Earlier this year, the Community Unity Education Program (CUMEP) in Ithaca celebrated its 16th season. Since 2002, the nonprofit has given local young people opportunities to explore the arts and engage in conversations about social justice and self-awareness through summer programs.
This past summer, the program focused on exploring humanitarian issues like the U.S.-Mexico border crisis and the meaning and influence of anti-blackness. Campers and organization leaders also engaged in dialogue about the importance of black joy and recognizing all people as “100% human.”
The program provides a safe, welcoming space for children and teens to engage in informed dialogue about identity and privilege. As divisive and ignorant language continue to dominate conversations around these concepts nationwide, programs that prioritize intersectional education and social consciousness among young people are more important than ever — especially when education in the classroom fails to do so.
Across the country, the public education system continues to prioritize dominant narratives, specifically white, Eurocentric ones. These narratives often dismiss the harmful implications of colonialism and fail to accurately represent the narratives of marginalized communities. Because children are so quick to absorb available information during their formative years, these narratives can be extremely harmful to their perceptions of themselves, the world and the people around them.
CUMEP’s efforts to actively create spaces for intersectional dialogue outside the classroom is a crucial step toward creating a more inclusive world. Today, when misguided and biased information is so easily accessible through the Internet, the media and public dialogue, these spaces play an important role in bringing light to histories and identities that may otherwise be dismissed. If children learn acceptance and inclusivity at a young age, there is a better chance they will promote these ideals in the future.
Intersectional language and education are more accessible today than ever before, a benefit that educational spaces should consistently recognize and take advantage of. Not only do programs like CUMEP help to bring nondominant narratives to light, but they also introduce children to language that enables them to navigate the world in an authentic, conscious and open-minded way. Young people have the power to change the world — it’s more important than ever to give them the language, skills and mindset to do so.