116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Almost 50 children will gain anti-racism skills next month at a nationally recognized summer camp for elementary students.
The camp — called Peace Camp — is being championed by community members who learned about the program and wanted to bring it to Cedar Rapids. The program is being adopted from We Are — which stands for Working to Extend Anti-Racist Education — a nonprofit that provides anti-racism training for children, families and educators.
Jonathan Heifner, pastor at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, is sending his son — who will enter first-grade this fall in the Cedar Rapids Community School District — to Peace Camp.
“I suspect he’ll hear people saying things that are offensive and racist, and I want him to have tools to think through that,” Heifner said. “I want him to be a part of this diverse group, to have the time and experience to think at his level about relationships I hope he’ll have for the rest of his life.”
The camp is being hosted at St. Paul’s, 1340 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids, on Aug. 8-12 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Already nearly 50 children are enrolled in the camp, the maximum they are able to accept this year.
Each child will receive a free copy of the books read during Peace Camp, which were purchased from Next Page Books in NewBo District in Cedar Rapids.
“I’m at a point where I’m too tired to do things that don’t matter,” Heifner said. “We’re trying to think about the things that really make a difference, and our congregation has committed to things that work. Getting good books in (children’s) hands makes a dramatic impact on their future.”
The camp still is accepting donations to provide scholarships to children. Donations can be sent to Kids Peace Camp PO Box 365, Cedar Rapids, IA 52406.
Children will be taught by trained, sensitive teachers and positive community role models. Officials said campers will learn to see themselves as unique, beautiful, kind and able people, recognize actions and words that embody racial bias, and acquire skills to deal safely with racism.
The camp is endorsed by Advocates for Social Justice, a nonprofit in Cedar Rapids born out of the Black Lives Matter movement working to create social, political and environmental change in the community.
It is being spearheaded by Donna Barnes, a resident and mother to seven children, who learned about the program and wanted to bring it to her community.
“We wait much too long to deal with racism,” Barnes said. “We wait until kids are teenagers and then we wring our hands and say, ‘What are we going to do now?’”
Research shows children are “race aware” at an early age, and school is one of the major “breeding grounds” for racism to grow, according to Working to Extend Anti-Racist Education.
According to its website, Working To Extend Anti-Racist Education works to:
- Foster healthy racial identities in children and adults.
- Build a historical understanding of racial constructs.
- Promote civic engagement and co-conspiratorship with people of color on issues of racial justice.
- Develop strategies, techniques and curriculum which extend anti-racist practices.
- Equip families with tools and resources which extend anti-racist practices in the home and community.
- Conduct research on the effectiveness of anti-racist education training.
- And use research to inform local, state and national policy regarding anti-racist education.
Peace Camp counselors attended a two-day virtual training through Working to Extend Anti-Racist Education to teach the curriculum.
Marcy Roundtree, a Peace Camp teacher and Cedar Rapids school board member, said the camp will teach children how to embrace diversity and get excited and appreciate each other for their differences.
One way to do this is taking time to learn how to pronounce someone’s name, Roundtree said.
Roundtree hopes children who attend Peace Camp leave with a better understanding of other cultures. “I get excited about this because I think that’s what makes the world and our community a beautiful place,” she said.
Wilsee Kollie, 18, a social justice advocate and 2022 graduate from Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids, will be an assistant teacher for Peace Camp.
“A lot of Black, brown and biracial kids have to face racism at such a young age. All students should be aware of the racism people face,” Kollie said. “It starts with educating ourselves about how to interact with other people, and there’s a beautiful outcome of children caring for their peers, recognizing their differences and accepting that.”
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