It was awe-inspiring, and yet sort of unsatisfying. We saw familiar and new faces of Seeds from around the world, but in a 5-by-5-inch grid from often fuzzy screens as the Zoom-based session of the 2020 Seeds of Peace virtual camp began.
A short while later, lying around each of us on our kitchen tables, beds, and bedroom floors were eight small scraps of paper, upon each we had previously written an important part of our identity (such as race, sexuality, or religion). As guided by our facilitators, we discarded the pieces one by one until we each held just one piece of ourselves.
What was left prompted a profound dialogue on identities and our values. Even though we have both been on almost-daily Zoom calls since COVID-19 entered our lives in March, we had never experienced something on a digital platform that felt so connected to our own space. And that was just the first day.
For the week in August that made up the virtual camp, we engaged in deep and vulnerable dialogue sessions, complex discussions regarding race, and workshops on public policy and design thinking. Having previously attended Seeds of Peace Camp in Maine, all of the participants were familiar with delving into deep topics, and then moving on to the other aspects of Camp—the songs, the games, the bunks, the lake—a combination that makes for an unforgettable experience.
But what felt so awing about virtual camp was the conclusion of it all. There were no hugs or shared physical space after dialogue sessions where we could regroup and decompress together. And when it ended, there was no running across The Field to wave goodbye to departing buses, or savoring the last dewy lineup with each bunk’s arms around each other. On the final day of virtual camp, it simply wasn’t the same clicking out of the Zoom tab and closing our laptops shut.
And yet, we were left wanting more.
Upon a few FaceTime calls afterwards, we connected and reflected on how magical this week was. A lot of the magic had to do with the fact that when we were engaging in deep dialogues and workshops, we were at home—a few of us in bed, many of us at a desk, or perhaps outside. Virtual camp has empowered us, and we’re sure a greater part of the Seeds community as well, through radically empathetic dialogue—all of which happened over Zoom.
Zoom is the same platform that many of us engaged with in the months of remote learning for school. We think it’s safe to assume that virtual video platforms, including Zoom, are familiar with all of us at this point. Yet in this familiar space, we have never engaged in deeper or more challenging dialogue. This feat is an excellent example that dialogue exists beyond Dialogue Alley and The Trophy Room, and we have a responsibility to extract it from that one place, especially now that we see it is possible.
Both of us, Danielle and Martine, are passionate about bringing dialogue into our own communities and have done so through creating and leading local programs, online classes, and student organizations.
Throughout this summer, Danielle co-created and co-facilitated an online class about anti-racism that was attended by fifth- through seventh-grade students from across the U.S., and recently co-facilitated her school’s leadership retreat to train other students on identity-based work, particularly grounded in dialogue. Up next, she is constructing an antiracism class by and for teens from around the world.
Martine has been working on a summer project with the Living Room Conversations organization to connect high school students, including many Seeds, through 90-minute facilitated Zoom conversations on topics such as refugee resettlement and race and incarceration. Martine is designing a program with the organization that will bring about a dozen teens together regularly to engage in dialogue and other empowerment workshops.
Many skills that we have learned through our time as Seeds, especially while attending virtual camp, have guided us in these endeavors and challenged us to think more deeply about our local work. In learning about Liz Anderson’s Human Centered Design model, we brainstormed how to more effectively advocate for local issues, including Los Angeles’ public transportation system and Syracuse’s schools. This session implored us to go further than simply talking about issues impacting us and our community. By analyzing the rules of brainstorming and specific how-might-we questions, we were able to understand how to collectively work towards solving these issues at the local level.
Upon leaving Camp last summer we both knew that we had gone through a transformative experience, and there was a lot of work to do in our hometowns and beyond. But when COVID-19 struck our lives, we also felt like it had interrupted our community work, or perhaps made it nearly impossible to do. Virtual camp grounded and re-energized us in this work towards a more dialogue-based and empathic future—a future that we now know we not only can plan for during the coronavirus, but that we must plan for as we reimagine what a post-COVID-19 world will look like.
Danielle is a rising senior at Westridge School in Southern California, where she is the current co-head of Student Voices, an organization for diversity, equity, and inclusion; and as well as founder and co-head of Filipinx Affinity, a student-led social justice space for Filipinx members of her school.
Martine is a rising junior at Nottingham High School in Syracuse, New York. She is committed to reimaging the spaces that students more commonly interact with and that have been heavily impacted by COVID-19. With the Syracuse delegation of Seeds of Peace, she advocates for education justice through the implementation of dialogue in the classroom, especially as we enter a new era of learning this fall.