July 31 2015

When I first joined the Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition in 2011, I had no idea how much it would grow and change over the years. Being a part of the boys and men of color movement in Los Angeles County by breaking the school-to-prison pipeline and improving school climate has been empowering. Then in July 2012, I was 17 years old when I went on the first Sons & Brothers Camp. I distinctly remember the impact that the camp experience had on my growth as a young person.

Elders help young men understand their history and the current context in which they live.
Elders help young men understand their history and the current context in which they live.

My first Sons & Brothers Camp experience taught me about the power of love, community, support, and resilience.  I had several role models at my first camp.  They helped foster an environment where I felt comfortable. That safe space helped me realize that I could conquer fears: from ropes courses at Sons & Brothers Camp, to challenges in my daily life helped  me see how resilient I was, which is something I’ve had to practice more and more as I’ve gotten older and new challenges have come up.

Young men engaged in learning and discussion at Sons and Brothers Camp.
Young men engaged in learning and discussion at Sons and Brothers Camp.

Coming back to Camp this year as an older leader gave me the chance to be a role model. I realized I have an impact on the young people around me, from Sons & Brothers Camp, to the Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition in LA County, to Khmer Girls in Action, to my community in general.  This year at Camp, I was able to create a space that is inclusive of LGBTQIA-identifying youth, which was very important to me.

This year’s camp was one of my favorite camps of all time, not because of the ropes courses, or the nature, but actually because I saw youth leaders really grow over the week at camp. It made me reflect on how important these kinds of spaces are to young peoples’ lives, especially for boys and young men of color.  Everyone needs a support network. Everyone needs a safe space to make mistakes, be honest, genuine, and sincere in order to grow and accomplish. It’s just that, for me and my peers, we don’t always have that support network in our communities or schools.

Young men brave one of a number of obstacle courses at the camp.
Young men brave one of a number of obstacle courses at the camp.

This year was a bittersweet reminder of the road that I took going from a young person at Camp to being an older mentor.  It takes a lot of effort to create a supportive space for young people, but in doing so, we learn that we are not alone and that we should not struggle alone. I think that is the message I really wanted the young folks and my peers to understand coming out of Camp this year. I think we definitely achieved that.

I have no doubt that young people got something out of the Camp that they can use to create safer and more equitable communities across California.