his work certainly identifies him as such. Never intending to become a folk artist, he began painting portraits as a hobby, starting with notable people such as Dolly Parton, Malcolm X, and Jimmy Carter. A turning point came for him when he learned of Trayvon Martin’s death. Knowing that neighborhoods in his own town were places where violence occurred and young people lost their lives, Scott started to think of his art as a potential tool to bring beauty and hope to these areas. Always respectful of the residents’ wishes and always humble about his own talent, he began to create art in these spaces. And then in 2015, another act of violence impacted his career. In Savannah’s neighboring city of Charleston, South Carolina, nine innocent people lost their lives in the horrific shooting at Emmanuel AME Church. Like so many others across the nation, Scott struggled to translate his emotions into a productive response. For him, this response came in the form of nine portraits, which he delivered to the church as his offering of love, condolence, and solidarity. That gift, he says, has led to beautiful friendships with the families of the victims of the shooting, and has reinforced for him the power of his art to make a difference.
After meeting Scott and his son Tex, campers had the remarkable opportunity to join the creative process and express what was important to them. Paint brushes in hand, they added thoughtful quotes to their portraits, expressing feelings, ideas, challenges, and even fears alongside their images. We think the results are pretty fantastic.
Because we are Peacebuilders, we know that the right to freedom of expression isn’t honored only by expressing our own thoughts and opinions. We know that we have responsibility to support that right for others. So after lunch, campers headed for Magnolia Manor, a retirement center in Americus. Ready with interview questions, they soon engaged in conversation with the residents and before long were gleaning nuggets of wisdom. Soon, many were off-script, asking questions about history and experiences and memories, and sharing parts of their own lives. Campers connected with the seniors is some amazing ways. Deyon and Elizabeth interviewed their partner, a former chaplain from a school for the Deaf, in American Sign Language. Ira’s new friend had recently suffered a stroke, and this was her first social engagement in several months. Ira’s kindness and interest brought her out of her shell and encouraged interaction. All of the campers and seniors shared much gratitude for the time spent in conversation.
Scott had gone to the extra effort of preparing portraits for all the residents who were interviewed, so back at the farm, campers again picked up their brushes and added words to images. These portraits will be gifted to Magnolia Manor so that the words of these women can inspire others!
Friday evening gave campers and staff alike one more chance to exercise their right to freedom of expression in our end-of camp talent show. Suli amazed everyone with his skill at plate-spinning, Willow and Zeph tore up the dance floor, Georgia and Arielle enchanted the audience with their gorgeous voices, Elizabeth shared jokes, and Hae Tha Blay showcased her intricate drawing. The night was made complete with a bonfire and s’mores, and a final dance party in the Koinonia coffee house. What a great way to end a phenomenal week with these outstanding campers!