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Recognizing Bias to Work Toward Cultural Competence

At our summer camp outside of Chicago, we strive to achieve cultural competence as an organization, as counselors and staff, and as role models for young people.  Our goal is not to be “colorblind” or to negate differences, but rather to celebrate and appreciate ourselves as individuals, while striving to be a community that continually progresses positively.  Part of being able to be culturally competent is recognition of innate biases that we may have, so that we can act accordingly to adjust or realize our behavior. Check out this link for a great tool to help recognize automatic preferences that you have given certain circumstances.


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20 Minutes in the Day of a Brown Man in America

Today was a good day…I guess. A cop followed me for 15 minutes as I drove from small town Illinois to next small town Illinois…staying 5 yards behind me consistently, while I, wary and weary, locked the cruise control to exactly the speed limit. First 30 miles per hour, then 40, then 45, then 55, then back to 30.

The last time I had been followed for that long for that distance—that time in medium town Illinois—I had locked the cruise to 5 miles per hour above below the speed limit, before being pulled over for purportedly driving too slow. Another time in the same medium town, being followed for a slightly shorter distance, I locked it at 5 mph above and got pulled over for purportedly driving too fast. Both times, other, non-brown drivers were driving faster/slower than my “extremes.”

Indeed, DWB (driving while black/brown for the unitiated) has been a real thing in my life, beginning over 30 years ago during my late teenage years in the US. It had been a consistent, roughly annual event, until about ten years ago–after moving to rural Illinois, when suddenly, surprisingly, the DWBs stopped occurring. (Although it could also be just because I drove less…) It seemed all good until my 1st DWB in my rural Illinois county brought all the helpless, annoyed, frustrated feelings back.

Frustration like recalling a surprising WWB (walking while black/brown) offense in Chicago, as I was walking to the subway before being accosted and thrown onto a police car hood by a police officer purportedly looking for someone who “fit my description.” That insult compounded by the insult of him patting me down and demanding to see what was in my hoodie jacket pocket…a book.

So I suppose today was a good day, since I never actually got pulled over…as the cop eventually turned down a side street. (But my fantasy of my choosing to following him at the same distance went unaddressed, as I continued instead on my travels homeward…)

So today was a good day. A day when I could continue to imagine that life in my rural cocoon means that I might get individual treatment instead of that of a member of a subjugated group. Although the fear I felt by being followed—and maybe about to be stopped again…for no reason…well, no good reason anyway—jumped my heart rate as usual.

(A few days earlier, I saw the movie Hidden Figures, going with white friends who, as white folks, I assume didn’t share my visceral reaction when the African-American characters in the early part of the movie (set in the early 60s) felt significant apprehension when their broken down car was approached by a policeman. So maybe today was a good day for me, not being the early 60s and all.)

Continuing homeward, I stopped to get some gas. My pump was adjacent to that of a middle-aged white lady in a mid-luxury SUV. She made sure to lock her car twice when she went into the store briefly to pay. So maybe it wasn’t as good a day as I’d like.

(Then I looked across the street at a Subway store where, a month prior, a different middle-aged white lady had paid for my sub for no bad reason. That was a good day.)

As I drove away from the gas station, sun shining, the satellite radio flipped through a Kenny Chesney “No Shoes Radio” station; the white country singer playing a nice reggae-tinged song with one of Bob Marley sons. I continued homeward, looking forward to a summer with kids of varied backgrounds coming together at camp and becoming friends. Maybe it was a good day after all.


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Random Act of Kindness Helping Feel that Healing is Possible

An open letter to the white lady at Subway…

You don’t know how you made me smile. When I went to check out and pay for my sandwich, the cashier informed me that it had been taken care of by the lady who had just left the store. Involved in my order, I didn’t really take note of you, beyond seeing that you were maybe 60-ish year’s old and had smile lines on your face.

When the cashier told me my sandwich was free, and why—I turned to the store entrance and you were gone. You don’t know how your simple kind gesture helped to restore just a little bit of faith in the majority of a country that lately has not given me much faith.

You don’t know how you have helped me keep hope alive.

You don’t know how, over the past few weeks, I’ve struggled looking at unknown white people and thinking the worst.

You don’t know how your random act of kindness—a gift of a sandwich to an unknown brown man behind you in line helps me think that we can get through this—that our kids of all backgrounds will move beyond hate and prejudice and self-serving mindsets and get to a place of cultural competence, where all are welcomed.

Thanks for more than a sandwich.


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We’re in this Together

If you’re reading this, you’re likely disappointed that events of recent months have revealed apparently deep societal fissures.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely feeling uncertainty and fear about this country’s future. Even as the holiday season approaches, you may be wondering what new bad tidings the new year may bring.

If you’re reading this, you might be asking yourself, “How can I make my part of the world a better place? How can I address looming challenges that seem much larger than they did only a few months ago (when they still loomed, but not as ominously…)?”

If you’re reading this, you might wonder: “How can I help facilitate more equity, fairness, inclusion, and justice?” You might do this even while bearing witness to increasing real and threatened attacks on loved ones, friends, acquaintances, or others who don’t match the look of those who were powerful when America was “great”. You might do this because you or your friends or acquaintances or your principles or your worldview don’t represent whatever the baseball cap refers to when proclaiming to “make America great again.”

At Kupugani, for over 10 years, we have pursued the dream-become-reality that children of different backgrounds can come together, play together, learn together (and from each other), work together, have fun together, and thrive together. We choose to believe that people are ultimately good and want a world where that can happen. Today, we look at a socio-political climate where that goal is even more important. Now more than ever, we need to see each other not as divided by religion, ethnicity, color, politics, or whatever, but united in our intention to bring people together.

We need your help to continue to do this. If you think that we have done and continue to make a difference, tell your friends and acquaintances; refer others who think that the goal of different people coming together is important. If you’d like to help camp continue as a world changer, let a buddy know that we are here.

As we approach this holiday season, let’s treat it as a time for celebration of the best of human nature, and reflect on our privileges. Let’s recommit to only our best intentions and be generous to those with less—whether it’s less privilege, resources, ability to thrive in a society top-heavy in its distribution of finances or justice. Let’s not give up even when it feels hard. Let’s try even harder to do what’s right, what’s fair, what’s equitable. Our goal need not necessarily be equality, but we do need to continue to pursue what’s just.

Wishing you continued safety, happiness, and health during this holiday season.

-Your friends at Camp Kupugani


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We Need to Know This

We Need to Know This

(by Tirien Angela Steinbach, exec. director of the East Bay Community Law Center, Berkeley, CA)

We got here because of fear and hate and anger – powerful motivators. They drive our economy, our media, our consumption culture, and our laws.

We need to know this.

We got here because of the continued legacy of bigotry motivated by power – real and imagined, held and craved. When people have privilege – even a thin thread of it – equity feels like oppression, and people will clutch that thread so tight even as it cuts them to the bone.

We need to know this.

We got here because we have been fed on a steady diet of spectacle and cynicism and braggadocious bigoted bullies and fear-mongering megalomaniacs and “reality” TV that has created a Grand Canyon-sized cultural divide in our country.

We need to know this.

We got here because we have stripped resources from public education, housing, healthcare, jobs, economic opportunities and forsaken sane and compassionate immigration policies – all of which are required to build a just society.

We need to know this.

We got here because our legal and political systems were designed to protect the status quo and to defend the financial interests of the 1%. Even as we fight to “level the playing field” and increase “access to justice,” we need to recognize the fundamental fact that in our history thus far, law and politics have more often been a barrier or bludgeon than a bridge for most people, especially those pushed to our margins.

We need to know this.

I am still reeling – not from shock but from the unfiltered, raw and naked reality of what we have wrought as a nation. I have not cried because I am too busy trying to breath, too close to drowning in the deep sea of racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia and fear and hate and anger that has led to this day. I can’t yet wrap my brain around what this will mean – for the Supreme Court, for the government, for the country, for our communities, for our families. I can’t yet take comfort in some of the local and statewide victories – the reminders that progress is possible.

We need to know this too, but I am not there yet.

I am not planning my exodus to Canada or Costa Rica. I am not curled up in fetal position under my comforter even though that is where I want to be right now. I am at work with the remarkable people of the East Bay Community Law Center, because we have work to do. We ALL have work to do. And the work will be harder and scarier and more urgent and necessary than ever.

We need to know this.

We need to fight for people and communities and still work to change lives and laws. We need to call out cultural and racial and economic inequality ALL THE TIME. We need to run towards the discomfort that is necessary for meaningful and lasting change and growth – the discomfort of recognizing the ways we are complacent or unwilling to make space for true inclusion and equity. We need to ask ourselves each day, “what am I doing today to create a more just and compassionate community?” (And, as important, “what am I NOT doing – because of apathy that preserves existing hierarchies that benefit me and prevent true progress?”) We need to be creative and messy and hopeful and committed and focused and inspired as we work to change the dynamics of power and privilege in our society.

We need to know this.

We need to align our own intentions and our impacts, and demand this of our institutions. We need to love and support each other and treat people with dignity and respect. We need to be brave in the face of fear and compassionate in the face of anger, including our own. I don’t know how we will do this, but I think that we are prepared for the work ahead… And I still believe that it starts with love – love that looks like justice.

We need to know this.


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Kids Lives Matter

Here’s a link to a recent op-ed piece in the St. Kids Lives MatterLouis Post-Dispatch by camp director Kevin Gordon detailing the importance of interaction among children of different backgrounds: Kids Lives Matter


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9 Ways to Maximize Development of Social Awareness

At our girls-only and boys-only summer camps in the Midwest, we model and emphasize ways for our campers to maximize the development of social awareness. A recent article by Katie Duper has some great ideas on how to raise a child to be socially aware. Bullets below, with the whole article at this link.

Addresdownloads privilege — and do it early.

  • Talk to your child about how these differences often make things more difficult for certain groups of people, and continue to talk about privilege when real-life examples come up.

Make sure your child has diverse choices when it comes to toys, books and TV.

  • Make sure the things your child is playing with and learning from represent a spectrum of identities. If your child engages with materials that don’t promote the values you stand behind, take the opportunity to question, critique and reflect on what they represent.

Use childhood curiosity to facilitate teachable moments.

  • When a child asks a question about difference in public (e.g., “Why is that person in a wheelchair?”), instead of shushing them in an attempt to diffuse the situation (and perhaps leave the other person feeling as if you’re unwilling to teach your child about diversity), address your child’s curiosity in a sensitive way, in the moment. Not only does this help your child learn, but it also shows that you are a strong ally to other communities, willing to teach and advocate even in awkward situations. 

Let your child have a voice — and listen.

  • Don’t let the power differential between parent and child get in the way of listening and learning about your child’s perspective.

Talk to your kids about current events in an approachable way.

  • When current events highlight injustice, turn it into an open, honest conversation. It’s helpful to know what your child is feeling and to ease concerns while still highlighting the issue at hand.

Fill in the gaps left by what isn’t taught in schools.

  • Pay attention to what your child is learning — and not learning — in school. Make time for lessons about heroes of color, LGBT activists and indigenous populations — and that’s just a start.

Engage in service and volunteerism.

  • See which organizations in your area need extra love, but have your child pick what to do. Make your child aware of why the inequalities you’re addressing exist, in order to promote actual social understanding.

When you see something, say something.

  • When you notice something, acknowledge it and explain why it’s a problem. Model the values you want your child to embody.

If you don’t know what to say, own up to it.

  • It teaches the valuable lesson that it’s okay not to know everything, while also stressing the importance of educating yourself.


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8 Ways to Respond to Bigoted Words

As this month continues in recognition of National Bullying Prevention Month, we look at we as adults can respond to situations where a bigoted bully might be acting wrong. Below is advice verbatim from the Anti-Defamation League.

Challenging bigoted and offensive remarks is critical to ensuring dignity and respect for all people. Below are step-by-step strategies that can assist you if you find yourself in situations where such remarks are made.



Explore your understanding of the situation. Take a moment to reflect on what was said and why you consider it to be prejudicial: What was just said?

Do an emotional check-in. Consider your own emotions and if you can respond effectively immediately or if you need to take time to do so effectively.

Ensure your safety. Is this something to which you can safely respond to immediately or do you need to walk away and address the matter in another way? Do you need to seek assistance or support from someone else to intervene? Personal safety is of utmost importance.

Be clear about what you want to accomplish. Know what your intentions are, as they will influence the outcome of any responses: Is this a “teachable moment”? Do I want this person to understand the impact of those words? Try to start from an assumption of good will. Be aware that some people are acting out of ignorance and will respond defensively when told their words have been perceived as prejudicial.


Address your concerns. Whether done immediately or later, in public or in private, consider letting the person know that the words he or she used were hurtful or offensive: What did you mean by what you said? That sounded to me like a stereotype. Do you understand why that was so hurtful?

Engage in respectful dialogue. Particularly when you’re talking to someone you know, people tend to listen better and be more open when they know that they matter to the person who is speaking. Begin the conversation by communicating that you value and are committed to your relationship with the person. Communicate your concerns without accusation or attacks. Assist the person in understanding that jokes, slurs and demeaning words are not minor incidents to the person who is on the receiving end. Listen respectfully to the person, but do not minimize the impact of the situation: I want to speak to you, because your friendship is important to me. I want to let you know that what you said hurt me. I do not like such words around me because I think they are offensive and demeaning.

Maintain Dignity

Hold people accountable. Sometimes people need to hear more than once that their words are not acceptable. Remind them of previous conversations if they resume their behavior. However, recognize too that there is a line to be drawn, and if necessary, let them know that their actions have consequences, in the form of lost friendships or reports to school administrators, supervisors or other authority figures.

Remember your “rights.” Although you do not have the right to dictate other people’s sense of humor or how they speak, you do have the right to request that this type of humor not be used in your presence.

For more tips, go to


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Why We Need to Be Inclusive and Culturally Competent

Everyday, it’s easy to pick an example of a stereotype being perpetuated; we seem to continually forget the lessons of history and repeat discriminatory behavior—and rationalize to ourselves why it’s okay. Today it’s Muslims and homosexuals, yesterday (in historical terms) it was blacks and Jews, the day before interracial couples and Protestants, you get the drift…

At our girls-only and boys-only camps, we exist for children as they are so they imagine the women and men they can become. To do that, we help them celebrate and appreciate their own identity while doing the same for others. “Kupugani” means “to raise oneself up.”  That’s exactly what we do.  Campers of varied backgrounds live, play, and work together–the best teachers of instilling bonds of friendship and trust.  We provide a safe atmosphere where they celebrate and appreciate themselves, while celebrating and appreciating others.  We give them the tools to maximize their potential.culturally-competent

That inclusive, supportive mission and care applies especially when our campers make heartfelt, sensitive disclosures. That critical time is when we must show support, empathy and understanding; anything else can have a negative impact on the child. Especially when a child might be experiencing hard questions, confusion, or knowledge of a difficult situation and has chosen to disclose something very personal, this is a big deal. Especially when many young people do not talk with their parents about difficult topics at all, a supportive trusted adult is a critical resource.

Young people who do not get sufficient support when going through difficult times are much more likely to engage in unsafe behaviors, be depressed, or attempt suicide. We certainly do not want to be a community or organization that contributes to that kind of negative spiral with anyone, much less any of our valued campers.

At Kupugani, a big component of helping to provide a safe environment for all is our striving to be a community and organization that works toward cultural competence. Camp friendships are based on honesty and a deep sense of caring. As a result, campers and staff alike develop the most meaningful relationships–ones that last a lifetime. You learn the true meaning of community while at camp. You feel connected with others and gain respect for each person. We celebrate the uniqueness that each individual brings to camp but also recognize the common ground that we all share. By providing caring, support, and guidance, we maintain an atmosphere that enhances supportive relationships. We also ensure that every camper enjoys the opportunity to belong by providing training for cultural competence, sensitivity to inclusion, programming that enhances cultural understanding and interaction, and recruitment practices that result in diverse staff and campers.

To be culturally competent individuals and organization, we must celebrate and appreciate difference of all kinds, not just those that might make certain folks more comfortable. If we’re not providing an environment that’s open to all, we are not truly open to anybody. As a progressive camp community, we don’t want to be somewhere where that is okay.


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“Reverse” Stereotypes In My Life (Part 3)


There’s a perception that African Americans have only one manner of speaking–reinforced on TV, music, and media.  Ghetto-speak, “Black English”, other derogatory terms are often used to describe it.  In meeting a brown person who does not speak that way, sometime a well-meaning white person might say that brown person is well-spoken or “articulate.”  It may be intended as a compliment, but…if someone were to tell you that you were “articulate,” how would you interpret that? Would you understand that as saying that others of your background cannot speak well? Clearly, that is not what you intend, but that’s the way that it comes across.

So, this brings up the whole issue of what I consider “reverse” stereotypes.  Why are there negative stereotypes about certain African-Americans and not about Caucasians of the same social classes? Why is it so surprising when an African-American is “elooquent” or “articulate” when there are a variety of different accents amongst Caucasians in the United States? Some Caucasians have northern accents; others have southern accents. Some speak with a New York accent; others appear to come from the West Coast. In all manners, no one bats an eye hearing different accents from Caucasians…yet brown folks are all expected to speak uniformly?

Again, I realize my upbringing in a rural, largely Caucasian society.  Since my Caucasian upbringing has automatically marked me as belonging to the “white” society as soon as I open my mouth, I feel like I am more accepted by them than I am by the other half of my heritage. I did not choose for it to be this way; that is just how it is. When the nation starts to accept everyone for their differences is when I can comfortably accept both of my ethnicities. Until then, reverse stereotypes will forever be a presence.


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Kupugani touches on all the core values and enrichment that we hope to instill in our [child]. My husband and I absolutely love Camp Kupugani. Our [child] gained immensely from camp.

Lisa G.

Everyone…was just so, so personable, kind, and the kind of person I want
my [child] looking up to and spending time with.

Laura V.

[My daughter’s] face lights up when she speaks about camp, it’s a priceless experience.

Kenya P.

I have never come in contact with such a wonderful group of people at a camp before. Everyone did an outstanding job, the camp was so organized, it was unbelievable.

Joe M.

She absolutely loves the camp, the staff, and all the friends she makes there. I consider Kupugani to be a big influence in helping her grow and expand her mind each summer.

Luci A.


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