We recently had the pleasure of interviewing our two new program directors: Juna Rosales Muller and Matthew Robinson. They join Education Team members Michael Carter, Jane Sapp and Margot Gibney in creating the 2020 summer program. They are dynamic youth educators, ready to engage virtually with Encampers from all parts of the country this summer. Here are just a few highlights of their backgrounds, what inspires them and their vision for the Encampment 2020.
Juna, you come to the EFC with an extensive background in working with young people, environmental justice and the arts. Would you tell us about your formative experiences?
I was born in Los Angeles and my parents later moved to Ojai, California. Both my parents are an inspiration to me. My mother is an early childhood educator who specializes in anti-bias education, children’s music and literature. My father is a multimedia artist whose work and relationships in the Chicano Art Movement in Los Angeles inspired my creative esthetic and community-based ethics. I come from a line of teachers, lawyers and activists. My family home is a place of music, art, tasty food and lively discussions of justice.
At Colorado College, I became engaged in political ecology — the sharing of land and resources across cultural divides. In both urban and rural environments, access to and governance of resources is deeply political. One example is the current global health crisis — people’s lives are deeply impacted by the politics, spatial relationships and communities in which they are sheltering. Finding ways to increase equity and dialogue about our basic needs is essential. We will be looking at many aspects of this in the Encampment 2020.
I have spent the past 10 years working in the field of experiential education, with a particular focus on arts and justice-based education. This included co-founding and co-teaching Spiral, a young womxn’s farming intensive held at Dig In Farm in Massachusetts, as well as working with many other youth organizations. Most recently, I was program director at a nonprofit called Quail Springs, which educates youth and adults about cultivating regenerative human communities.
Matt, what about you?
I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. My parents are also an inspiration to me, along with young people, art and dancing. My mother is a quiet storm. She always reminds me to be mindful of my spirituality, no matter what course I am pursuing. It is like what Jane Sapp said to us about teaching and facilitating: “You can know the policy and the practice, but you need heart and inner peace to make it work.”
I relocated to Atlanta to attend Morehouse College and majored in international Studies. Originally, I wanted to understand cultural politics, diplomacy and the way laws work in a global way, but stepping into a classroom to teach as part of a local field experience changed the course of my studies and my life. I went on to get my master’s from Georgia State in Educational Policy Studies. There, I focused on using arts integration as a framework for school improvement. I loved my experience and, since then, my focus and work have both evolved. I like to position youth to be problem-solvers and creators who can use different forms of art as a framework for social justice. That’s one reason why I am excited about the EFC’s methodology and look forward to applying it in a virtual way this summer.
What drew you to apply to the Encampment?
Juna: I was hungry for the focus on justice and equity while working with young people in experiential, arts-based ways. I trust in young people’s innate sense of justice and want to continue to center their voices. I consider teaching a sacred vocation, and I’m continually learning. It feels both exciting and challenging.
Matt: I’m in no way a traditional educator. It’s a calling, and I have always done well at building relationships, both in the classroom and as an administrator. That said, the four walls of a school are limited. I was looking for a space that would allow me to do what I know and am passionate about: to engage young people with experiential learning and art with a social justice focus.
Juna, would you tell us about one way that you have used arts for community organizing?
I’ve spent the past 10 years working with the questions of how to integrate arts into social justice work. Included in that is the hope to find ways we can share our cultures that make the process joyful, celebratory and meaningful. One example is a project that came out of a teaching internship through the Woolman Semester, a school focused on the intersections of peace, social justice and sustainability. I started leading trips to the U.S./Mexico border — it was a beautiful cross-section of experiences for the youth and for me. I felt compelled to share these stories. I had an image of quilts made up of clothing left behind by people crossing the desert toward the U.S. border. We collected the clothing and I began making quilts that respond to the exclusionary nationalism expressed by many toward immigrants. I’ve been lucky enough to take this participatory project to community centers, museums, galleries and universities in the years since. The project, Mending Patriotism, aims to provide a space for learning and exchange about the issues of border-crossing, human migration and national identity (http://mendingpatriotism.blogspot.com/).
Matt, would you tell us about your experiences with Hip-Hop Education?
I was inspired by a powerful Black female professor of social justice education, Dr. Bettina Love, who is a leader in the Hip-Hop Education movement. At the 2013 March for Education, she spoke, with two students, about the lived experiences of engagement with Hip-Hop Education. I was deeply impressed by their sense of selves and ability to speak publicly. Hip-Hop Education uses music and other forms of culture to affirm identity and create a platform for deeper learning that is culturally relevant to individuals and their respective communities. Hip Hop Education informs a part of my own teaching and research. I have used it to build classroom culture, improve fluency skills in mathematics and English language arts, and strengthen the sociocultural awareness of professional educators.
Juna and Matt, what inspires you?
Juna: Laughter, meaningful conversations, beauty, drawing, working with clay, music and singing, taking walks, planting seeds, cooking, sewing alone or with others. And I’m over the moon about getting to collaborate with Matt! He’s such a skilled person with incredible expertise —and heart, kindness, enthusiasm, appreciation, laughter and affirmation!
Matt: Teaching and learning, working with young people, the fine arts, family, growth, gratitude, and reflection. Working with Juna is a dream come true — we are the epitome of collaboration in terms of thinking things through and creating experiences that are intentional and holistic.
What is your vision for the 2020 Encampment?
Going virtual is definitely new territory for us all. That said, we are excited by the possibilities a virtual program opens up for connecting young people across the country. We are creating an immersive experience that is supportive of the young people’s lives and the social justice issues that engage them. We will use the virtual medium to make connections across boundaries and learn about the communities in which the Encampers live. We’ll focus on personal and community awareness and provide tools for artful thinking and integration. We’ll be exploring health equity issues; community resilience; and understanding ways to work for social justice through local, state and tribal governments.
We hope we’ll also have some fun as we create a network of support and inspiration that continues beyond July. That will include working with the young people through the fall to support their action plans. Each Encamper will identify a social justice issue that they want to address. They’ll receive tools and support throughout the program and beyond to carry out their action plans. Our intention is to continue the EFC’s tradition and adapt to the conditions we’re in with COVID-19, doing our best to integrate the arts and creativity at every turn.