On friendship bracelets and liberation

(From Michael Brix, our Executive Director)

What you need to know is I grew up going to an overnight camp in the beautiful hills of Northwestern New Jersey (yes, that’s a thing.) After I was too old to be a camper, I joined the staff. This camp was my summer job, and more: my home away from home. I think summer camp is such an important part of a child’s life, because it was such an important part of my life. You could say I come by this passion honestly.

Bracelet on hand
Showing off my 20 year old friendship bracelet!

You also need to know that I am currently renovating my basement bathroom. You only need to know this because part of the renovation was rediscovering some letters I had squirreled away in a storage box. These letters were all from campers of that old camp, written in flowery script, at a time when stamps cost 32¢. Among the letters was one with a braided thread bracelet tucked neatly between the folds of the letter. You know the type, it’s one of those friendship bracelets that everyone makes at one point or another in their adolescence.

I put on the bracelet and read the letter – it was just updates on their life, worries about the upcoming school year, and notes about a crush they had at camp. As I was reading the note, I remembered how I felt when I received the letter, all those years ago. More than mere nostalgia, the feelings of love, and acceptance, and belonging were palatable. I want to be clear: these were my strong, positive feelings.

Here at Yes! And… Collaborative Arts, we set out to make a difference in kids’ lives. We work hard to create meaningful, life-affirming relationships between staff and camper, and among the campers as well. We love to see (and to write about) the changes we see in our young people – and we do see these changes. However, we also cannot discount the positive impact that this program has on us as adult artists and educators.

It might seem a little selfish, but also entirely true, that we get to play and interact, and even learn from the kids who show up day after day to camp. Whether they come up with the most imaginative storyline we couldn’t have created ourselves, or they scramble to be next to us during warm-ups, or they share a snack from their lunch, we are often on the receiving end of their love and generosity, their play and their imaginations.

My camper’s once forgotten gift to me resurrected all these amazing feelings and reminded me how much I receive from doing this work. We are in this together – I am both benefactor and beneficiary in this scenario. It reminds me of the quote created by Aboriginal activists groups in Queensland, Australia in the 1970s, “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your  time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

I have this woven bracelet now to remind me that it is our common liberation I should be seeking. At Yes! And… Collaborative Arts, we are about creating positive change. We should not forget that many times those that change the most are ourselves.

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