What Social Justice Looks Like at Odyssey Teen Camp

Campers hold up their signs in a protesting exercise

“What are the ideas that will liberate all of us? Science fiction is simply a way to practice the future together…practicing futures together, practicing justice together, living into new stories. It is our right and responsibility to create a new world.” -adrienne marie brown, Emergent Strategies: Shaping Change, Shaping Worlds

In the summer of 2020, when OTC had been running virtual programming for months, and Black Lives Matter protests had been taking place all over the country (and the world), I hosted a “Radical Imagination” class with two of my co-counselors. At the time, I was reading Adrienne Marie Brown’s “Emergent Strategies.”

Brown writes about how all social justice organizing is a form of science fiction because it is engaged in the project of “imagining alternative futures.” I wanted to bring this idea to Odyssey campers. When injustices were being exposed and cities were on fire, we asked teens, “If you could completely reshape the world, what would it look like?” It was incredible to watch their faces light up as they flexed their imagination and re-created the world.

They came up with questions like — what if every family had good food on their table every night?  What if I relied on my neighbors to look out for me instead of the police? What if my college was free? What would it take for my trans and non-binary friends to feel safe and happy in this world?

Their questions and ideas reminded me of something my friend and co-counselor Georgios often says while we’re at camp:

“We are creating our own little utopia.”

I often return to this phrase when developing new programming, trying to find solutions to problems, or handling conflict resolution.  Odyssey Teen Camp is a temporary little utopia in which the community collectively decides its values, its rules, and the activities that happen every day.  It’s a little utopia where you can be “exactly who you are”  — and of course, that looks different for everyone.

The perfect utopia

The perfect utopia for a queer teenager cannot have heteronormative expectations.  We cannot be a great place for a child of color “to be exactly who they are” without interrogating whiteness and educating our camp community on racism.  We cannot be a perfect utopia for neurodivergent youth if we don’t learn best to adapt our communication and programming to their needs.

We must constantly confront stigmas, -isms, and biases so our camp can be a safe space for all campers and staff. Building this temporary utopia is creative work, it is community care, it is science fiction, it is social justice.  Creating “a great place to be exactly who you are” takes much thought, much introspection, and a lot of hard, vulnerable, emotional work.  And we are nowhere close to perfect. But!

Through imagination and vulnerability and social justice work — we are rewarded with utopia! When young people see our mission statement embodied at camp, they understand that social justice is not just about struggle; it’s also about JOY!  It’s about connection. It’s about after putting in all this hard and emotionally draining work, you are free to be exactly who you are, and you can see others exactly as they are. So, now you know why social justice is inherent in our mission statement.  Here is a bit of the how: a list of just some of the social justice programming we offer at Odyssey Teen Camp:

Safe space discussion groups

Away from academic pressures, social media, television, and the noise of the outside world, teens can truly hear each other through discussion groups.  The exchange is vulnerable, exciting, and often transformative.

The politics of style

Through essays, videos, and more — teens are invited to reflect on their style (clothes, hair, etc.) and how it relates to the world around them. We use a feminist lens to examine gender identity, appropriation, race, class, respectability politics, signaling, and how we can use personal fashion to disrupt the white supremacist, capitalist, hetero-patriarchy.

Protest class!

Teen holds up protesting sign at teen camp

A silly-but-serious class where teens make their protest sign and stage impromptu protests around camp.  Teens carry signs like, “I Get My Cardio Running Away From Heteronormativity,” “Angsty Teens Demand More Naps!” and recite call-and-response chants like, “What do we want?” “Corn Dogs!” “When do we want them?” “Now!”

Art & activism

Parades, giant puppets, brass bands, singing, visual art, and more! We discuss the ways that art can change the world.

Effigy burning

This class uses a little witchcraft to bring catharsis. We build cardboard representations of oppressions and injustices (or things we just don’t really like) and then (safely!) burn them up in a campfire.

Are you (or someone you know) a teenager who wants to get involved in social justice work?  Do you want to be a part of a community that cares about this sort of thing?  Check out our dates and rates for the upcoming camp season.

Adam Simon, Odyssey Teen Camp Director

Adam Simon

I'm Adam Simon. I started teen camp eighteen years ago with the vision of creating a space where teenagers would know they are safe from bullying or negative judgments and would feel free to show who they really are and to become their best selves. Let's connect, discuss, and engage...
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Find Out About Odyssey Teen Camp

A Non-Profit Overnight Summer Camp For Teens Ages 13-18
Located in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts.