IMAGINE A WHITE CHICK...
I'm her... carrying a pro camera with a lens as long as my arm.
I'm that chick who decided to stop randomly, crossed the street approaching a group of young, African-American, teenage boys who were living in the epicenter of the racial protests that, at that moment, was tearing and dividing our city, Baltimore. I could see the apprehension and animosity the teens were feeling the moment I crossed the street. A few scattered, and, from the corner of my eye, I could see a few angry women crossing the street to confront me.
So far, no-one was happy about me being in West Baltimore, their neighborhood.
“What are u doing?” they shouted. “Are you the police? We hate the police! You lost? Are you with the media!? Do you even know what neighborhood you’re in!?”
"Lady, we have nothing to say to you...what do you know?!"
I looked at them straight in the eyes and said, "I may not understand what any of you are or have gone through. But here's what I personally know. My brother was murdered in this city (our city) by a group of black (yes, i will use that term for those guys who decided to randomly chase my brothers car down & shoot him. The Baltimore detectives during that time frame (20 yrs ago) honestly SUCKED because their attitude was 'this happens all the time'! We never found out who did it. If i can stand here in front of all of you not feeling prejudice, I RESPECT our officers in Bmore & hold no ill will toward anyone. I'm NOT automatically making assumptions about you guys, so give me a chance?"
This was not using my brothers death in any personal gain. To me it kind of mirrored a bit of the event that was occurring in our city. Racial divide. I pray one day America will move forward in a peaceful manner.
Not wanting to lament i swiftly changed the direction of the subject. The handful that were now standing around me, I quickly nodded to the dude with a Bob Marley shirt on, and said, “If you really listen to Bob, then you’ll understand why I'd like to talk to you guys.”
You see, I'm extremely passionate about Marley's music. The meaning of his songs resonate with all walks of life. We talked about music for a little bit, then about their neighborhood. We shared ideas, and hopes, before the boys began to let down their guard enough for me to take a few photos of them.
One of the teens I photographed was Dante. The 17 year-old who was wearing the Bob Marley shirt.
I asked if he knew the song titled War. One of my favorite songs.
He answered honestly – that he hadn’t — before more boys joined into the conversation about Bob’s life and music. Soon after, the conversation took a more serious tone – a shift to the devastating events that were occurring in our city. I wanted this shift to happen. I hoped for this conversation. All it took was a connection. One simple connection with another human being. Maybe that individual is the one who can make a difference now or in the future.
My approach was simple: Honesty. Nothing more.
Many individuals have an insidious desire to feed on a myriad of emotions. I, on the other hand, simply choose to feed on truth.
I wanted Dante to listen to the song “War.”
I pulled up my playlist and handed Dante my iPhone so he could listen. I asked him if I could photograph him as he listened. His eyes darted back and forth scanning his friends in hesitation...or maybe approval.
Dante quietly asked “Lady, you know that this is a really really bad place for you to be right now. Right?” I understood. I was a random white woman carrying a camera on a block whose neighbors are used to protecting who they called “their own.” And yet there I stood, alone – in his world, unafraid.
I could tell that they were still suspicious of my intentions for being there. I said “Look, I get it. You don’t know who I am, but I can show you that I’m legit. I needed to show them that I was there for the photography; to capture what was really happening; to document their story the same way that I capture so many other moments and events...in images. I knew that it I was going to have any credibility with them in that moment I would have to do something drastic. I took my iPhone, handed it to Dante who was now waiting for me to prove my purpose, and said "here's my phone. Take a look and swipe through my photo album. This is what I do." At that point I was thinking “this kid has my phone.” My credit cards, and license were tucked in my phone case – and he knew it. He could have ran. There was no way I would have been able to keep up. Nor would I have tried, considering the 30+ kids and neighbors around us. Call me crazy – but I trusted him. He needed to have that level of trust from me, and for me in order to photograph him.
Keeping a protective grip on my phone, Dante looked at the pictures on my phone and loved my work. It showed in his face, and his smile (the boudoir pics were a big hit, of course) and got him to agree to letting me photographing him. I didn’t tell him how to pose. Not once. He was a natural. I say this in a way that encompasses a person; showing who they are — or how they feel. I didn’t know any details about his life, but I could see the good in him.
So there we stood – on a Tuesday afternoon, while our city was still burning from the riots the night before. There we stood— where so many of us cried, felt frustrated, and helpless.
I took a chance. My camera was my shield. My love for photography my cape. I felt invincible.
We live in a country that allows us to express our opinions. We live in a country where all of us are guaranteed, even promised, to have our voice protected. Instead of staying home shaking my head, I decided to use my voice.
God allows me to speak through my camera. I tell stories—our stories- through my lens.
"That until there no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation
Until the colour of a man's skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes - Me Say WAR" ~Bob Marley