Two weeks ago, 700 people gathered at the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal in the Seaport District to support the work of Camp Harbor View, a summer camp and year-round program for inner-city kids between the ages of 11 and 17. It was an outpouring of immense generosity, and the proceeds of the evening will ensure that Camp Harbor View’s programs endure — this year, our 10th, and beyond.
As is the case with many nonprofits, our benefactors are generous and enlightened. They also lead lives of relative privilege. They have access — to educational and career opportunities for themselves and their families, to comfortable housing, healthy food, quality health care, and many other components of a secure future. They deserve all that they have, and they share the benefits of their success in many wonderful ways.
The world of the families we serve is very different. After having worked with Camp Harbor View families for 10 years, we have insights that we perhaps didn’t have when we began what started as a summer day camp in 2007. We feel that we have the right, and perhaps the responsibility, to share those insights.
By most measures, Boston is a safe and prosperous city. But the world in which our campers and their families live is different. It’s not safe, it’s not prosperous, and it’s not fair.
We know from our campers and leaders-in-training, particularly through their college scholarship applications, that it is difficult to be black or Latino in a white world. We know that they don’t feel welcome in certain situations, and they tell us that racism is alive and well. Certainly, the lack of civility in our culture has been on full display during this election season, but it is painful to accept that much of our local brand of incivility is race-based.
One of our camper alumni wrote in her scholarship application, “Being a brown-skinned Panamanian at school, I grew accustomed to the disgusting racial slurs frequently used against me from some of my white peers. I allowed myself to succumb to the idea that it was their way of ‘joking around.’ Some days I had to tell myself to lighten up, that they don’t know any better, that it was ‘OK.’ It was never OK.”
She’s right. It’s never OK. We like to think that at Camp Harbor View we have been successful in creating an environment that provides a haven from bias and racism and that promotes a culture of inclusiveness. We are proud of what we have done to provide opportunity for these kids, but we’d like to go further than that. We can’t fix society as a whole, but together we can fix our corner of the world.
We all owe it to the mayor, the police commissioner, community leaders, and the parents and kids we serve to join them in a full-hearted effort to make Boston a beacon of civility and inclusivity. Racism is not acceptable, and it won’t be tolerated here.
Sharon McNally is president and Jack Connors is chairman of Camp Harbor View.