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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

In A World Of Hurt, This Is Our Commitment To You

I woke up last week with a start in the middle of the night and could not sleep again.

What I have heard from campers and staff in the past week has shaken me.  Please read this all.  There is not a call to blame, but an ask for help.  From each one of you.

I have received the calls and emails from staff and campers expressing fear of what their future looks like because they are a person of color, a Muslim, an LGBTQ person, a female, and they have had hateful rhetoric – and in some cases, acts –  aimed directly at them.

For those of you who are excited about the election results, I know you to be kind and compassionate people from my time getting to know you through my 35 years at TLC.  You have a voice like no others, because yours is the voice of the majority in all three branches of government now.  Please use that voice to stand up against speech and actions that hurt our campers and staff. This country needs your voice now more than ever.  You have played tennis here at camp beside people of different religions, races, sexual orientations.  You have laughed together until you’ve cried and sung goofy camp songs together.  And we have all found out our similarities are much more striking than our differences.  Please spread this experience to those you know who may still be afraid of our outward differences.  We all hold biases that we are not proud of (I know I do), regardless of political affiliation, but we can rise above them together.  If we are brave.

For those of you who feel deeply concerned by the election results or fear for your safety, please know you are not alone.

When voices of power in this country speak the language of hatred towards Latinos or blacks or Hmong or Native Americans, we will speak of beauty, and of our retreat campers, half of whom are people of color, are full of laughter and integrity, and work tirelessly, many desperately trying to catch up to the same American dream most of us never think twice about being able to achieve.

When voices of power speak the language of fear of Muslims, we will speak of love, and our camper in her hijab whose smile drove out all fear, whose love brought us together, and who spoke compellingly of the insults and venom she faces each day being an American Muslim, and who still stands unbowed by the forces against her.

When voices of power speak a language that silences women through words, assaults, and demeaning acts, we will speak of courage, and the girl campers who rose up against me at our first retreat camp this fall in an exercise where I said the class could not tell the story of their mothers to the group, only stories of their fathers.  When a girl in the group challenged me and asked why, I said “Because I said so.  I am leading this class, I am male, and I have the power.”  The girls said, “You do not.  We want to tell our mothers’ stories, too.”  And they took over the class and told their stories.  The boys did not join in.  Afterwards, I asked them “Why?”  They said “We thought you would get mad.”  I said, “The girls spoke up knowing the same consequences might await them as you feared awaited you.  Unless we have all of us speaking up, this will not work.”  Where are the boys?

When voices of power speak of their fear of the LGBTQ community, we will speak of endurance, and about our staff members and campers who are gay and have endured years of persecution for being who they are.  We will not let them endure that alone.  We have come too far for any of us to stand alone.  We will demonstrate that the complexity and mystery of love has room for us all.

When anyone – be it the President of the United States or a child in school who has not yet learned the unifying power of inclusion – attacks, ridicules, or speaks words of hurt to our staff or campers for their religion, gender, sexual orientation, race, or creed, we will not remain silent.  We will stand up and speak out.

United we stand at TLC.  Regardless of political affiliation, we do not just tolerate others’ differences, nor do we just accept others’ differences. We embrace others’ differences.

Because “they” are us.  At Tennis & Life Camps, we will never forget this.  This is our commitment to you.


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