Breaking Silence: Summer Camp Reflections

During an exceptionally hot week, more than 60 women and girls of color trekked up to the beautiful Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, for our second annual Breaking Silence Summer Camp. Over the course of a week these women danced, meditated, rapped, and healed, all while engaging with the difficulties of being both a person of color and a woman in the United States today. After a session of dance and meditation, the campers participated in a series of classes that addressed various aspects of art, activism, and healing. 

One class taught media literacy and the construction of personal narratives, while another sought healing through the creation of songs. AAPF Program Coordinator, Kyndall Clark, and AAPF Community Engagement Director, Cherrell Brown, taught a class aimed at helping local activists produce concrete action plans, with specific emphasis placed on developing Town Halls co-sponsored by AAPF. 

After a session of dance and meditation, the campers participated in a series of classes that addressed various aspects of art, activism and healing. 

One class taught media literacy and the construction of personal narratives, while another sought healing through the creation of songs. AAPF Program Coordinator, Kyndall Clark, and AAPF Community Engagement Director, Cherrell Brown taught a class aimed at helping local activists produce concrete action plans, with specific emphasis placed on the AAPF town hall process.

This work culminated in events on Saturday and Sunday nights. Featuring several family members of women killed by the police as well as activists, #SayHerName: A Conversation on Police Violence Against Black Women, which took place on Saturday night, sought to illuminate the ways in which frames surrounding state violence often leave out Black women even though they are victimized in highly disproportionate numbers.

The powerful night launched our new #SayHerName video and trended on Periscope, garnering almost three thousand viewers. Sunday’s Silent No More: An Evening of Art and Activism showcased the completed works from the week’s classes. Spoken word followed satirical skits and a beautiful, new choral arrangement from AAPF Artist in Residence, Abby Dobson, brought out the voices of many women who claimed to not be “singers.”

To close out the evening, the group of campers stood up and moved to the back of the room and, dressed all in white, began to dance. Early every morning the women had rehearsed hard and now the work paid off. The women gathered into rows and moved together through the steps as Sweet Honey In The Rock’s Breaths played in the background.

The dance carried the group into an increasingly complicated weave of bodies and, with the last refrain of the song, they all gathered in to a group and held each other in an act of celebration, camaraderie, and power. It wasn’t all work and art, though. In true summer camp fashion, the week was full silliness as well. Games of Celebrity and team dance battles (a particular favorite of AAPF Executive Director Kimberlé Crenshaw) became fiercely competitive and Beyonce’s Lemonade was screened more than once. 

This is not to say that the week was easy or light-hearted. In really digging into the marginalization that occurs at the intersections of race and gender, it is nearly impossible to avoid heavy discussions. In order to do the work that needs to be done to lift up the stories of women of color in any real way those discussions must be had and the campers never strayed from those truths. At times this was severely challenging and it was sometimes difficult to find dry eyes. However, as the week came to a close, on Sunday night those tears were gone, replaced by a deep sense of determination and kinship amongst the women. Alternating between holding each other and dancing around the room, they filled the final night with a call and response rallying cry:

It is our duty to fight for our freedom! It is our duty to win!