One Time At Sons and Brothers Camp
By Johnsen Del Rosario
When the bus’ air conditioner broke down on the way to Portola, California for the Sons and Brothers Camp, I thought to myself, “If this is any indication of how the rest of my week is going to go, I am going to suffer.”
I am not an outdoorsy kind of person. I can stop and appreciate the beauty of nature, but to stay in a cabin in the middle of nowhere with people I have never met was beyond what I was comfortable with. And to make matters worse, I had to do it without my phone.
But I am here today, writing this for everyone to read, meaning I survived the week. Minus the many, many mosquito bites (thanks for nothing, insect repellent), my time at camp was a lot different than what I had imagined.
Before I start talking about myself, I should probably explain what the Sons and Brothers Camp is. Now in its fifth year, the folks from The California Endowment invite young men of color from across California to help them become the leaders that they can be. The youth have a safe space where they can openly talk about the injustices that plague their communities and the hardships in their lives. Through workshops, activities and healing circles, the young men learn how they can combat these injustices through advocacy as well as self-healing.
I was initially invited to the Sons and Brothers Camp to be part of a media team. To be entirely truthful, I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Once the team and I got together, planned out our roles and started working on the project, I still had no idea what was going on.
But through this project, I was able to meet a young man named Alex Meza from Coachella, California. Alex shared with me his will to fight the injustices people of color face, especially those who are undocumented and part of the LGBTQ+ community. To see the fight in this young man’s eyes got me excited.
To see the fight in all of these young men’s eyes lit a fire within me.
These young men want to live in a place where they won’t get stopped and/or killed by the police because of the color of their skin. They want to be able to leave the comfort of their homes and not be afraid that that may have been the last time they saw their families. Equality is something they want for everyone, regardless of race, religion, class, gender and/or sexuality. They want to see change and they are willing to fight for it.
And I’m willing to fight for it as well.
I came to camp with a pessimistic outlook of how my week was going to be. But these folks, many of whom are four to seven years younger than I am, changed that. I was able to let loose and have fun while learning the importance of advocacy and self-healing at the same time.
I learned to trust people, which is something that I struggle with. But when your life hangs in the hands of your cabin-mates, you’re left with no choice but to trust them. And because I trusted them, I was able to fly high on the Flying Squirrel and walk across strings of ropes a couple feet off the ground. #TeamWorkMakesTheDreamWork
I’m also the type of person who keeps to himself, but being around these folks, I knew I was in a safe place. So much so, I was able to open up without the fear of being judged. I told stories that I’ve kept to myself for years in front of people I’ve only known for a few days. I was exposed, but it was liberating.
And throughout the week, I was given the chance to try and experience a lot of new things. I took the opportunity to channel my inner Katniss Everdeen and tried archery for the first time. Well, I was probably more Peeta than Katniss because I wasn’t very good at it. Terrible, really. But hey, he survived the Hunger Games (twice!) and I survived nature and mosquitos, so we’re pretty much the same person.
But on a more serious note, the moment I’ll cherish and remember most about my week at camp was during a spoken word workshop with Paul Flores. Paul led the group by first listing the events of my generation — i.e. the many unjust killings of blacks by the police and the Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando. We were instructed to write a personal testimony for a community in my generation who face injustices and how we’ll stand in solidarity with them.
When I put pen to paper, I wrote thinking I didn’t have to share. You should’ve seen the look on my face when Paul said to get in groups with your cabin. The camp respected privacy, so we weren’t required to share our pieces, but I surprisingly did. I don’t know why, to be honest. I’m not the best writer when it comes to poetry or spoken word, but I shared anyway. We then performed it in front of the whole camp.
I wrote about the injustices faced by the LGBTQ+ community. I didn’t say it directly, but it was implied I identified with the group. This was the first time I really acknowledged myself as being part of this community. I finally felt comfortable enough to say, “Hey, I’m bisexual.” To a room where 90 percent of the people are straight, nonetheless. But I heard the snaps and the applause and I felt safe. Loved. And that moment of safety, I will remember that feeling for the rest of my life.
(Also, I may have just came out to lot of people, so . . . surprise! But I don’t care who knows anymore. I’m proud of the person I am and that’s all that matters.)
Anyway. My time at camp was a transformative experience. And as cliché as it sounds, I really did come back a different person. I met a lot of new people, all of whom I appreciate and love. Our time together, albeit short, was fantastic. Terrrrrrific. Grrrrreat. All. Day. Long. And at the end of it all, we all gained about 100 new brothers.
If given the chance next year, I would come back in a heartbeat (with stronger insect repellent too).
And before I end this blog post, I want to thank everyone at the Sons and Brothers Camp for making this experience unforgettable for me. If our paths don’t cross again, just know you all have a special place in my heart.