Life can turn on a dime. Words that have meaning in one moment become unimportant or seem glib in another. What follows here is not what I wrote a week ago for my July blog. With our nation’s 240th year of independence fresh on my mind, I wrote words of hope for our country, the citizenship we share, and the civility it can inspire, all of which were hallmarks of our founders’ vision for this Movement in 1910.
After the events of the last few days—in Louisiana, in Minnesota, and in Texas—I’m compelled now by different words, sadder words. Even so, I implore us to remember that the actions of a few will never strip away the decency of the many. The hope I wrote of? I still feel it, deeply. Yet, my words must now find a different expression.
Baton Rouge. Minneapolis. Dallas. And now many other cities across the country. As with each of you, I sat stunned by the images reported via the endless 24/7 news cycle and what they seemed to say about us. Yet as I turned my eyes from the news and back to the work before me—before us—I was once again reminded that the work we do together at Camp Fire is more important than ever. Why? Because some of the youth we work with, and some we have yet to reach, aren’t as shocked as many of us. They live with fear and anxiety every day in their neighborhoods and communities. And that should not be acceptable to anyone. Society owes its young people much more.
How do we as an organization—steeped in the belief that youth can and should live to their full potential—find the right “voice” or relevant role within this ongoing dialog surrounding issues that are so deep, systemic, and complex? There are no easy words or simple answers. Yet speak we must, and act we will.
The day after the shootings in Dallas, we received an email from Sheri Hemby, Program Executive at Camp Fire Lone Star (Dallas, Tex.). Though she shared her grief, she also affirmed a measure of optimism. In part, she said, “This senseless violence definitely demonstrates the need for Camp Fire in our community, to educate, to guide, to encourage our youth.”
So, what is our role? Whatever our personal beliefs on these issues, we come to Camp Fire every day guided by a philosophy and program framework that provides the direction we need. We provide youth and their families with a safe space to speak, to listen, and to learn. We encourage “youth voice.” We provide young people with the tools they need to navigate their daily lives—in good times and in bad. Youth learn through their interactions with one another how much more binds them than divides them. They tell us how much they value learning how to be around people “who aren’t like them.” And it is then—and only then—that society truly begins to change. We change when people from all walks of life come together to find common ground, to learn how to live with one another—not in spite of their differences, but by embracing those differences. And THAT is “the Camp Fire way.”
Camp Fire is one of the optimists. From our inception we’ve been steeped in pride—for our country, our communities, and each other. Let’s keep at it. Clearly we—as an organization and a nation—have some disquieting times ahead. Yet remember, we’ve overcome them before. We’ll do it again.
President and CEO