Even though we said goodbye to our Session 1 campers on Saturday, our staff continues to reflect on all the great experiences of the week. On Friday, campers had a special chance to engage creatively to learn about the right of the day, the right to freedom of expression. We started by thinking of the many, many ways that people can express themselves, and then asking, as we do with every right, “Who doesn’t have as much access to this right as they should?” As campers offered answers to this question, we were again impressed with their depth of thinking and understanding. To end our discussion, campers were asked to respond to opinion questions about freedom of expression. The one that generated the most varied answers was a hard one: “Should all people have the right to express themselves freely, even if what they’re expressing is hateful?” Some campers shared personal experiences of being hurt by hateful speech and thought that people should not have the right to inflict that kind of pain on others. Some campers strongly defended the right to free expression regardless of the content. Even though no consensus was reached, we all found a new perspective from which to examine the question.
Next, we welcomed back Cameron Williams, aka C. Grimey, a hip hop artist and historian. Just like last year, C. Grimey captured the campers’ attention with his stories of how hip hop became a vital form of expression for people of color. Many campers were eager to try their hand at composing, and with the help of assistant Tameka Parker, had that chance! C. Grimey and Tameka asked them to first consider their own fears and to express those fears through words and drawings. In the next step, those words, thoughts, and feelings were transformed into poetry and rap. Most of all, C. Grimey offered support, encouragement, and acceptance and was a great role model for all our campers.
Two other workshops brought out other creative talents as campers thought about the many ways to express themselves. Counselor Elizabeth led theater exercises and games, and taught a lot of tongue twisters! Director Mario asked campers to consider graffiti as a form of expression. Then he passed out spray paint and let them express themselves all over the wall of an unused building on the farm! Thank you, thank you to Koinonia for going along with this idea and making that wall available to our creative campers!
In our talent show that evening, we entertained by singing, skits, a comedy routine, dance, and a performance by C. Grimey. We celebrated not only the right we have to freely express ourselves in many ways, but also the myriad talents of these amazing youth, and the friendships that they built over the week of camp.
Before heading for bed, campers participated in an activity that allowed them to express their appreciation and affirmation for each other, and then they heard the story of Romaine Patterson, a young woman who had to answer for herself that hard question from the morning’s discussion. When hateful people came to disrupt the funeral of Romaine’s friend Matthew Shepherd, she had to consider how to respond in a way that still honored the group’s right to express themselves. Her angel wings project is still being used today to contain hateful speech, and it stands as a shining example of a productive way to respond to hate that neither flees from the hatred nor fights back with more hate. We are hopeful that all that our campers learned during their busy week at Peacebuilders Camp will enable them to use their creative talents in similar ways, to promote peace, to stand up to hate, and to produce positive change.