Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Contributor Anne-Marie Williams is Co-Chair of the West Hollywood Lesbian Visibility Committee, Board Member of the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives, HRC Diversity & PAC member. An Angelino and activist that has been involved with POC empowerment for over ten years, she was active in the past No On Prop 8 campaign and has organized several events to empower the lesbian and POC communities.
I must share that I was not going to go to Camp Courage East Los Angeles because I was burnt out. I had grown annoyed with the know-it all-conversations. I felt exploited and unappreciated. I was sick of surveys, expensive polls, circular conversations and didactic rants of a few. I had worked so hard for an organization and the No on 8 campaign without much support from my peers. I was ad nauseam with egos. I went to certain organizations to get plugged in again but to no avail. I was done and I was tired of the complaining, the characters and the math of it all.
Yet, Camp Courage kept calling and e-mailing. The Camp Courage trainers and alumni kept contacting me and including me. Pulling me back into the folds.
Camp Courage East Los Angeles took place this past weekend. Yes, I went! It was an amazing collection of nearly 240 people from all walks of life that gathered at the L.A. County Library for training to win over hearts and minds for marriage equality.
Just in case you have not heard of Camp Courage here is the gist of it. Camp Courage is an intensive two days training designed to teach the principles and skills of community organizing to activists working to restore marriage equality in California. It teaches empowerment, team building, leadership development and grassroots organizing skills. Now that makes sense!
As a facilitator it was my job to ensure the practical skills were practiced and to guide each one in my group to find their voice. This can be very challenging at times but the reward is huge. To watch a person find their voice and story through the exercises is motivating to say the least. I watched two of my group turn from shy voices of color to roars of equality.
Ten strangers (Group 22) walked into the room and by Sunday night ten friends embraced and vowed to stay connected. The sense of community is the most important gift Camp Courage gives to its Campers. To feel that you are connected to the rest of the group and that you are welcomed to what ever Camp Courage does is more than what most organizations do. The most important assets that Camp Courage offers are the tools it freely offers you for productive activism and empowerment. They give it to you - not tell you.
I have been a personal witness from past camps and have seen many campers turn into facilitators, trainers and outstanding community activists. Camp Courage Fresno turned Fres-no into Fres-yes with Meet in the Middle (MITM). Fresno Camp Courage Alumni were the driving force behind the success of MITM.
As an advocate for POC (People of Color) empowerment, I appreciated the approach that Camp Courage East Los Angeles utilized - by the people for the people was the mode of training. Community leaders spoke about their work and shared their experiences. Roland Palenica, Kristal Vick, Javier Angulo, Derrick Mathis, Stella Wong and Lt. Daniel Choi, spoke from their hearts and histories to send a new group of activists on their path.
I must admit this weekend reignited this cynical and burnt-out-on-marriage-equality soul. I appreciated when the trainers Torie Osborn, Lisa Powell and Mike Bonin kept the 2010 and 2012 issue at bay and made the weekend about the empowerment. I was re-motivated when I listened to Stella Wong, a new Camp Courage attendee in my group, speak about her path of coming to accept then celebrate her daughter’s life and wife. My activist heart was moved by Robert Gomez’s story of self which is a story of most Latino LGBT – silence, lies, silence, lost of self, silence then discovery! To be part of his activist transformation was an honor.
Thank you Camp Courage, campers, staff and my Group 22 for putting this heart and mind back on track. Keep posted next week. I will give you an update on Group 22 of East Los Angeles Camp Courage.
Oh, one last thing: STELLA!!!
Photos by Marta Evry of VeniceForChange.com