NCCJ ANYTOWN: Enlightening a Generation in Equity and Justice
Post by Jason Papallo, NCCJ E-Communications and Marketing Specialist
Individuality is important, and a strong sense of empathy is paramount in discovering what is special about others, in addition to oneself. A person’s individuality and potential can’t be detected when biases are in play, and even harder to find when you find yourself casting judgments based on preconceived notions.
For 59 years, NCCJ ANYTOWN, a year-long program that launches with a weeklong social justice residential experience focusing on prejudice reduction, community building and leadership for high school age youth, has brought together teens to celebrate individuality and understanding. This year, NCCJ will host its Regional NCCJ ANYTOWN residential experience from August 20 to August 25, 2016.
A diverse group of teens ages 14-18 will come together through interactive games, workshops, and discussions during the weeklong experience at Greenwood Trails campground in Winsted, CT. NCCJ ANYTOWN first-time youth participants (known as delegates) explore topics like discrimination and bias while thinking critically about how to solve the problems associated with these issues.
“My first time around, going into it I learned a sense of self-identity, because before that I was only able to have other people identify me, instead of [me] being able to identify myself. So I was able to break out of that box that people were putting me in and finally have that moment of liberation,” said high school senior Matt Wilson, who first went to NCCJ ANYTOWN as a delegate in July 2013. Since then, Wilson has returned four times as a staff member.
NCCJ ANYTOWN opens the door to delegates creating their model for an ideal community based on respect, understanding, and inclusivity, in which members don’t just tolerate, but accept and celebrate each other's differences and individuality.
Wilson highlighted that working in small groups helped the participants discover equity within diversity and equality in NCCJ ANYTOWN’s accepting environment, which gave him the comfort to go through his process of self-discovery.
“My peers and the other staff members showed me ‘Hey, you don’t have to identify one way just because everybody else tells you to do that, and it was really good, because it was a complete representation of the whole spectrum that was there,” said Wilson.
Another delegate, high school senior Nathan Nugent, originally found out about NCCJ ANYTOWN from a friend. He didn’t know much about the program, but never one to back down from a new adventure, he signed up anyway. Unaware of what to expect, he was nervous upon arrival.
“I was very out of my comfort zone, but I ended up loving it,” said Nugent, noting that he still has friends from his first experience in the program two years ago.
Nugent said that he was full of cultural biases before entering the NCCJ ANYTOWN program, mentioning that upon receiving the packet he had misconceptions.
“I couldn’t believe how great it was. I learned so much about different aspects of life that I had never even considered before. I learned about different religions, I learned about different races, and I learned about how we’re all connected. I started to appreciate it more, and I think I get more out of life because of that experience,” said Nugent.
He says that his eyes are now open to new perspectives, providing him with a newfound empathy and acceptance towards others.
“I started to be much more open. I was never really comfortable talking around white people. I always felt uncomfortable, kind of being around people of different races. It allowed me to explore that side of myself, and I recognized that as a flaw that I could work on it in a safe environment,” said Nugent. “[NCCJ ANYTOWN] is much different from the society set up in the real world, and it was great to step away from the present reality that’s our society and take a closer look at how others’ exist within it.” Inclusion is now his mindset, and Nugent is now applying to be a counselor for the program.
For more on NCCJ ANYTOWN, contact M’Liss DeWald at [email protected] for more information.
Connect with NCCJ ANYTOWN on Twitter by tweeting @NCCJTweets and using the hashtag #NCCJANYTOWN.
About the National Conference for Community and Justice
Formed 1927, NCCJ is a nonprofit human relations organization that promotes inclusion and acceptance by providing education and advocacy while building communities that are respectful and just for all. Celebrating the diversity of races, religions, cultures, genders, abilities, and sexual orientations.
For more information on NCCJ’s variety of social justice educational programs, click here.
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