“Wake up everybody, we need your help. Liberate each other, liberate yourself,” says Ainy’e Clarke, program and administrative staff member at Camp Sojourner.
This Saturday, Philadelphians in West Philly might just hear this and other camp song favorites shouted by Sojourner Truth Walk participants on their route from Clark Park to the Calvary Center for Culture and Community in support and celebration of girls’ and women’s leadership.
“You need to see it in person,” Clarke says. “[All these] eight year-old girls walking down the street singing that. It’s really inspiring to see.”
In its seventh year, the Sojourner Truth walk is the biggest event of the year hosted by Camp Sojourner, an overnight, week-long summer camp for girls ages eight to 18. This year’s walk focuses on immigration justice and will have special guest speakers including City Councilmember Helen Gym and local celebrity chef and owner of South Philly Barbacoa Cristina Martinez, who’s also an immigration justice activist.
“Lots of people of all ages and genders and races come and walk. It’s not just our girls. But having them be in charge is really cool,” says Executive Director Alisha Berry. “It’s just really positive, having people lift up women and girls in their own lives who they admire.”
Here, our Q&A with executive director Alisha Berry and program and administrative staff member Ainy’e Clarke.
JAMIE BOGERT: How did Camp Sojourner come to be?
ALISHA BERRY: I was a classroom teacher and spent four summers at a girls camp in New York in my early twenties, but I was from Philly so I wanted Philly to have a camp like that. I started in 2008 and it was originally a one-week overnight camp in the summer; we’ve now expanded it out to a year-round program. I modeled it after Camp Oh-Neh-Tah, run by the Girls Vacation Fund in NYC.
JB: How did you discover the site to host the camp?
AB: Truthfully, between 2007 and 2008 I spent a lot of my weekends renting cars and driving around Pennsylvania and New Jersey looking at camps and other public parks to see if I could run a pilot program. I got lost and I ended up on the New Jersey School of Conservation campus. It looked so beautiful, I thought ‘Oh my god, this is what I’m looking for!’
JB: What was that first year of running Camp Sojourner like?
AB: It was a rough road in the beginning. The joke was that we were throwing the ball long and running to catch it. This [the camp] was something I used to just do on nights and weekends, instead of having vacation time. I was at the Freire Charter School and then I worked at Rutgers Camden as an adjunct faculty member; I was also working at White Williams Scholars, which is now called Philadelphia Futures, with low-income, high-achieving Philly public high school students. In 2007, I applied for the New Beginnings nonprofit incubator program through Resources for Human Development so we could start raising money. We still had to raise all of our own money but we were able to start right away and get nonprofit status. We had a few foundations and private funders the first year. Unfortunately, the stock market crashed in 2008, so everything burst and a lot of funders stopped funding. We had to cut the camp down to four days and thirty girls in 2009 because of the loss of funding. Now we’re up to eighty girls and a full week.
JB: Ainy’e, you started at camp as a camper–what has your journey been like from one side to the other?
AINY’E CLARKE: In 2009, I saw a flyer on the bulletin board at Cavalry Center for Culture and Community and I asked my mom to go to a sleepaway camp. She basically said she didn’t have camp money; so Alisha met my mom and filled the financial gap and I was able to go the first year and I kept going.
JB: What’s your favorite part about being at Camp Sojourner?
AC: I felt like camp was a space that everybody could realize the resources that were there for them and what fit them. Just representation of how you could evolve in your leadership. I also always appreciated the sense of changing space. Like literally going from West Philly to New Jersey School of Conservation being able to see the stars, being able to breathe fresh air, not hear[ing] sirens twenty-four/seven or the El or the subway. And being able to do things that I might not have necessarily done in the city, like boating or archery or fishing.
JB: What was it like being at a sleepaway camp for a whole week with your peers?
AC: Our bonds were strong. Conflict resolution can be touchy in other environments, like in school. But because we share such powerful insights or ideas or thoughts and we might not necessarily share that in other spaces, the bonds were always like super, super strong. I felt like it was like more like a sisterhood bonding.Photo via Camp Sojourner