The Jean Somerville Kotkin Memorial Fund was recently established by the AEU Board to provide sponsorship support for young people in need who wish to attend the Encampment for Citizenship (EFC). This summer 30 young people, ages 16-17, will take part in an exciting experience in democracy being held at University of Illinois in Chicago, June 30-July 20. Jane Sapp, nationally-known artist and cultural worker, will serve as Program Director. To donate to the Jean Somerville Kotkin Memorial Fund, please send checks made out to the American Ethical Union, with “EFC–JSK Memorial Fund” on the notation line, to 2 West 64th Street, Suite 406, New York, NY 10023.
The EFC came from the Ethical Culture Movement in 1946 and has always been strongly linked to the values, beliefs, and Leaders of the Movement for the past 68 years. As Algernon Black, former Leader of the York Society for Ethical Culture and co-founder of the Encampment said, “It is one thing to teach about democracy and citizenship. It is another thing to learn by living it.”
The idea for the fund was initiated by Jon Kerner (EFC ’65) and Beth Kotkin (EFC ’69) in memory of their mother Jean Somerville Kotkin. Jean, who served as the first female Executive Director of the American Ethical Union in 1976, and the first female Senior Leader in the New York Society for Ethical Culture in 1983, was an ardent supporter of the Encampment for Citizenship (EFC). In the 1960s and 1970s, Jean organized regular charity art auctions and annual dinners in support of the EFC, in response to support requests from her dear friend Algernon Black. Jon Kerner remarks,
- “Now that the reborn EFC is organizing its second year of programming for high school youth, Beth and I felt that it would be fitting and consistent with our mother’s values if we could work with the AEU to build a memorial fund in Jean’s name to support young people in need of financial support to attend the EFC.
For me, at 15 years of age, the EFC experience expanded my world and transformed me in ways that continue to influence me all these years later. For example, I and my fellow high school students in 1965 picked strawberries in California fields with migrant workers being organized by Cesar Chavez; spent a weekend at Synanon experiencing firsthand the challenges faced by drug addicts trying to kick their habit; and were exposed to the contrast of wealth and power with a field trip to Standard Oil of California.
These formative field experiences, combined with the opportunity to exchange ideas with my fellow Encampers, who saw the world very differently than did I (guided by the faculty), led to my lifelong professional work and volunteer efforts to address the social determinants of health disparities and to try to redress the societal inequities that remain a challenge today.
Encampment alums leave their summer experience knowing it’s possible to live in a true democracy and they come to care deeply about issues and people they never would have known otherwise. This is the power of the Encampment: You know a better world is possible because you lived it, and you go out into the world finding ways to take your Encampment experience and translate it into working for a more just and equitable world wherever you go.”
This summer’s Encampment will be working with local progressive organizations, including the Institute for Social Justice and using Chicago as a laboratory to look at issues such as: the labor movement past and present, community organizing, violence and criminal justice, and art and music as vehicles for social justice activism. Youth from across the country–-from urban, suburban, and rural settings, and from a variety of racial, ethnic, and tribal backgrounds–-will live and learn together during this unique program. Learn more at encampmentforcitizenship.org or call us at 831-515-6775.