June 18, 2015
After spending a week at Anytown Alabama, a social justice leadership camp for high school students, the 70 delegates left with one common goal. They want to change the world.
“I am more aware of serious issues in the world and I feel motivated to help stop them,” one student said. “Everyone is important, regardless of their gender, their sexuality, their race, their level of ability and their religion.”
That’s the essence of Anytown, which allows delegates to learn more about people with different backgrounds and experiences and to consider things from other people’s points of view. “I learned how to be myself and to accept others,” another participant said. “I had a life-changing week and I’m so thankful I got the opportunity to have this amazing experience.”
A partnership between the YWCA Central Alabama and the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ), the camp empowers students from diverse backgrounds to return to their schools and discourage intolerance and bullying and to respond to real-life situations with kindness, courage and respect.
The diverse group of delegates from 38 schools represented different races, genders, religions, neighborhoods, immigration statuses and abilities. Throughout the week, they shared personal stories about how their experiences have shaped them, and they learned from each other.
“It’s been really fun and eye-opening,” delegate Jeffrey Simmons said. “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t judge based on how someone looks, seems or appears. All people are beautiful people, and I can take that with me wherever I go.”
While at Anytown, which was held at Camp Hargis in Chelsea, the students participated in typical camp activities such as canoeing, fishing and swimming. It was the sessions on racism, sexism, classism and other issues, however, that they appreciated the most.
“They come to Anytown to learn about social justice issues like race and privilege,” said Rebecca Harkless, co-director of the camp. “We want the delegates to get out of their comfort zones and we want to empower them to go back to their communities and make positive changes.”
The students who attended Anytown said that they learned as much about themselves as they did each other. “If you are not helping the problem, you are part of the problem,” one delegate said. “I heard about Anytown four years ago when I was in the eighth grade. “This year I was reminded of it and I finally applied. It was the best decision of my life.”
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