When Woodrow Wilson High School teacher Mike Smith suffered of a heart attack years ago, he became a part of Building Bridges Camp history. Responsible for bringing scores of students to the camp, Smith died doing what he loved.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can break my soul,” Smith is remembered saying.
For 90 years, the California Conference for Equality and Justice has put on the three-day camp, called Building Bridges. Hundreds of youth in Long Beach have gone through the camp since it was first brought to Long Beach 50 years ago.
The camp’s goal is for youth “to understand my beliefs related to diversity, race, ethnicity and culture; to reflect on how those beliefs impact my life, relationships and school community; to improve my ability to act in a way that demonstrates that I value diversity.”
Around 500 students per year attend the human relations camp to address issues around race and culture and how it impacts their school communities. Youth play activities that teach about stereotypes and come together to ask each others questions that they normally wouldn’t be able to ask or feel comfortable asking. Students highlight what they have in common while celebrating their differences.
Building Bridges camp creates a safe space and allows students to talk and get to know each other.
Human relations consultant Jorian Fletcher has been to camp many times. Starting as a camper in October 1999, Fletcher believes camp changed his life.
“When I first went to camp, I was at a turning point in my life,” Fletcher said. “Camp helped me know it was okay for me to be me. I wanted to help young minority men who could relate to my situation.”
Like many of the youth who attend, Fletcher returned to become a youth leader and worked his way to adult staff. To become a leader and mentor, youth must go through 26 hours human relations training.
Last weekend was of this year was the last camp of this year. Nearly 200 students went from 9 different schools, including Long Beach schools Reid, Renaissance and Jordan High Schools where in full attendance.
Building Bridges Camp is one of the only programs that gives students the opportunity to explore and understand the diversity of Long Beach and their school campuses.
The hope is that youth will learn how to work together and create an inclusive community that’s geared to help all.
For more information, visit CCEJ’s website.
The Peace Builders is a weekly series highlighting community peace builders in Long Beach who promote A Season for Nonviolence.