Diversity in What is Possible & in Culture
This is a really really interesting story because as of last year, I just learned how to swim last year and this is a crazy story, it's a whole other thing I'm gonna get into. But basically I went to Mexico with friends, nearly had a interesting near-death drowning experience in Mexico and it, I'm not gonna explain this story 'cause it's so long, but basically it inspired me to learn how to swim. And here I am, I'm like 20, well I was 28, and I was like, oh I thought was a full adult, I thought I could do all things, but swimming wasn't one of those things and I never really tested being a swimmer or anything like that. From New York, there's not a lot of swimming pools period, so it was just like you wouldn't really get the chance. But basically went to Mexico, had this near-death experience and from there I documented it, put it online, and friends of mine who have a agency called Tankproof where they teach black and latino kids how to swim in Louisiana, it's 95 degree weather, it's ...
really really humid and they reached out to me and was like, "Hey we would love to have you come down, take portraits of these kids having their first days of swimming as well as for you to learn how to swim." And I was like, okay that's not too bad, like I'll definitely do that. So I went down there, took these portraits of these kids on their first lessons of swimming. So it was me and like all these five year olds (audience laughing) (laughs) so like in the water, it was really humbling 'cause it was like as an adult you don't come across a lot of things that you don't know how to do that you need to do as a first time and it was like, it just really humbles you. I'm like, "Okay, me and the kids, cool." (audience laughing) You know what I mean. We're both learning, we're all getting something out of this and it was really special. And you can just kinda see from these kids' perspectives it was, they were so happy to learn, I mean that kid is not that happy (laughs). (audience laughing) He's just giving me a model face, okay. But they're really really excited about learning how to swim and for me it was a moment that shared with them. And after I learned, maybe it took like five days, (laughs) I'm pretty bad, I know, it took like five days and I did a talk to them about being an adult and it's okay to learn something new for the first time, you know there's no fear in it. And I was just happy to be able to to be able to tell them that. But basically this really stems into what you see as possible. So growin' up, just like these kids, they didn't have a lot of opportunities to swim, or learn how to swim properly, most times people drop you in water and be like, "Okay, learn how to swim now," but it's a life skill but it's afforded, there's a privilege to it, so it's like a lot of these kids didn't have that privilege so this is their opportunity at that. For me to be able to document that was really really important. Next slide is diversity in culture. Which is really really interesting this was shot here in Seattle and if you're familiar with Ethiopian or East African culture or Habesha culture, this is like, I wanted to show that like you may see somebody and it may be skin deep, but they may have a whole culture, a whole language, a whole like experience that you don't really see until you have a conversation with them, so for me it was really important to capture these young girls who are born here, raised here, but follow in the traditions of their parents, follow in the traditions of their communities, and this is here in Seattle which is a large population of East African people as we know. But it was interesting for me to be able to capture that, you know, Grandma holding her niece, then two kids, and they're gonna look at this and be like, "Well, yes I'm American, but I'm also Ethiopian-American and I should never be ashamed about who I am, what I am and what culture I represent." So it was a really beautiful day where I got to take photos and pretty much nobody spoke to me in English, which was cool but (laughs), like I was able to take in a full-on experience, I was like, "Okay I'm back in Ethiopia right now," my fiancee is actually Ethiopian so that was my whole connection being there. But it was great to capture this memory and show these people like, hey this is beautiful, your culture's beautiful in all types of ways. The next photo, this is from Ghana, this is where I'm from. And it was beautiful to capture imagery of what people see as Africa, quote unquote. So usually you see kids starving, starvation, all these like negative things about the image of Africa. And it was really important for me to capture the beauty within it, which is our culture of wearing kente cloths which is, they all had their difference symbolization based on the occasion, you wear a certain color, a certain pattern, and these are kids again who are probably from like 12 to who are showing their pride in their culture. It was just a beautiful shot, it wasn't planned, I was just like, "Oh my God, this looks amazing." The sun was like hitting the angle at the right time and I was like, "Guys just stand by this tree over here," another prop ish (laughs) and took this amazing photo and they just had this pride and they just exude this like amazing excellence that I was just really intrigued by. The kids on the right are all school kids and (laughs) they're all tryin' to bunch up in a photo, they're like, "Oh I want a photo, I want a photo," and I'm like, "My frame is only so wide" (audience laughing) so I was trying to capture everybody. But it was a beautiful experience and it reminded me, even though I was born and raised in New York, my tie is to Ghana, my tie is to West Africa, what to be proud of, like whatever that otherness that you may have is actually something to celebrate, it's nothing to hide. And I really really found that in moments like this. And the next slide is diversity in who is American. And we're going to this and this was actually featured on TONL, but they're of Native American descent, and they live here in Seattle actually and TONL basically partnered up with the UIHI which is a organization that services Native Americans and Alaskan Native Indians and pretty much we shot portraits of them and not everyday portraits, well it was everyday portraits, but basically what they lacked was the images that they had within their community. They was like, "Hey we love the idea of TONL, but we don't have images of Native American people eating pizza or like driving a car," like everything is like on a reservation or alcoholism or all these extreme stereotypes. So for us it was the opportunity to show bein' athletic, doin' everyday things, being happy. So it was a great great project and one of probably my most favorite projects because in New York there's not a large Native American population so I didn't even know about the discrepancies when it comes to representation until I came to Washington, I was like, "Wow, this is amazing." This opportunity to highlight their stories was a whole other perspective and it really really came out beautifully if I say so myself, I took the images (audience laughing) I'm like, "It really came out nice." It was a great opportunity to represent not just myself but other people's stories.