I’m just going back here to get some Golden-nod and that’s it. ~ Jah’kaya Sirius Tekhen as she wondered along the backyard fence while I was gardening

In my previous entry This I Believe: Community & Relationships, I introduced you to an organization called the Aya Leadership Development Institute.  At the time, we were conducting Thursday camping classes with the children which included lessons on establishing a campsite and firemaking, water procurement and treatment, first aid, compass and map reading, and self defense.  As a reward to both the children and ourselves, we managed to squeeze in a trip to the Chicago Children’s Museum on one of their Target Thursdays bypassing an additional class before our overnight camp.  The children had a wonderful time creating pottery, climbing through the multilevel exploratory maze, building small frame houses and engaging in every tactile exhibit the location had to offer until the shout of closing hour shuffled us all from the museum.

On the weekend of September 10th, we took the children out to the Black Oaks Center Eco-Campus for their overnight camping excursion.  As I now stand on the other side of that trip, I sat down to assemble some thoughts about the trip which would convey the invigorating communal feeling it inspired within me.  I am certain that I wasn’t alone in this regard as the conversations occurring not only between we adults, but also the children were potent.  I made a remark at one point to my fellow parents around the morning fire that after the children had spent 4 hours cooking breakfast, sharing their visions on sustainability and visiting each other’s tent, not a single child had made complaint of their boredom.  While I cheated and spent some time in my iPod listening to a few podcasts, no child was lost to an electronic device.  Everyone was included and engaged in the doings of their youthful collective.

Our journey started with the drive to the campsite.  I rented a car which would serve as transport for myself, Jah’kaya, Mama Mecca and her son Masani.  The trip to Pembroke Township is a short stretch of about 2 hours from Chicago.  Masani and Jah’kaya used part of that time to chat each other up, but it wasn’t long before they were both lost to slumber.  Mecca and I were engrossed in one of our ongoing dialogues on community, love, the village or some other concept that looms too large to be covered in a single conversation.

We arrived later than anticipated at the site and met up with the Rashids: Baba Kamau, Mama Safia, Dumasani, Afua and Candace.  As the sun was making a slow sojourn through the western sky preparing for the onset of nightfall, we scrambled to set about raising the tents before the light completely escaped us.  I positioned the car facing the grounds and turned on the headlights so that we would not be forced to grope about in total darkness and began to unload resources from the trunk.  All hands were on deck.  Children assisted adults and adults assisted each other trading tent stakes, sleeping bags and by the final hour even children.

After the tents were set and I ensured no further assistance was needed of me, I mentioned to Jah’kaya that my head was aching and I was going to lie down.  The others lit a fire and gathered the children around for a small discussion while I lay in my tent attempting to repair from the Food Hub fatigue of the day.  Jah’kaya informed me that she would be spending the night with Mecca and Masani to which I offered no dispute.

I arose sometime around 2 or 3 am having slept off my malady and decided to make an attempt at reading.  Dawn was creeping over us leisurely, but there was still not illumination sufficient outside to accomplish this task and holding a flashlight was neither comfortable nor desirable.  I wished silently that I had acted on the foresight to purchase the hanging tent lantern briefly glanced at Target.  I moved instead to the car to add a few bars of charge to the iPod while attempting further to catch up on the news of the day before sliding back into a pre-dawn catnap.

My fellow campers roused from their dormancy about two hours later and began preparing the grounds for breakfast.  The fire from the previous evening was rekindled, mess holes were dug and designated for male and female, an area for trash and organic matter was set aside and cooking utensils prepared.  The children yawned, stretched, chatted and wiped the sleep from their eyes.  The morning air was cool as the sun walked timidly towards us exposing its full glare by noon which would send us shedding the layers we had assumed earlier in the day.

Over the fire, we prepared oatmeal and boiled eggs.  I had an assortment of fresh and dried fruit as well as a hefty bag of cinnamon granola.  One of the local dogs showed up at the campsite and with boyish exuberance, I invited him to run back with me to the Eco-Campus where I could stow him in the pen while we set about completing breakfast.  I knocked on the door to the Carter’s cabin to invite them over for breakfast and the sustainability chat with the children and headed back to the grounds.

We sat the children down and everyone passed around breakfast items as we began our discussion on sustainability.  We presented the children simple questions of their awareness of global warming and ways that humans can adapt to the changing realities on the planet allowing them each to offer answers.  Dumasani clearly reigned as the lead analyst of future technologies for our budding collective.  The others offered fantastic ideas as well on planting crops and trees and learning how to better manage scarce resources.

They wwith Baba Kamau and Mama Safia to conduct wild food foraging while Mecca and I stayed at base camp to clean the breakfast utensils and dish ware.  Perhaps I should be more accurate.  Mama Mecca started the dishes and she retained my services at base camp to lug around a hefty container of well water.  At the Eco-Campus, we bumped into a host of other Pembroke townsfolk including Mama Iya and Baba Ifalowo along with a few friends of theirs whose names fail me at this moment.

Mama Jifunza was prepping for lunch in the outdoor kitchen.  Baba Fred was gathering water jugs for refilling.  Akin was going on a teenage tear about his dogs being put into the pen with others who had mange.  We were all consulting each other about the best activities for the children to engage in later that afternoon finally deciding to give them a tour of the Eco-Campus and explain to them the importance and history of each structure from the main office and the yurt to the newly constructed bi-level community building attached to the indoor kitchen with the wood burning stove.

After socializing for a short while, Mama Mecca and I gathered the water and headed over to the base camp where we found that the foraging team had already returned.  The children made light time moving between the tents and playing cards while the adults cleaned the dishes and put everything away.  Everyone then gathered themselves together and headed over to the outdoor kitchen so that we could begin preparing lunch.

Mama Jifunza was at work on a sauteed root stew with some manner of chili powder to season.  The Rashids had prepped a split pea soup that we made quick work of heating to a comfortable temperature.  The meal was made complete by the arrival of cornbread.  Our entire collective then sat down for a communal meal where we exchanged conversation and enjoyed the company of one another.  The meal was followed by the aforementioned tour of the Eco-Campus facility for the children of both the old and new construction.  They were able to ask questions and learn the role that we desire that they should play in becoming leaders of sustainability within their communities.

Afterwards we gave our farewell to the Carters and the others from Pembroke before heading back to the campsite to break everything down and begin our journey back to the city.  It was a weekend that progressed slowly, but was still much too fast to fully breathe the patient retreat of engaging in a disconnect from the grid.

Recently I have had a number of conversations with associates about the phenomenon of sagging pants and young black men.  In each instance, someone has injected criminalization or monetary restitution into the discussion as a valid means of coercing change in what they classify as detrimental behavior.  I won’t vent my frustration about that sort of intellectual hypocrisy in this present discussion.  I use it only as a means to grasp an understanding of the ways in which Aya is the model of real engagement in changing the behavioral patterns of the youth.

There are perhaps those who would say things such as “Well, your children are different.”  A statement which contains both truth and falsehood.  If our children are markedly different, it is merely a consequence of exposure.  This is a measure of exposure that we have the possibility to offer to all children.  When we as parents place ourselves into the process of molding this clay and show that we are willing to mess our clothes if necessary to enhance the learning experience, the possibilities are limitless what manner of brilliance our children will shine back.

The reward for instilling leadership within children in a small collective is that they branch out and embed these lessons within all of their spaces of play.  My daughter has shown herself eager and willing to tell anyone who will listen, adult or child, about the health benefits of goldenrod.  Does this make my child exceptional?  Yes.  And no.  Whatever rules she has broken on the scale of black pathological statistics, she breaks because she is encouraged not to see these obstacles.  In fact, they aren’t mentioned at all.

This statement of positive intent does not mean that she is sheltered from the brutal reality of the world.  We can raise critical thinkers who can decode racism and sexism when they encounter such things, but we must also be attentive to help them choose social circles which will be grounded in the forms of play that build upon healthy ideals of community, social justice and responsible activity.  Children carry these lessons with them into the world and the more they are able to practice them, the better they will implement them as leaders in spaces where they make new friends and create new circles.

We want our children to become influencers instead of being so subject to the influence of others.  This is Aya (Resourcefulness) Leadership Development.

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The Aya sisters sparking a fire.