Auburn Gresham, located on the south side of Chicago, a neighborhood northeast of Beverly and west of Chatham. A neighborhood that started out as predominately German, Dutch, and Irish community, now is a community made of 97% of African Americans. It is the home of the renowned St. Sabina church, where Father Michael Pfleger is the pastor and where scenes from Spike Lee’s Chiraq were filmed. In an area where over 300 crimes have been reported this summer alone, many would often say this is an area you should steer clear of. Luckily, I’m one of those people who like a challenge.
In late May, I took on the role as a social media manager and photographer for the GOLD Camp, a summer day camp dedicated to literacy and math, provided by the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation. When I went on the interview and when I went to orientation, I didn’t see a “bad neighborhood” or a “rough area”. I saw potential, beauty, and pride. I saw people of color who cared about their community, and the future of it. When I arrived at the GAGDC office, I didn’t feel as if I was walking into an office actually; it genuinely felt more like a family. As we were going over the program and about the rules and regulations, one thing that was brought up was the fact that the kids, who would be our students, come from various backgrounds, including those that live in the neighborhood. It was presented to us that we will be going on field trips, most of them were to places that kids have never been to before because the opportunity wasn’t available to them. From the kid’s backgrounds, the field trips, the theme centered around this year’s camp session, to even the neighborhood, I already have a feeling of what type of students we were getting without anyone being explicit about it. I’m not going to lie, my biggest fear was not being able to relate to the kids. My experience as a child and as an elementary school student was far different from the students in the camp, but I decided to challenge my fear and be a role model for these students. I’ve always believed that if black lives matter, then we have to start out with caring about the lives of black children.
The camp started, and the GOLD Camp staff, along with the teachers from an Illinois State University Fellowship, had an interesting start. There were some rough patches (especially for the people like myself who was new to the camp staff), whether it be not sure of how to talk to the students or behavior problems with the students, the first week was a learning experience and I am thankful we went through that As a team, we gathered together, redirected our efforts and attention, and by the second week, we saw a breakthrough and a different side to the kids.
We as a society are so quick to push off kids from certain neighborhoods or kids with behavior issues, but behind the actions, are the emotions. These kids excelled not only in math and literacy, but in the areas of arts, athleticism, and social skills as well. During a class in which was called, the Peace Diet, students learned about nutrition and meditation; even making their own health snacks. Students also took up dance (which I have to admit for some elementary schools kids, they could get down), learn about music, showed their creative side through art class, played soccer, and learned the basics of karate. Through all of these activities, we saw the students let down their guards and build up their self-esteem. One student, in particular, played the tough girl role for a little while. Once we talked and I truly got to know her, I saw her fun side more and more each week; even confronting the girls who bullied her and made peace.
On our field trips, we saw the students open up even more. The students showed teamwork and support when they went to the Martin Luther King Skating Rink and to JumpZone and had a few tumbles. When we took the students horseback riding, fishing, and to the Hibachi Grill and Sushi restaurant, I saw their faces light up with excitement and the eager to learn more. These kids are ready to see the world and what it has to offer. As I mentioned before, during our orientation we were told that the kids we were going to be working with come from various backgrounds; it didn’t hit me that my boss was right until we actually went on the field trips. I remember times when students would be so excited to see something and say, “I wish we could do this again”. I remember during one field trip, I was helping clean up and get the kids ready to go. One student came up to me and said, “this was the most fun I’ve ever had”, I said, “Oh really? What made it fun?”, he replied, “this was my first time having pizza”. It hit me; we are touching kids in a way I didn’t imagine.
By the end of the month-long camp, these students have matured into young adults at such an early age. They’ve gained knowledge that they will take with them into the new school year. I’ve to witness these students become more positive kids. Not only did the kids learn something, so did I. Working with the GOLD Camp has taught me more than what I was expecting to get out of it. I’ve learned what kids on the south side of Chicago need, and that’s just the ability and the outlet to learn and grow. I’ve learned that being a teacher takes a lot more than a degree and experience in the classroom, and I have so much respect for them after this summer. Being a teacher, one in a predominate minority area at that takes a lot of patience, understanding, and open-mindedness. As a professional, it was our responsibility to keep that professionalism in the camp, but when you have kids tell you things they are too afraid to tell others, it’s hard not to get attached. For kids and parents, finding an affordable summer camp to keep kids out of trouble isn’t as accessible as it looks, but GOLD Camp definitely makes a world of a difference. In a city where the people at the top only want to give to their own, I am blessed to have been apart of something that gave kids on the south side hope.
If you want more information on the GOLD Camp or about GAGDC, go to gagdc.org, or follow them and the GOLD Camp on Facebook.
I want to personally dedicate this article to Sheenita Robinson, Anya Cawthon, Cynthia Hazzard, the GOLD Camp Counselors and the ISU Fellowship teachers. I also want to dedicate this to all the teachers I've had in the past and to my friends who are becoming teachers.