A YMCA camp in Michigan has come under fire for a long-running Underground Railroad project. Camp literature (which you can see in this document on page 21) says the activity is meant to "take visitors back in time to the reality of the error of slavery," but many are calling it racially insensitive.
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Two African-American parents told The Detroit News that their children were told to act as slaves on the auction block. During the activity some teachers and camp instructors allegedly acted as slave masters and chased the students on horsebacks.
"My daughter came home after the camp. She was very disturbed, and she told me what happened." Makayla Birchett the mother of a 10-year-old daughter told The Detroit News. "She told me the camp instructors, including some of their teachers, were dancing and happy before they went out to do this slave re-enactment."
Birchett then sent an email to the head of her daughter's school, detailing the "racially insensitive experience" at the camp and revealed that her daughter had been "displaying bouts of sadness."
Regina Crutchfield, a parent of a fifth-grader, also came forward to say that her daughter had a similar experience. "My daughter said she was scared. One of the guys (camp instructors) re-enacted killing a deputy. They should not do that in front of a 10-year-old, and not when kids are hundreds of miles away from home," Crutchfield said in an interview with the school's principal. "If they want to teach black history, they should do that in the classroom."
After the complaints from parents, Mark Fancher, staff attorney for the Michigan ACLU Racial Justice Project, wrote a letter to Kevin Washington the president and CEO of the YMCA USA, demanding to end the program.
"Not only is the Underground Railroad activity emotionally and intellectually harmful," Fancher wrote, "...It also creates a racially hostile environment that has legal implications both for the camp in its role as an educational institution or agent of an educational institution, and for the schools that send their students to the camp facility."
The same day the letter was sent, Brad Toft, the president of the YMCA of Greater Toledo, notified Fancher that the camp would end the Underground Railroad project.
Although leaders of the YMCA declined an interview with The Detroit News, a spokesperson said: "The program was discontinued when we were recently informed of a child who felt unsafe during the experience."
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