Have questions? Please email us at email@example.com to reach Stewarding Director Cherizar , Youth Directors Temo, Macaiah, Leilani, and Mason, or Shadow Directors Daniela and Yaretzi.
Cherizar and Leilani recently joined “The Gift of Chaos” Highlander Donor Education series to share more information about the history and values of Children’s Justice Camp and how the work of the camp directors today is informed by camp’s rich past.
Watch the video to hear more from them, and check out more about the amazing camp history researched and written below by Cherizar.
Leilani is a Black and white student from Knoxville, TN. She is passionate about creative thinking and self expression, especially in young people. Building these skills are important to their individuality and allowing young people to fully be themselves. Being more self-aware and utilizing outlets like art and music at a young age allows for healthier interactions with our feelings and experiences.
She has been a junior educator at Children’s Justice Camp for two years, but has been attending as a camper for years. She is so excited to see how people experience the camp this year.
Mason is a Fillipino and black, queer male from California. He is a theatre enthusiast and has worked with kids using a variety of mediums including arts and crafts and storytelling. He is good at keeping crises under control and calming people down. He is a first aid trained, down to earth, hard worker whose main priority is the wellbeing of the people around him. He is super excited to teach, learn, and laugh at this year’s Childrens’ Justice Camp.
Temo is a sixteen year old Mexican American who was born in Mexico and resides in North Carolina.He is a photographer and works for the magazine Word On The Street which is run by Black and Brown youth. He is CPR certified in the state of NC. He has been going to Highlander now for eight years. He thinks work like this is important because it’s a good way of introducing children to social justice work and it’s also just a great place to make friends. He also believes that it is important to have a place where children can be around good role models and have a place that they feel they can be themselves and express who they are no matter who that may be. He thinks Highlander is a gateway to learning about oneself and their own identity.
Macaiah is an African American student/athlete from Knoxville, TN. Macaiah has been a Junior Educator at Highlander for two years. She has a strong ability to think on her feet and is a highly resourceful, CPR certified, capable young woman. Her interpersonal skills are an asset to any team she is on. Children’s Justice Camp holds a special place in Macaiah’s heart. She’s spent years as a camper and looks forward to developing the program she grew up in. In her spare time she enjoys drawing and participating in musical theatre at her school.
Cherizar is a Black cis gender woman with indigenous heritage, living in Greensboro, NC. Her work centers healing and youth leadership development and includes leading trainings, political education, coaching, and facilitating. She brings her experience as a leader in Black Lives Matter movement and Southerners On New Ground, as well as her passion for creating more possibilities as an Emergent Strategy Advanced Student Facilitator. She looks forward to stewarding the 2020 Children’s Justice Camp at Highlander, supporting the Directors’ in their mission to introduce campers to Arts and Culture from around the globe. In her free time she casts spells for the movement and studies herbal remedies for our collective healing.
Highlander and Koinonia Farms, near Americus, Georgia, partnered to run interracial kids camps from 1956 to 1958. The camp drew dozens of children from diverse backgrounds to spend two months learning, among other things, to ignore the walls separating races. Koinonia’s attempt to desegregate Georgia State College in 1956 drew the attention of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and the Georgia Commission on Education, an arm of the Georgia state legislature established to preserve segregation. The GBI surveilled these camps leading them to send photographer Ed Friend to secretly document the 25th Anniversary weekend where he took photographs and gathered information that the Commission hoped would discredit Koinonia and bring down Highlander, undercutting its future impact.
Sumter County filed an injunction against Koinonia’s camp citing health code violations that would place attendees in danger. When the designated official investigated the claim near the end of the month he could find no such violations, and even stated (later) that Koinonia “was as clean as place as you ever saw in your life.”
Also, four locals filed a companion suit alleging that “the operation of the camp would be detrimental to the morals of the children” in attendance. The chief protest for this second legal action was the potentially negative impact of witnessing animals being born. This legal battle, as with the first, was eventually dissolved, but not before it served its purpose of preventing Camp Koinonia from being held at the farm. So it was moved to Highlander.
Twenty-seven years later, the successor to Camp Koinonia was announced. Highlander Children’s Justice Camp was advertised as an, “interracial children’s camp…where 33 campers live and work together as a community. Activities included archery, horseback riding, fishing, dancing, singing, arts and crafts, and storytelling. Camp directors were Dr. and Mrs. Van Kennedy” who served the camp for nearly 30 years.
Over time the camp evolved to include writing skits about the inequalities of the U.S. healthcare system, developing the leadership skills and analysis of youth, arts expression, and empowerment to create the world they will inherit. In person there’s also a waterslide and some think the location of a time capsule is in the same spot where Children’s Justice Camp campers slide each summer! Alumni of this version of camp include many freedom fighters such as our dearly beloved Elandria, who came to Highlander as a Children’s Justice Camp as a youth participant and went on to do the important work of the Economics and Governing program. We’ve seen youth start in camp, return for Seeds of Fire, and then come full circle to be a guest adult facilitator at camp. It all starts with camp!
The camp model has changed from being adult-led to being youth-led. In 2019 I became the first Black Directing Steward for 5 BIPOC Youth Directors, all former campers who know our camp inside and out. Our Youth Directors are responsible for camp planning and execution, hiring Junior Educators to help with camp as well as adults as guest facilitators. Beyond the skill-building, we provided one another emotional support while the world burns and took advantage of the opportunity to co-mentor one another as they move towards adulthood, and I move towards yelder (young elder) status.
We spent 2020 learning how to navigate uncertainty, adapt and make space to grieve, talk about mental health, learn about societal ills, and have difficult accountability conversations. In service of honoring our commitment to recognizing and adapting to our capacity, we canceled camp, a hard decision since it was our inaugural year as a new formation with a new structure.
In Summer 2021, Highlander history was made again with the first ever virtual Children’s Justice Camp! Our Directors learned how to create engaging and interactive workshops, how to handle any potential disruptions, and created and facilitated an orientation for our Junior Educators. Junior educators normally aid the Director in caring for our campers. We used this opportunity to teach them a different way to offer care, tech support and zoom security.
When we wanted to be in each other’s physical presence after such a long time apart, Highlander made it possible for us to gather together offsite for our onloading time before camp. The opportunity to reconnect in person really kept us going emotionally and gave us a much needed break from screens.
As we continue to move through this historic shift, our Youth Directors are looking towards the future. Since they will all age out of the program by the end of the 2022-23 season, we’ve designed an awesome succession plan. Our Youth Directors are selecting 4 Shadow Directors from our pool of Junior Educators and are training them to take on the role once they step away. Our leadership development plan includes Pop Ed and Emergent Strategy facilitation training, Comms Training, political education, budget development, recruitment and interviewing skills, timeline development and time management, developing accountability processes, and virtual workshop development training. My plan as Stewarding Director is to turn this camp over to the capable hands of a former Youth Director who has aged out by the year 2025.
Our camp theme this year is “Replanting Our Roots: Grounding Yourself”. In this new reality we want to explore what it looks like to connect with every part of our ecosystem. This includes an exploration of identity and our place on this planet. Highlights will include lessons on communist farming, Black cowboys, 99 years of youth connection to Highlander, and gender expansiveness. We are again planning an in person and virtual camp given the unpredictable nature of COVID. This experience has also led us to thinking about disability justice and what it means to offer a hybrid camp where campers who cannot attend in person still get an amazing camp experience.
The experiences we create and offer to young people are an invaluable asset to change making. By age 12 we’ve formed most of our values and Highlander’s Children’s Justice Camp has the unique opportunity to influence the sense of social responsibility in young people, combatting the message of individualism and moving generations towards mutual support, respect, and understanding.
I cannot overstate how powerful that is. It takes approximately 4 generations to change an attitude about an issue. White supremacy works overtime getting into our youths heads in the media, school, literature, and even toys. We get to be on the ground floor of interrupting that and stewarding the youth who will be the change they want to see in the world. It is our deepest honor to continue to build off of the incredible legacy of this camp and we deeply appreciate your support in making an impact that will last a lifetime.