By Sam P.K. Collins
For the eighth consecutive summer, a group of elders will channel the spirit of Nannie Helen Burroughs, Anna Julia Cooper and other Black female education pioneers as they equip young ladies with the skills needed to navigate adolescence and womanhood.
This process will unfold throughout June and July during the iThings 2 Collard Greens Summer Camp for Girls. For six weeks, more than a dozen young women will keep their smartphones out of reach as they receive lessons in knowledge of self, ancestral reverence and conflict resolution — all intended to prime them for a lifetime of service.
“This camp is showing our girls how to be of service to their higher selves and community. There’s no technology. They have to turn on their inner technology,” said Kathy English Holt, founder of the iThings 2 Collard Greens Summer Camp for Girls.
Holt started the iThings 2 Collard Greens Summer Camp for Girls in 2001 while battling a serious illness. During her bout, she read about Burroughs and Cooper and learned about a local all-girls boarding school that Burroughs founded in the early 20th century.
That story inspired Holt’s foray into youth enrichment, which manifested in the launch of the iThings 2 Collard Greens Summer Camp for Girls at the Davis Center in Northwest.
That year and every year since, participants in the program learned about altar work, dance, sewing, yoga and nutrition under the auspices of Beatrice Davis Williams, Frances Coles, Bernadine Watson, Joyce Pegues, Free Benjamin, Princess Thompson and others.
Veteran educator Cheryl Shoemaker will continue to serve as camp director as young ladies between the ages of 5 and 13 converging on the Kingsbury Center in Northwest study the 14th Amendment and explore the historical and current impact of Black women in U.S. politics.
“What I found is that when children don’t have anything to do, they get into a lot of mess and fall behind on their school work,” Holt said. “They cannot afford to be idle. Young people trying to babysit young people is also extremely dangerous. Summer should be a time to focus. The youth need to do altar work and spend time [learning about] themselves.”
On May 19, the iThings 2 Collard Greens Summer Camp for Girls will host a benefit concert at Peoples Congregational United Church of Christ in Northwest. Jazz bassist and Holt’s son Corcoran Holt, along with his band The Mecca, will headline this event to raise funds for the summer camp.
The iThings 2 Collard Greens Summer Camp for Girls rolls out amid what many consider treacherous times for Black women and girls.
Within the past few years, more than 75,000 Black women and girls across the country have gone missing in cases that haven’t been heavily publicized. Research from the African American Policy Forum also shows that Black girls often receive harsher treatment from school personnel and law enforcement officials than their counterparts.
In response what Holt described as the harsh language and demeaning decorum she recalled witnessing on public transportation, she molded the iThings 2 Collard Greens Summer Camp for Girls so that enrollees could connect with older women and eventually return the favor as camp counselors.
For Masai Oakes, a former camper and current camp counselor, such a model proved enriching, especially since she had all male siblings in her household.
Years after attending a weeklong retreat with her cohort in a rural South Carolina community. Oakes said she continues to embrace the love for drawing she fostered while in the iThings 2 Collard Greens Summer Camp for Girls.
“This was a camp to go to and feel empowered. Beforehand, I didn’t know or care that much about the importance of being a Black woman,” said Oakes, an 18-year-old college sophomore who lives in Northwest. “Going to this camp [helped me] see a lot of people like me and what we were capable of.
“It’s very important,” she said. “If someone wants a sense of community, the iThings 2 Collard Greens Summer Camp for Girls would be a great place for them.”
This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer.