Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Dr. Maya Angelou
Camp Sunshine is on a journey of learning and doing better. Our community has sought, since 1983, to live out our mission of offering experiences that model and nurture a culture of grace, inclusion, and joy, through which people with or without disabilities can transcend barriers and value both their own gifts and talents of others. At the core of who we are is overnight camp, during which individuals with disabilities are paired with a partner. Their unique experiences have created bonds for a lifetime and built a community in which differences are honored and celebrated.
During the summer of 2020, we at Camp Sunshine, like many others across the nation, witnessed the murder of George Floyd. As an organization already committed to inclusion, we saw the need to reckon with our own attitudes and practices toward race and racism. The Camp Sunshine Board asked for a task force to be formed to help us with that examination. Including board members, staff, and community members, the task force challenged itself to learn more through reading, podcasts, films, and shared dialog.
As that work progressed, a documentary called Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution was released. The documentary starts with video footage from the 1970s, at a camp for young people with disabilities. It follows them through their journey to adulthood, along the way giving insight into the history, culture, and activism that eventually ignited the disability rights movement.
The Camp Sunshine community recognized the intersection of our work through the task force and the message of the film. Both were a call toward justice, whether racial justice or disability justice. We are learning that “Disability Justice is the cross-disability (neuro-diversity, physical, learning, etc.) framework that values access, self-determination, and an expectation of difference…in disability, identity, and culture.” (Source)
Over the decades, many have told us that Camp Sunshine has taught them the greatest lessons in their lives, lessons about how to communicate better, sometimes without words. Lessons on how to honor one another’s humanity, how to find beauty and joy in the simplest ways. And maybe the greatest lesson of all is that of interdependence—that we need one another in life, as represented in the South African term Ubuntu: I am because we are.
Throughout this new year, we invite you all into this journey with us. While our history stretches back 40 years, we recognize that our understanding of disability justice is only just beginning; we may sometimes be uncomfortable discovering what we don’t know—or where we’ve been wrong. We’ll share resources that you can watch, listen to, or read. We’ll highlight events in our community that you can attend. We’ll share what we learn along the way and invite you to share with us, too. Camp Sunshine’s board and staff are committed to this journey and to seeking wisdom from those in the disability community, and we will do this while holding tight to our values of being inclusive, grace-filled, empowering, transformative, and inspirational. We hope you will join us.
Kathy Rohlman Executive Director
Lois Maassen President, Board of Directors