Unique summer camp mixes education, empowerment for Black youth

·4 min read

ANTIGONISH – “We’re going to have so much fun there,” said Isaiah Cambell, age 8, of the field trip planned for the Knowledge Seekers Summer Scholar Camp participants to Barrios Beach on Aug. 4.

Cambell is one of 27 Black youth in the Antigonish area registered for the four-week long day camp coordinated by Jennifer Desmond and funded through the Nova Scotia Department of Early Childhood’s African Nova Scotian Service Branch.

The camp, with a home base on StFX campus this year, is in its eighth year, Desmond told The Journal, while taking a moment out from arranging a drumming circle as part of the morning’s activities.

“The program,” said Desmond, “was in response to the achievement gap that they noticed, in particular in African Nova Scotians, throughout the province,”

The camp program teaches math, science and literacy through hands on, Afrocentric curriculum; and was developed to help reduce the achievement gap and summer slide while empowering Black youth.

There are five such summer camp programs across the province with the program in Antigonish targeting students in grades 3 to 6.

And, while the aim of the camp is education, it doesn’t skimp on fun.

Michal Griffiths, an 11-year-old participant, told The Journal, “It’s very engaging, very fun to learn different things about our culture and it’s just a reminder to be proud of who we are … Miss Jennifer really does teach us a lot … It’s not like summer school, you want to learn. You want to be there.”

The theme of the camp this year, Desmond said was #EXCEL; EX for Black excellence, C for confidence, E for empowerment, and L for leadership.

“We want them [the students] to leave here being leaders and show the system that they are leaders—to find their place in the system and encourage them to know that they belong there, to have their voice be heard and share their culture,” said Desmond.

She added that the students learn about their culture by participating in the program and “They feel empowered … because a lot of times, we know the education system is not designed to tell our story and our history. This camp helps to make sure our kids know our story [and] feel proud as young Black students … We want them to be empowered, to go back and share this knowledge; that’s why we’re called Knowledge Seekers.”

Twelve-year-old program participant Qetsia Mwamba said one of the things she learned at camp, that she didn’t know before, was that slavery was practiced in Nova Scotia, “I didn’t know that they had slavery here. It made me sad because I thought it was only in the USA.”

The daily schedule for the camp includes recreational activities in the afternoons, including time in the gym to play games, visits to the pool and field trips every week.

Desmond said, “it’s an opportunity to learn some life skills, be physically active and take care of our mind, body, and soul; our whole being.

“On Fridays, we do educational outings. We’ve been to the Africville Museum, Black Loyalist Museum, the Discovery Centre, and this week-- Barrios Beach (in east Tracadie) which is the land where the Black Loyalist settled in 1783 when they arrived … That was the original land of the Black Loyalist in terms of settlement, the 3000 acres that was promised,” said Desmond.

The field trips are one reason camp participant Alana Borden would recommend the Knowledge Seekers Summer Scholar Camp to others. The 12-year-old said, “You’re always going fun places, you’re always doing something…You’re always making new friends and learning about different things and your ancestors. It’d be a really fun group for anyone.”

And, while the camp itself is an empowering program for Black youth, Desmond points out that holding the camp on StFX campus is an added bonus, “In their subconscious, we want them [camp participants] to know that you can be a student here.”

Camp participant Cambell sums up the program best when he told The Journal, “Come to camp because the camp is fun, and you can learn fun stuff.”

Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal