Letter to Black Counselors

Letter to Black Counselors

Thank you for deciding to make this choice. To spend your summer working at a summer camp. Either for the first time or returning year after year.  To impact the lives of young people in ways you can not imagine. To create bonds with peers that will last a lifetime.

Know that we need you here. Know that young people will look up to you and dream of how they will one day be that counselor for other campers. 

This is no simple decision. But we must also be honest. We want to prepare you for things. To be best prepared for this life-changing experience. To make it one that is positive,  especially given the history of camps in this country. 

Summer camps were not initially designed for anyone but white boys. Their creation was intended to be a solution for rapid industrialization and urbanization in the late 19th century, which took white boys away from the purpose that society has prepared for them - one that commandeers the natural environment, its resources including people - which probably includes your ancestors. 

Summer camps have changed greatly in who they are marketed to, but they still may not be the escape that, at the least, includes you and, based on our observations, it certainly does not operate with your thriving in mind. 

So, to thrive takes a conscious, concerted effort. To thrive, you should plan. But how? 

  1. You remember that this land was stolen from Indigenous/First Nations peoples, who were, are, and will be rightful stewards of the land. Your camp is on unceded land and territories. 

  2. If you are one of the few non-white folks that are at the camp, you remember that you are not a spectacle - you do not have to perform differently, you are not other. Please share of yourself when and how you see fit and most of all feel free to be who you want and need to be 

  3. You stay vigilant to the spaces, rituals, and practices that uphold white supremacy (via cultural mis/appropriation, domination, surveillance, control, forced assimilation, punishment - really there are too many ways, too many iterations of white supremacy to name and I trust that you have intimate knowledge and wisdom to see and feel it. ) You don’t have to place your body or spirit in the way. 

  4. You be intentional about nourishing yourself (body and spirit) - particularly outside of the white gaze. This includes time that you have with yourself to be yourself.

  5. You say no. You be clear what is in the realm of your responsibilities, what you are comfortable with, what you are willing to do with extra compensation and what you are not willing to do. If all else fails, it is also courageous to leave. 

  6. You center joy.  You seek opportunities to experience it, create it, embody it, and share it

And as far as the daily practical tips, these are some suggestions on how to navigate what may be missing. 

  1. Please bring your own hair products that are tailored to your texture. Having these products provided is not a given. Push back against any rules that don't understand the specific nuances of our hair care. 

  2. Buy the brand Black Girl Sunscreen so you don't have that weird white cast after application. Remind counselors to please put sunscreen on our Black children. Our skin needs to be protected too. An extra bottle of hydrating lotion won't hurt too.

  3. Be prepared to experience microaggressions multiple times throughout the summer by peers and leaders alike. Add “what do you mean by that?”into your toolkit of psychological safety.

  4. Prepare for your day off in the local surrounding area. Many camps are in rural, conservative settings. This may not always feel like the safest place. Build your network of support and ask your camp to prepare for your safety accordingly. 

  5. Depending on where you are located, you will be one of few Black people there. Know that you are a beacon of possibility for young people who look like you.

  6.  But also….You are not the DEI director. This is not your role to take on. Your camp should make this investment without placing this responsibility on your shoulders.

  7. Remember your experience is unique. You do not speak for an entire race and remember to not let the white gaze consume you.

  8. Surround yourself with things that bring you joy, including your music, your rituals, cultural items, etc. 

We hope this letter offers you grounding as you step into this space. Although not always made with you in mind, there is still beauty to be found. Like the look in the eyes of a Black child who sees themself reflected in you in a place away from home. Or in the joy of campers’ laughter filling the walls of the cabin. Or the yelling and screaming that happens after a narrow win of Capture the flag. Or in the collective look of concern on meatloaf night. Or when a camper opens up about a tough time at home and finds solace in your words. Or in the moment when campers resolve their first conflict on their own.  Or lastly in the moment when your campers struggle to break their final hug before heading home.

These are the moments that lead us back to this place. The moments that remind you this is life-changing work. And you will always be an integral piece of the new legacy of camping moving forward. Thank you.


Shola Jones (he/him/his)

Simone Gamble (they/them/theirs)

Shola-Aug-30-2023-09-57-12-7758-PMShola Jones



Simone GambleSimone Gamble


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