September 11, 2017
Topic: Campus News
Five years ago, Sara Saylor saw a message in a Facebook group for the local Ethiopian adoption community inquiring about interest in arranging a heritage camp for the kids.
After that first successful summer, Saylor, community engagement lead at the Ginsberg Center, has worked with a core group of volunteers to organize Kamp Kurat every summer since.
"We asked ourselves, 'How do we create a really safe and exciting space for our kids to embrace their Ethiopian identity, their black identity, their adopted identity?'" she said.
Saylor's passion for local community engagement began as a student at the University of Michigan in 1995. As an undergraduate, she began a visitation program to expose Detroit elementary students to college students and organized monthly service opportunities for students through Project SERVE. After graduating, she took many different positions working with students and realized she wanted to help students succeed by addressing the systemic inequalities in the education system.
Sara Saylor's passion for local community engagement began as a student at U-M in 1995. (Photo by Daryl Marshke, Michigan Photography)
Her position at the Ginsberg Center allows her to combat these inequities. Her role is to be out in the community as much as possible, whether that's working one-on-one with non-profit leaders or visiting the Ypsilanti Parkridge community center. Rather than doing traditional administrative programming, she's a matchmaker.
"My role has expanded beyond literacy to help connect people in the social sector, being able to listen to the things they're saying they need and figuring out 'How do we help connect them to people at U-M?'" she said.
Outside of the office, Saylor stays deeply connected to the local Ethiopian adoption community. It started eight years ago when she first brought her son, Buturo, to the United States. She read up on transracial adoption and tried to encourage diversity in books and magazines in her house. However, she had difficulty without generations of people before her laying the foundation of what it's like to raise a black son.
The camp has grown to be an activity-packed long weekend. Interested families can enjoy outdoor activities Thursday with an official welcome and ice breakers on Friday. The goal of the entire weekend is to show the kids that they're not alone, in all of their identities.
"It's makes him feel, 'I'm not the only one whose family is like this.' He can look around and see other kids who look like him in families who look like ours," Saylor said.
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The camp welcomes about 200 people from Ann Arbor to Ohio. Heritage camps exist throughout the United States, however it was important to volunteers to emphasize the local aspect of the camp. Saylor has grown close to other families in the volunteer planning group and Buturo even plays flag football with another mom's son.
"Part of the hope is that you meet other families who are geographically close to you and you can keep building these relationships, that the connection extends beyond just camp," she said.
Ultimately, while it's important for parents with adopted kids to offer cultural opportunities, it's up to the kids to decide what makes them feel fully themselves. Saylor cannot speak for her son so if he says he's done with the camp she will respect that. In the meantime, however, she'll enjoy it with him.
"At the end of the night, the kids have learned these traditional Ethiopian dances and they're all together dancing. And just seeing them be in that space together, celebrating where they're from, is always really moving to me," she said.