August 30, 2016

By James Hagar, age 18

James Hagar croppedI almost cried when my mom left me at the Northwest Down Syndrome Association/All Born IN social justice camp 2016 in August. Because I come from a small town, being dropped off in downtown Portland with a bunch of strangers isn’t really my jam.

I had become really anxious because I didn’t know anyone yet, but everyone was so welcoming through the course of camp that I realized I could be my true self. The camp let us be ourselves, express our feelings and thoughts, but also taught us a lot about social justice. Going into this camp, I thought social justice was only about helping people who can’t help themselves, like my friends in the resource room, but I learned that it is so much more.

Race, gender, disability, and and environmental change are a few examples of things requiring social justice or social change that we learned about. We also learned that in order to create social justice, we have to start with ourselves.

In order to do this, we have to keep our emotions in check to get our point across, and to be heard by others. We did a couple of workshops to help us with that. We did art, yoga, and we talked through emotions and feelings. During art, we were given charcoal, acrylic paint, watercolor paint, and colored pencils to create emotions on our papers. The emotions that we had to create were joy, anger, sadness, and calmness. My art wasn’t as good as others, but it was mine. As a non-artist, it was a lot of fun getting to be creative without being judged on my lack of skills. Actually, everything at this camp could be done without being judged.

Along with yoga and art, we attended classes about social media, journalism, sexuality, filming, environmental change, and more. All of the classes gave us insight about what change is, but also how to go about changing it. We dabbled in the filming method, meaning we created a script, acted out, and filmed videos about the kind of change we wanted to see happen. Two of the instructors told us of ways they helped create change. One willingly got arrested for protesting, and the other wrote an article for the newspaper that they worked for.

In the sexuality class, the group was open about their lives and what they thought sexuality meant. Love and identity were two examples that people brought up. We were also told to stand in a circle and put something that describes to us in the middle. Then, we were asked to go around the circle and explain what the items represent to us. Many of the items were shoes because that is what people had with them, but others put in jewelry, and one person put in a deck of themed cards. Overall, that was the majority’s favorite class, and everyone wished it had been longer.

So I learned a lot of things at the Social Justice youth camp, but most of all, I learned that you can’t do things alone. In everything, help is either necessary, or, well, helpful. The friends and support connections made at camp are bound to be lasting ones. The experiences were also life changing, and I can’t wait to use what I learned at camp and change the world!