CHICAGO (SCS) — A Harvard University graduate said it all started with a dream.
It was a wish to bring together children from various backgrounds and races. Now that dream is a reality and it has turned into a summer camp full of fun and life lessons here in Illinois. CBS 2’s Jim Williams explains.
A hundred miles northwest of Chicago, in the cold of early spring, preparations are already underway for summer at Camp Kupugani.
“If it were to be considered a job, it would be a terrible job (laughs) because you work all the time. Thinking of it as a lifestyle or a way to change the world, I mean, it is amazing.”
Changing the world, Kevin Gordon tells us, by bringing together children of diverse races and backgrounds, from big cities and rural communities.
“Kupugani is a place where they can learn to appreciate each other, to appreciate the difference. This is really the world we want to see and we can create it at camp.”
It is believed to be the only private black-owned overnight camp in the country. Harvard-educated Gordan said he got the idea for his own summer retreat decades ago when he worked at a children’s camp in northern Wisconsin.
“I was blown away by the impact this camp could have on the kids. I thought, okay, what do I need to do to one day have a multicultural summer camp? But I realized that I had no money (laughs) and no camp.”
So Gordon went to law school and saved some money. Fifteen years ago, he and his wife Natasha Jackson opened Camp Kupugani in Leaf River, Illinois. Last summer, Matteo Callan participated in the camp and he is delighted to be back.
“Oh yeah, 100% worth it. That’s why I’m going back this year.”
Matteo, who is 13, has learned some important lessons.
“I feel like in my class, like in my house, we all have the same interests but everyone had different interests and it was fun because we got to connect on other things and talk about our own interests.”
Matteo’s father, Paul, said he watched his son grow up.
“You learn so much independence that carried over from that camp into this school year,” he said. “He did a lot more activities on his own and his confidence skyrocketed.”
This year, Matteo and 200 other children over three sessions will share meals, activities and conversations that Kevin Gordon says will make the world a little better in this time of polarization.
“When you really live, work and play together and have conflicts together and overcome challenges together, that’s how you really learn to interact with people or people who you perceive as different from you”, Gordon said. “And that’s the magic we get for doing a Camp Kupugani.”
Gordon said 50% of campers came from the Chicago area and 50% from other parts of Illinois and other states.