For some campers, it was the thrill of meeting a real live movie star, Michael Ealy. His message to the teens: See what you can become. For some, it was the trip to Washington, DC.; visiting the Martin Luther King Memorial and hearing from an administrator at the Smithsonian Institute about opportunities for high school and college students as interns.
For some, it was getting connected with their roots and seeing possibilities they didn’t know existed. But first-timer Taliah Rooks saw it more in personal terms: being able to stand up in front of a lot of adults, overcome the stage fright, and make a presentation like a pro. “I also liked it when we partnered on the obstacle course and helped each other through it.” It was another new experience for Taliah.
That combination of fun and serious business is what makes the Peace Leadership & Arts Camp (PL&A) such a unique experience for the 22 teenagers who participate in it this summer. It was founded a number of years ago by Chester Eastside, Inc., which still supports its work
At the final celebration on the grounds of the Chester Friends Meetinghouse in late August, all those threads came together in a series of presentations that included original songs and poems. The remarkable thing to PL&A Assistant Director Nate Thompson was the fact that the young people were able to pulled it off after only a few weeks’ preparation.
The dramatized scenes by writer/director Kareem Rogers linked together such disparate images as slave traders of old making their “merchandise” hop and run to make them more salable, and the NBA draft; in both cases, human beings reduced to their value in purely physical terms. But running throughout was a sense of pride among the young performers in who they were despite awesome challenges. “We’re tall as trees. Try to cut us down; we’re still standing tall,” went the words of one selection created by campers. For Camp Director Foluke Bennett, this year’s camp was different from previous ones, because it took place against a backdrop of the many new challenges facing today’s youth. In one memorable episode, a young poet told about having to learn how to behave in the presence of police, and campers darted back and forth across the stage, having to keep a wary eye. And campers put together a book based on the theme of this years camp, “Raising Our Voice.”