Connecting with the past, looking toward the future

This great group of campers and mentors completed a fantastic week of learning and fun!

The last day of Peacebuilders’ first ever day camp was bittersweet! As we celebrated all the great experiences of the week and said goodbye for now, we felt confident that the learning will continue long past today.

This day began, as all have begun this week, with a conversation with Mama Peace. She inspired us to remember that we all matter, and that we all have unique contributions to make to our communities. Next, we revisited the ideal communities that the campers imagined and built on Monday. Each of those communities was presented with a problem that could lead to conflict between their imaginary community members. Campers were challenged to design a process by which the conflict could be resolved peacefully.

Even though the communities were imaginary, the problems they were presented were very, very real. One community was experiencing an influx of climate refugees, whose homes on the coast had been flooded and washed away. Would they be accepted into the community? How would their needs be met? A second community faced an upcoming food shortage due to drought. How could funding be shifted from other community needs to avert disaster? A third town was dealing with conflict between religious groups when one congregation named a new leader who was part of the LGBTQ+ community, and the final town had to reallocate housing after a hurricane.

These sorts of conflicts can bring adults to blows, but our young campers eagerly set about finding solutions. They demonstrated that they’ve really taken to heart all those skills we’ve talked about this week: active listening, honoring the dignity of all people, upholding human rights, and working for change. With such strong minds and hearts taking the reins of the future of our communities, we see much reason for hope!

The afternoon gave us an amazing opportunity to learn from heroes of the Americus community who helped bring about change in years past. We drove to Koinonia Farm by way of Americus’s historic Colored Hospital. This building, long a center of the Black community in Americus, is being transformed into a museum which will document the work of activists in Americus and Sumter County during the Civil Rights era.

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Arriving at Koinonia, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch and spirited conversation with Koinonia residents, interns, and guests. Then Elizabeth Dede, a long-time Koinonia member, shared how the farm was established in the 1940s as a demonstration of dignity, unity, and equality between races. She related how community members had endured violence and ostracism but held onto their convictions that all people deserve respect and must be afforded basic human rights. Their perseverance not only helped shape Sumter County and Georgia, but even today, Koinonia’s example continues to inspire people around the nation and the world.

Thanks, Koinonia, for the delicious lunch!

Next, we heard from our special guest, Sam Mahone, the chairman of the Americus Sumter County Movement Remembered Committee. As a teenager, not so much older than our campers, Sam was a leader of the Civil Rights demonstrations in Americus, and one of the early members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). His steadfastness in the movement resulted in his arrest, forced labor, and abuse at the hands of the police and justice system. And yet that same steadfastness, shared by so many other young people in Americus and Sumter County, is what eventually brought about change. Sam and the ASCMRC are now working hard to make sure that the history of the movement is not forgotten, but will continue to inspire needed change in future generations.

So much to learn from elders like Sam Mahone!

Campers responded to all they had learned by creating word cloud posters that reflected the feelings and emotions elicited by Sam and Elizabeth’s stories.

We could not be more proud of the way our campers took on new challenges this week, absorbed new ideas, and responded in ways that convinced us of the depth of their learning. We send them off with all confidence that they will prove to be the changemakers our communities need!

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