Across the country this summer, countless kids are crowding into summer camps. Most are learning to swim or participating in arts and crafts. But here in Durham, North Carolina, kids this summer are attending camp in hopes of combating racism.
Dr. Ronda Taylor Bullock is the founder of weare, a Raleigh-Durham-based nonprofit. They are also the only group in the country to offer a summer camp with a sole mission to teach kids about racism. The idea is to educate children to be anti-racist during their formative years.
“The curiosity, the empathy is different with young children. The want to be a good person is different with younger children, and I think that during the foundational years, if we can be more intentional, we can make a difference,” Dr. Bullock said.
This is not your ordinary summer camp. Kids from 1st to 5th grade are often asked to open up about their own experiences with racism.
“You want them to have fun, but you’re wrestling with a very serious topic. And we’re very clear with parents upfront that your kids might come to this space and cry,” Dr. Bullock explained about the camp.
One of those campers is 11-year-old Tatiana Shields, who’s been coming to the program for the last four years.
“Even though we talk about harsh topics, everyone is there for each other, so I don’t feel scared when I’m trying to share something,” Shields said about her experience in the camp.
Perhaps her most memorable experience this year was painting a self-portrait and using multiple colors in a palate to create the color of her own skin. She considers herself multi-racial.
“It was interesting finding out how to do it. I would never think I’d use yellow or red to make a skin color,” the 11-year-old girl said.
Shields’ mom, Tanya, wants this soon-to-be 6th-grader to go into middle school with a strong sense of racial identity and the ability to call out others when racism might arise.
“Part of our fear around confronting racism is we don’t have the language. We don’t know how to speak about it,” she said.
The whole idea of the weare anti-racist camp is to teach kids empathy and open their eyes at a young age to the world around them in hopes that they will go into the world with more accepting points of view.
For Dr. Bullock, the work won’t end when summer does. She’s helping to create curriculums that preschools in the Raleigh area can use to talk about racism.
“The window of hope is so much wider with kids than it is with adults,” she said.