This is our third instructor testimonial, featuring Camara Stokes Hudson. Camara graduated from the University of Vermont in 2017 and was an extremely successfully debater for the Lawrence Debate Union. Camara broke first at the 2016 Cambridge IV at Cambridge University, an incredible achievement at one of the most competitive debate tournaments in the world. She is currently serving as an Associate Education and Juvenile Justice Public Policy Fellow at Connecticut Voices for Children in New Haven.
We were extremely lucky to have Camara on our team working with our students, particularly in the Woodside program where she was able to put her Child Development knowledge to work in a juvenile setting. She joined SPEAK as a junior as a way to use her debate skills to create positive change in her community.
“I have known about SPEAK since its inception. I remember when Luke and Jess came back from the BPDI debate excited about the potential of starting a similar program in VT. Watching [my peers] jump full on into a project that a lot of people doubted would have impact or longevity was an incredibly impressive testimony to the program itself…I think my favorite memory, by far, was watching the kids at Woodside do their first full debate. There was something about watching their minds churn through arguments, and jump up excitedly to give POIs that reminded me of how excited debate made me feel when I started in 7th grade.”
For Camara, the opportunity to use debate as a tool for giving incarcerated individuals a second chance represented more than just a volunteer activity to do once a week. It was about the compassion that we as a society show to our most vulnerable individuals and how we recognize their humanity even despite their crimes.
“Society often believes that the only experiences that people should have while incarcerated are ones that help them to ‘better themselves.’ Unfortunately, their idea of what it takes to ‘better yourself’ is myopic - getting a job, stop taking drugs/alcohol, not committing more crimes. These things are all incredibly important, but there is something to be said about also feeding people’s spirits, helping them find something they love, making incarcerated people feel like they can be a part of the ‘outside world.’ For many people, I think that SPEAK serves that purpose. It gives the people in the program a space to discuss and argue and (more often than not) laugh, not as prisoners but as people.”
Even as Camara brought so much to our students in her capacity as a superb mentor and instructor, she has taken lessons from those experiences and continues to employ what she learned in her work today on juvenile justice issues.
“Very often, in advocacy spaces, we do not seek to incorporate the views or commentary of those who are impacted by the policies that we are lobbying for. SPEAK reminds me to constantly question this paradigm. Watching the kids at Woodside and the people at CRCF develop strong complete arguments on high-level topics with little to no preparation is an image I often replay in my mind and use as an example when people doubt the ability for incarcerated people to be involved in policy creation…SPEAK is a wonderful program, not only does it impact its volunteers in a profound way - it actually helps to fill a need inside of correctional settings in Vermont. It is incredibly special.”
We are incredibly lucky to have had Camara to help our students find their voices and advocate for things that they believe in. We know that she will continue to help people reach their potential through the essential work that she is currently doing and will continue to do. We want to thank her for helping to promote Vermont’s powerful voices.