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This is Not Your Usual Summer Camp

Steve Burger

A summer camp prompted by the unrest in 2020 over racial inequity is proving successful enough that organizers are looking to expand the program.  

I first reported on the camp back in May, when it was still just an idea.

Founder Kaymi Butler remembers where the idea came from. She said,  “Black Lemonadewas founded in 2020, in response to the indifference in the world. Communities were clashing. ‘Lotta people weren’t gettin’ along.  I had a friend come up to me and say, ‘Hey Kaymi, we need to do something.’ I said yes, but that something needs to be continuous.  So I was literally in the Dollar Tree where I was having this conversation with her, and I saw this stand of lemons. The thought came to my mind, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. So, that’s how I came up with the name, Black Lemonade.”

Credit Steve Burger / WNIN-FM
Law school student Kaymi Butler is the founder of Black Lemonade.

The camp is hosted by the Boom Squad of Evansville. The events of 2020 may be what spurred her to organize the camp, but the driving force in Butler’s life is deeper than that. This is also very much a story of redemption. We’ll get back to that in a minute.

I caught up with Butler and thirty of her campers, kindergarten through sixth grade, at the Vanderburgh Humane Society. The Black Lemonade visit was the first tour at the VHS shelter since it closed in March, 2020 because of the pandemic. Education coordinator Cyndi Hoon-Donley and a volunteer were answering rapid fire questions from the eager campers.

The tour took the kids through the small animal areas and the kennels, where they fed treats to the dogs. Butler explained how the visit fits into their overall theme for the camp.

“So far, we have learned about four super heroes," she said, "This week, we’re going out into the community and becoming superheroes for our community, finding the needs of the community and then finding a solution for that.”

Burger: “Why is that important?”

“I think it’s very important to instill in them that, as a community member, your work is never done. It is very important to be proactive. It is very important that you see what you want to go on in your own community.”

Credit Steve Burger / WNIN-FM
VHS Education Coordinator Cyndi Hoon-Donley talks with the Black Lemonade campers during their visit.

VHS education coordinator Cyndi Hoon-Donley says kids do have  the ability to address the issue of unwanted pets in the community.

Burger: “What superpowers do you think a kindergartner would have that could add to this somehow?”

Hoon-Donley said, “Oh my gosh. I mean with kids, their enthusiasm and just their love for animals and people. Their wanting to give and their selflessness. Little kids really want to help and really want to make a difference. And they can.”

Did the lesson about becoming a superhero work? For twelve year old Landon Willett, the answer is yes.

Burger: “Did you learn anything here today about what you could use your superpowers to address?”

“Changing diversity. Everything is different. Like an albino rat versus a normal rat.”

Burger: “Alright, so what else did you learn today?”

“That you should treat all animals and people with respect.”

For ten year old Kenn Connors, the superpower lesson was a little less clear.

“I learned about animals and stuff, like the hermit crab," he said, "I didn’t really learn much but I did get to see them.”

So, a mixed result on the superpower lessons, at least for now. But if you ask Butler, that’s OK. She knows that a single day at the Humane Society is just one step on the overall path to understanding. Here’s where we get back to redemption.

Burger: “Why are you doing this?”

“I myself was a very rebellious child. From sixth grade to eleventh grade I got suspended for physical altercations actually, in school.  (I was) Going through some things in my personal life that I didn’t really understand how to cope with and that was my choice. Landed me in a lot of big trouble. Once I moved to Nashville, it was a big cultural shock for me because there was so much diversity and inclusion. I had never seen people of color, so many people of color, people who look like me, in a state of progression. So, to come back home to the community that raised me and knowing that I struggled with diversity and inclusion, it was a no brainer to make sure that I provide something for kids that were like me.”

Credit Steve Burger / WNIN-FM
From left, Symphanie Haskins, Konan McBride, Ryan Simmons, Samyus Mitchell, Malia Bard get up close with a rabbit at the VHS shelter.

Butler says plans are in the works for a second year of Black Lemonade in Evansville and they want to expand to Nashville where Butler is a law school student.

“I always told myself that if I can just help one, then my job is complete. I know for me, when I decided to be more proactive and a more respectful community citizen, everything that anyone in my village told me, came back. So I was able to remember the advice that was given to me on right and wrong and the encouragement that was given to me. So, even if I say something now to them, they’re gonna’ remember once they start changing their patterns and their life. The Bible says- I’m a very faith-based person, train up a child in the way they should go and they will not depart. And it doesn’t matter at what age. So, if I tell ‘em today, they might remember what I say (in) ten years and that’s all that counts for me.”

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