“To become a better person mentally and spiritually to be able to help my community as best I can.”
“To learn from everyone and listen to as many stories as possible to fuel the fire within myself.”
“To learn about myself and others’ cultures and lives.”
Those were just a handful of the motives that brought nearly 80 teenage sons and brothers on the long trek from across California to ascend 5,000 feet up the Sierra Nevada Mountains this summer. These young men of color came from the four directions––along with more than 50 supporting adults––to converge on Grizzly Creek Ranch in Portola, CA for the 2014 Sons and Brothers Summer Leadership Camp.
This year’s Sons and Brothers Camp was the third annual weeklong personal and collective transformative experience sponsored by The California Endowment for young African American, Latino/Chicano, Native American, and Asian Pacific Islander men who live in the communities where the Building Healthy Communities (BHC) initiatives take place and are active in the Sons and Brothers movement across California.
The reflections of youth campers are a testament to the transformative power of this year’s camp.
“I will take away a different perspective in life...I loved how the Maestro and Babas [Camp Elders] told their stories to give us life lessons.”
“I will take back all the great history of how inequality started and how we can change the cycle!”
“I will share a great knowledge on different forms of oppression that I can teach and inform community members.”
“The healing circle really helped me heal and release anger.”
“On the challenge course, I faced my fear of heights and I’m going to continue to face my fear.”
The highlights shared by young people point to the goals for the 2014 Camp, which included building the capacity for young men to engage in Health Equity and Social Justice Leadership, exploring Cultural Consciousness, providing space for Healing and Well-Being, opening a process of Manhood Development and Healthy Masculinity, and Movement-Building for social, racial, health, and gender justice in our home communities.
The reflections of adults at Camp are a testament to the power of the unique leadership that “held the ground” at this year’s Camp.
“I found my experience as a mentor to be transformative, empowering and hopeful. There was a healthy, supportive and nurturing energy that resonated throughout the six-day experience. I found the attention to cultural identity and spiritual healing was delivered in manner that was respectful and modeled a culture of acceptance.”
-Lamar Henderson, All Dads Matter, Camp Mentor
“This year's camp was an amazing experience that allowed for young men to experience healing, healthy masculinity, community and transformative love. The combination of elders, mentors, mental health providers and facilitation teams was a recipe for an unforgettable camp experience and an example of the vision we see for our communities. The week I spent at camp encapsulated the reality I so desperately want to see in our communities at home––it was a peek into the possibilities of our movement.”
-Seng So, Khmer Girls in Action, Camp Community MC and Advisory Table
This year’s Sons and Brothers Camp experience was paralleled during the same week by the first-ever Sisterhood Rising Leadership Retreat, which brought more than 40 young women from across California together at UC-Santa Barbara. Convened by the Liberty Hill Foundation and sponsored by The California Endowment, Sisterhood Rising built sisterhood and healthy relationships across BHC sites, empowered young women to share their stories using a gender justice and racial justice lens, and provided time for personal well being and healing to promote social-emotional health.
The combined potential of these summer youth leadership programs came to fruition with the 2014 Sisters and Brothers at the Capitol Advocacy Gathering on August 4-7. More than 200 youth leaders participated in workshops on critical issues facing young men and women of color, visits with state legislative offices, a hearing on the Status of Boys and Men of Color in California, and a youth-led rally to demand #SolutionsNotSuspensions and #Health4All.
On a personal note, I witnessed the ripple effects this summer’s transformative experience in my own community. Like many across the nation, I have been saddened, outraged, and frustrated with the fatal police shootings of young, unarmed African American men including Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and Ezell Ford in my own neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles.
I was given renewed hope and a sense of collective power when hundreds of youth leaders from the Brothers Sons Selves Coalition organized the “Our Lives Matter” teach-in and march from Augustus Hawkins High School to Mary McLeod Bethune Middle School in South L.A last week. The action was a powerful stand and testament to the belief that #BlackLivesMatter. Many of the youth leaders taking the microphone, leading chants, and organizing the action were among the participants in the Sons and Brothers Camp, Sisterhood Rising, and Sisters and Brothers at the Capitol. I’m hopeful that this community action is just one of the first of many reverberations of the movement-building that commenced this July more than 500 miles away in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
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