The second week in August marked the inaugural year of Black Gold Culture Camp, an immersive summer camp for middle school youth of color. The camp is designed to build strong community bonds between participants during this four-day period by teaching positive aspects of African and African American culture through daily, hands on workshops on black history and art movements as well as leadership, civic involvement, and environmental justice.

West African Cultural Arts Institute joined approximately 16 middle school students, 5 high school camp counselors, and 10 other dedicated and passionate staff members from the NAACP and other partners like Beyond Toxics to offer Guinean drum and dance workshops at Camp White Branch, a beautiful wooded, full equipped camp located up the Old McKenzie Highway.

The daily schedule was a perfect balance of intensive workshops and free time. After breakfast each day all camp goers participated in the environmental justice workshop segment that included learning lots of important information about pollution, climate change, Oregon’s native ecosystems, and the emerging green economy while engaging in activities like hiking through the forest to a gorgeous cascading water fall, creating, then destroying a web of life, and sharing what small, but impactful changes can be made to decrease the carbon footprint.

After a short break filled with active games like badminton, tether ball, volleyball, and basketball or more quiet and reflective ones like reading, journaling, or participating in casual group discussions kids ate lunch and prepared for their leadership course with Dr. Johnny Lake and Jason Floyd. The leadership course really helped kids transition out of their comfort zone and transform into more confident individuals who could address the entire group while maintaining eye contact through a variety of active lessons that simultaneously challenged the youth yet fostered a safe environment to grow. The kids were led through a series of group activities and interactive games that included trust walks, blind folded partner interactions, African American bingo, and imaginary political campaigning exercises to develop the skills of an effective leader.

The daily workshop series culminated with WACAI’s fully engaging drum and dance classes that included the traditional cultural background of each rhythm and dance and the names and functions of each instrument in the percussive, poly-rhythmic orchestra. Through the expert facilitation of Alseny Yansane, WACAI’s Artistic Director and primary Teaching Artist drummers alternated from playing with the entire group to smaller groups to one-by-one try’s to really get the flavor of Guinean drumming while receiving individual attention and group support. The dance segment had everyone out of their seats moving to the beat of live drumming while smiling and sweating in the sunshine of the big open field in the heart of the camp. At the end of each class Taryn Lacy, a recent graduate from UO School of Music tied in contemporary music movements, like jazz and hip-hop to demonstrate specific examples of how African American music has strong links to the music originating from the African continent and the importance of this legacy in the Diaspora.

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