A-OK in OK

My summer as a nomadic advocate for peace and justice began two weeks ago. After a week of training at Disciples headquarters in Indianapolis, I left for the “land of the Red Man”—a name I find incredibly problematic, but not uncommon for the history of Oklahoma.

Oakridge Camp is located in Anadarko, OK — which was a three hour drive from Tulsa, where I landed.

I landed in Tulsa where I was greeted by the wonderful Cassie Sexton-Riggs and her husband Michael Riggs. They filled me into the deeper, troubling history of Oklahoma’s past. They explained the brutal takeover of Native American lands for oil, disturbingly high numbers of Klans, Bible Belt super colleges, and that Tulsa was home to America’s deadliest race riots. Not to mention, they warned me that every single county in Oklahoma went red in the past election—needless to say issues of race and discrimination haven’t died.

Prayer notes pinned up by a small group.

Going into Chi Rho camp I was on edge. I was preparing myself for youth steeped in their parents’ ideology, made into mini brainwashed conservatives. I expected my workshops to get some heat and encounter some blatant prejudices.
Boy, was I wrong.
Day one, I wore a pair of pink floral shorts, again expecting some judgements or hesitations. And I wore them on purpose to incite this sort of dialogue. Yet, the youth loved them.

This is a picture of the cliff that their vesper spot was carved into. It was really a beautiful sight.

In my workshop we talked about clothes, gender, and what is “normal.” Each time I talked with the youth, I was blown away by how open, non-judgmental and willing to accept others they were. Initially, I assumed that Chi Rho aged youth might be too young to really have true prejudices. But as the week went on, and as they described their hometowns and schools, I realized these youth at Chi Rho camp were the exception to my expectation. Without actually knowing it, these youth were aware of social justice.
They knew that it was wrong to police gender roles, they knew that being gay is A-OK, they knew that racism is not normal, they knew that people around the world are denied justice on an everyday basis. My job as a justice educator quickly became easier. These youth schooled me in social justice, they wiped the court with me—in a good way.

The roots on this tree were so amazing, I had to snap a pick. I also almost slid down the side of the cliff/hill taking this picture. Worth it.

I cannot believe how wrong I was about Oklahoma before I arrived, and I am so glad I was wrong. I was guilty of exactly the injustice that I was preaching against. I readily judged, expected, and guarded myself against people that I have never met. I was scared of being rejected by a red state, so I prepared to fight for what I believed in.
It so happened to turn out that I didn’t have to argue or fight with a single counselor, camper, or staff person. We were all on the same page. I never asked about party affiliation or voting records—that didn’t matter to me. What I care about was how we could unite our voices for justice, and surely we did!
Like I said, the Chi Rho campers schooled me. They are internet savvy animals. Name any meme and they would know it. Name any Vine, and they probably could quote it. Name any injustice? Well, they probably read about it on Tumblr. YES! They actually read about how the world works on Tumblr!

Oakridge camp is in Anadarko, OK, which is in the foothills of the Ozark Range.

Not only was I expecting these youth to be miniature versions of their parents’ beliefs, I expected at school or church they would learn rhetoric that supports systematic injustice.
Instead, they experience the world almost entirely through the internet. One camper told me, “When the kids at school are close minded and exclusive, I go online and chat with my friends in San Francisco, New York, Chicago.” Despite living in small or rural towns, the youth of this new generation can experience urban and city experiences too. These campers are probably more connected to the world than I am, and it humbled me.

The cliffs and hills were seriously beautiful.

This whole week in Oklahoma humbled me. I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, and I thought I knew who these people were…and I was wrong, wrong, wrong. My mind and heart were opened all over again. I’m so deeply thankful for experiences like this that helped rewrite my perceptions of what this country looks like. Our nation is not as divided as we like to think, and that gives me so much hope for the future.

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