Looking Glass: Jabberwocky Is Heading South with New Camp
By PAUL REMY
Special to the Vineyard Gazette
Jowharah Johnson enjoys dancing and having fun. Her parents frequently take her out. But the 19-year-old African American teenager, who has Cerebral Palsy, does not have friends to hang out with.
In mid-October, Miss Johnson went to Camp Looking Glass in Greenville, Miss., for a weekend. There, she made friends. Some (including myself) were from Camp Jabberwocky - a summer resort in Vineyard Haven for people with disabilities - who had flown from all over the country to Greenville.
The first evening of Camp Looking Glass, we went to a Southern-style barbeque. We ate delicious hamburgers, hot dogs, and barbecued pork grilled in an open barbecue pit. Baked beans, coleslaw and beverages were also served.
A local singer, Jessica Brent, entertained the group with her guitar playing and soft sweet singing, and everyone danced when a blues band filled the air with lively music.
A Camp Jabberwocky counselor, Emma Cushing, said: "The melding of the Mississippians and Jabberwockians was smooth, effective and boisterous as par for typical Jabberwocky excursions."
After a good night's sleep at a Best Western Hotel, we took a step back in time, going to an Indian museum at Waterville State Park. The curator gave us a lecture about how the Indians lived in Greenville thousands of years ago. Some campers asked insightful questions.
Then Jabberwockians and Mississippians toured the small museum, viewing ancient tools and other artifacts that past citizens of Greenville used in order to survive and thrive.
Camp Jabberwocky helped to establish Camp Looking Glass. Jennifer Boyce, the director of the new camp, thinks the camp's name has a connection to Camp Jabberwocky.
More importantly, Ms. Boyce suggested the name is perfect for changing the perception toward people with disabilities.
As though looking through a looking glass, she said, "[People] take a closer look and see something there that they didn't see before."
It's something that needs a closer look, she added.
"They would see the things that we can learn from them instead of feeling that they are always doing something for them," said Ms. Boyce.
After earning her degree in communication with an emphasis on business from the University of Kansas in 2003, Ms. Boyce enrolled for two years in Teach for America to work with low-income students.
Ms. Boyce thought she would be teaching English at Greenville-Weston High School, but instead she was assigned to teach eight students who had various forms of disabilities such as Cerebral Palsy, Autism and mental retardation.
The first day of class was her first time she had any experience working with people with disabilities. Ms. Boyce became very frustrated when she could not understand what some students were saying and didn't know why others had behavioral problems
The new teacher was so obsessed with teaching her students that she thought about quitting. Then she discovered many of her students were not able to learn much of the material presented to them.
"When I became more comfortable with myself, my abilities, my students and their abilities, I started looking at my classroom in a different light," she said. "I started seeing all the things they could do instead of what they couldn't do."
Still, her students were isolated from students without disabilities, which was the case 30 years ago across the country. Also, Greenville is one of the poorest regions in the United States so there are not many services and virtually no recreational programs for the disabled.
Ms. Boyce's students mainly stay home and watch television all day, especially during the summer when there is no school. Only some parents such as Jowharah's can bring their sons and daughters with disabilities out to social events, Ms. Boyce noted. But parents need a rest from their daily caregiving.
A small group of Jabberwockians journeyed to Greenville in April to assess the situation and determined that a Jabberwocky-style program could be established there.
Jabberwockians and Mississippians immediately got the ball rolling to start the new camp.
"Racially, there have been no issues with the parents who are getting involved and I think that is because no matter the race, they share the fact of taking care of a child and have many of the same struggles," Ms. Boyce said.
Greenville's population is 69.6 per cent African American. Back in the 1960s, Gillian Butchman, co-director of Camp Jabberwocky on Martha's Vineyard, felt negatively toward the South because of its racial segregation.
But she gained great respect for the South during her stay in Greenville, noticing its caring and intellectual culture.
"In Greenville, we felt from so many [including rich and poor, black and white, religious and non religious] a huge generosity and caring towards us as an intentional group of friends with and without disabilities who wanted to expand into the Delta the kinds of activities we had joyously participated in at Jabberwocky," she said.
Camp Looking Glass has a ratio of five black campers to four white campers.
Many in the Greenville community are supporting Camp Looking Glass. For example, the Kings Daughters Hospital and Delta Regional Medical Center donated the food, and Pepsi donated the drinks for the barbecue.
Best Western reserved 35 rooms at a reduced rate of about $49 per room and was eager to accommodate the camp.
"They were wonderful and called just to stay in touch and make sure that we had everything we needed," Ms. Boyce said of the hotel.
The afternoon before leaving for home, we worshipped at the Salvation Army Church. The congregation enthusiastically sang and danced to gospel music. Ms. Johnson was so excited while dancing in her wheelchair that she inched herself toward the altar.
Several times, another parishioner had to push her back. The Camp Jabberwocky Chorus sang Down By the River to Pray beautifully. The church served Camp Looking Glass a chicken dinner after an uplifting spiritual sermon.
Camp Looking Glass is now planning a two-week session in June, and Ms. Boyce foresees the camp attending the Salvation Army Church.
"I think [the Church is] excited working with us, and there are people who want to volunteer to help out with the summer camp from there," she said.
She is also delighted that many other organizations and individuals are supporting Camp Looking Glass so it can grow to provide recreation and establish friendships between people with and without disabilities.
Paul Remy is a freelance journalist who lives in Fall River. He has been attending Camp Jabberwocky since 1962. He uses a head wand to pursue his writing craft.