A few years ago, I led a workshop series for camp professionals on summoning the courage to effect organizational change.
It came a few months after George Floyd was murdered, and the call to create access for marginalized campers grew louder. I distinctly remember taking note of one workshop participant’s frustration at the conversation. He was tired of talking about change, meeting about challenges, and discussing opportunities. He was ready to take action.
I know you are too. Creating equitable camp spaces where all youth can thrive — regardless of geography, socioeconomic status, or racial background — is a vision many professionals share. Yet, too many of us still feel stuck and confused about where to start or how to continue our progress. It’s tempting to want to wait on research to better understand barriers to access or to hold out for federal funding to create more opportunity. It’s important to recognize, though, that while we wait, the challenge of access is waiting on us — with the resources, ingenuity, personal agency, and immense power we currently have.
Sustained engagement along the journey to making camp accessible for all will take courage. There will be booby traps, risks to confront, moments that challenge our motivation, and situations that test the reliability of our skills. But I’ve learned through my work as a leadership development strategist and coach that we are increasingly likely to get through these obstacles if we take the time to check our beliefs, detach from old realities, and find the yes. Here’s how you can make that happen:
Check Your Beliefs
A vision, while necessary, doesn’t create access. People do. You are one of those people who has the capacity to put a vision of inclusion and access to work, and you can be the starting point in any effort to effect change. What position you have, how many years you’ve been in it, or how much access you have to the inner circle isn’t so important. What is important is your unrelenting belief that access to camp is nonnegotiable. When people catch you at camp, the hope is that they never find you on the fence about creating access, playing it safe in the sandbox, or talking a good game void of action. Broadening camp’s reach requires your unapologetic conviction that the thousands of underserved youth who don’t know what it’s like to have a camp experience should know, can know, and will know. Why? Because what you believe determines how you behave.
If you feel a sense of internal resistance or agitation as you process these words, now is a perfect time to pause and ask yourself why. Your reaction is a reflection of your beliefs. Do you believe creating access to camp for marginalized youth will be too hard or too disruptive? Do you believe other priorities deserve more of your effort — or that you lack the ability to make an impactful difference?
Activist Angela Davis said, “Change happens as a result of the pressure ordinary people exert on the existing state of affairs” (DuVernay, 2020). So now is a good time to unpack your beliefs, particularly those that protect the status quo, perpetuate inequalities, and unconsciously hinder your commitment to creating access to camp. And I’d like to suggest that you have courage by your side as you do so, because what might come up during the unpacking process are your own biases — unfair judgments about youth with different socioeconomic conditions, racial backgrounds, physical abilities, or appearances.
I know you think of yourself as good, decent, and moral. Research shows that most of us do. So it can be hard to digest information that seems incongruent with a noble self-concept. But it’s important that you leverage courage to confront yourself; then you can get out of your own way on the journey to creating broader access to camp. Maybe you have a distorted belief about Black kids’ ability to swim, which leads you to assume that you’d need to change your program design to accommodate them. A program change is something you’re not interested in making. Your bias, thereby, impacts your commitment to creating access. If something like this comes up as you check your beliefs, your work is not to judge it as good or bad. Your work is to acknowledge and question its accuracy. What do you believe? Carry this question in your back pocket and pull it out whenever you feel yourself struggling or challenged to make moves toward a more equitable camp industry.
Detach from Old Realities
When you’re ready to behave like you believe, you’ll most likely need to detach from old realities and played-out norms. My daughter held a pair of bunny ears in her hands when she saw me putting ice in my water cup from the refrigerator door dispenser. She wanted in on the action. In order to help me, though, she’d need to release the bunny ears she was holding. It was a tough decision for her, as it will likely be for you. Creating access means that you’ll have to release an attachment to the way things were and the way things are — at least the parts that don’t serve your vision. When you try to hold on to old realities with one hand and secure new possibilities with the other, what you’ll likely get is incremental change — small adjustments that don’t upend existing processes. You’ll get a new marketing brochure with a brown face on the cover but no increase in minority enrollment. You’ll host a webinar to hear from LGBTQ+ leaders but get no movement on helping LGBTQ+ kids feel safe.
Undoubtedly, taking these actions is better than taking none at all. But they are more of the same. They may require you to stretch, but they still allow you to play it safe. They don’t require real change. You have to let go of the bunny ears if access is truly what you’re trying to create. I know that might be scary and pose a lot of what ifs. You might anger some parents who have supported your camp for years. You might poke a board member who seemingly vows to make things hard for you. You might wonder, yourself, about what the heck you’re doing without your cute little ears. Challenges and uncertainties that may arise provide perfect opportunities for you to go back to your former beliefs. Courage requires you to have an internally motivated, values-aligned purpose for taking action.
When Nike decided to run the Colin Kaepernick ad in 2018, the company knew it would alienate some of its customers. But Nike believes in athletes. And what you believe is how you behave. If access is what you want for your camp and your industry, it will require transformational change — change that requires you to think differently about the problem and maybe even yourself.
An important question to consider as you move forward in the quest for access and equality is “How can I be inspired by the past without being attached to it?” You’ll likely have to reposition the past, which can lead to a different prioritization of it. My daughter didn’t drop the bunny ears on the ground and forget about them completely. She decided to put them on her head and wear them, which freed up her hands to focus on filling up her cup.
Find the Yes
As you check your beliefs, detach from old realities, and prepare to lace up your vintage combat boots and get to work, you’ll notice lots of conversations happening in the camp industry about creating access. This is a good thing. You may see invites to discussions, hear leaders talk about their commitments, and skim posts about inclusivity and access on Instagram. If you were to convert the number of conversations to action, though, what would the ratio look like — 5:1, 10:1, 20:1? And how can the ratio be improved?
The task for everyone at every level in the industry, including you, is to find the yes. When a colleague comes to you with an idea to partner with another community organization that benefits underserved youth, find the yes. When a recruiter poses a new idea to attract people of color to staff positions, find the yes. When a frontline staff member comes up with an idea to transport community kids to camp, find the yes. The ideas may be too expensive, too cumbersome, or too outrageous in their initial form. But too often, camp professionals stop there. You may be tempted to tell others exactly why their idea won’t work rather than working with the idea. In knee-jerk fashion, you may shut them down, which prevents you from getting any closer to creating access (or a culture of courage, for that matter).
If you’ve wondered why team members stop contributing to brainstorming sessions or curb their enthusiasm about the possibilities at camp, you may want to consider that no one ever finds the yes in their ideas. Finding the yes doesn’t mean accepting the idea, as is, every time. Finding the yes means discovering some part of the idea, however big or small, that can be extracted, evaluated, and greenlit. Maybe the yes is to try out an idea with a small test group rather than an entire community. Maybe it’s to support a line of thinking rather than an idea itself. Maybe the yes is to build a case study for the idea before going all in on it. Or to use part of a suggested budget for a camp scholarship, rather than the whole thing. Finding the yes requires active listening, interest, attention, patience, and curiosity. It requires follow-up and action. Finding the yes requires effort — which is why it can be so much easier to say no. But no doesn’t create access.
Creating access is a process. I’m often asked what professionals should do after they’ve conjured their courage to pursue a meaningful goal that doesn’t quite end the way they anticipated. My answer is always to try again. Courage doesn’t guarantee success. It only guarantees that the door to possibility will be opened. If you want the door of access to be opened, it likely will require you to try and try again. It will require trial and error. It will require you to evaluate your priorities, abilities, and approach. It will require you to repeatedly check your beliefs, detach from old realities, and find the yes.
DuVernay, A. (2020, August 26). Ava DuVernay interviews Angela Davis on this moment — And what came before. Vanity Fair. vanityfair.com/culture/2020/08/angela-davis-and-ava-duvernay-in-conversation
Candace Doby is a speaker, author of A Cool Girl’s Guide To Courage, and coach who works with organizations to create a culture of courage where everyone can perform to their potential.