Every minute of being in Iowa has been lovely. This camp, Camp 15 at the Christian Conference Center, has quirky and thoughtful youth with obvious eagerness to be engaged and to learn. I can’t exactly understand how 60+ people became a family for me in a new state in only one week, but that’s definitely the case.
The camp directors are two incredible men named Randy and Bill. Both of them love the youth with all they have, and I know that every camper here feels valuable and special because of their devotion to them. Randy is practically addicted to kindness, always reaching out to give a high-five with supportive words. Bill is a thoughtful teacher, prepared to unwrap the gifts that each person brings to the table at any moment.
Last night was the camp talent show. I must admit, my first thought was What the heck kind of camp is this? as I watched a girl twirl flaming batons outside for the opening act. That was followed by a comedy act, 2 songs from the amazing musical Hamilton, a moving poem written by a camper at 4 am, and other musical pieces that blew me away. We saw the whole spectrum last night, and vulnerability and humor seemed to coalesce perfectly as we enjoyed time with one another. This display of talent and support and love—this remarkable act of community—it’s the very stuff of peace.
This week, I talked with the campers about the death penalty and the criminal justice system, but I also got to shape-up some other workshops and talk to them about the proposal to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, as well as the ways that popular media intertwines with justice work (often in harmful ways). The workshop regarding Harriet Tubman was excellent, because it opened up conversations about narratives in the U.S., what democracy really means, who Andrew Jackson was, representation of women and their contributions to history, and race and privilege in America. Some youth admitted to being uncomfortable about seeing her face on the bill, so we discussed why change is tough but necessary for the whole. No amount of discomfort can truly stand up against a more inclusive world, in which all people are valued and valuable. This conversation was also important for the sake of waking us up to every-day “norms” that we don’t really think twice about. Whether we think about our currency or see the faces on them or not, it is engraved into our psyche that “democracy” is a result of white, land-owning men, rather than countless people of all races and statuses building this nation together.
There was another interest group this week called “Porch Rap,” in which the campers sit with Randy and discuss current events. I always had to give my workshop during this time, but I heard that one day was particularly hard for them—the day they discussed racism. Apparently there were some intense arguments that left everyone feeling like they were “walking on glass.” Some campers came away looking exhausted, hopeless, and guilty. The next day in my peace workshop, we discussed why it is so hard to talk about race. We mentioned the polarizing media and the guilt that is inevitably produced by these discussions, but we also agreed that guilt is a pretty useless emotion and not the goal of these hard conversations. I carry a quote around with me everywhere I go: “Praise the authentic moments of walking together toward truth.” We are learning together this week that no one has the monopoly on truth. We need each other and we need to be opened, always seeking truth together rather than on a “side.”
I love you Iowa! Thank you for a week I’ll never forget!
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