photo: The California Endowment
by Jesus Perez
Ed Note: Plagued by high rates of incarceration, unemployment and violence, young men of color often face the brunt of our society’s failings and are caught in vicious cycles of dysfunction. The California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities work has explicitly identified young men of color as an important intersection of society in their efforts across the state of California.
In the summer of 2012, TCE created a Boys and Men of Color Summer Camp. Located in Grizzly Creek Ranch just a few miles from the border with Reno, the camp is a week-long experience for about a hundred young men from across the state to build community and share knowledge of what is going on in their respective communities–and what can be done to improve them.
Jesus, 18, shares the powerful experience he had at camp in the summer of 2013.
When I first heard about the Sons & Brothers Leadership Camp, I wasn’t sure of what to think. However, after attending one of the info sessions, I was more than convinced. The adult mentors that were going told us what we would be doing everyday and what we could look forward to. We would be joining over 100 young men of color from throughout the state of California for a weeklong camp way up north in Portola. The days would give us a chance to experience the outdoors but also spend time with one another.
The mentors also played us a short video to show us what kind of conversations we could expect to have at camp. The video was a spoken word poem by poet Daniel Beaty. He spoke about his life growing up without a father and I was struck by his powerful words, “Yes, we are our father’s sons and daughters, but we are not their choices.”
That sparked something in me. I started thinking that I am not confined to my parent’s choices. I am my parent’s son but I am my own choices. Only I can decide who I will be. I never had these kinds of conversations in school or anywhere else. After the seeing the video, I was ready to go to camp that very day.
We took a charter bus up to Grizzly Creek Ranch on an early August morning for several hours. When we finally arrived at the camp all I saw were trees all over the place, I was definitely not in Merced anymore. Other buses started to arrive and we gathered our bags and got our cabin assignments. It felt strange to see so many young men of color gathered together in a place that wasn’t school. We were grouped into several cabins and each cabin had young men from different places including at least two adult mentors. My cabin had people from Los Angeles, Fresno, Long Beach, Coachella, San Diego, and Santa Ana.
Each day we woke up bright and early for breakfast. Then we would move into a large room and have a morning presentation and discussion on a topic. We discussed things like misogyny in youth culture, the roles of our fathers in our lives and how different life stressors actually affect our health.
The afternoons were for outdoor activities. The camp staff facilitated activities that were both mentally and physically challenging. We started off with activities that were aimed at building leadership and teamwork before moving onto activities that were off the ground, like the high-ropes courses.