Build Community. I feel that we've already started a lot of that here in this room and with our viewers that are asking questions and you know, leaving The White House, maybe think about like, what do I believe in? What do you believe in? I think about President Obama and Mrs. Obama saying time and time again, "Once you've done well and reached that door of opportunity, "make sure you're reaching back and helping others." It made me ask myself the question, what opened the gate to The White House to me? Education, you know. There are 98 million girls in the world that don't have the opportunity to get an education. This was really important to highlight in Mrs. Obama's Let Girls Learn initiative. So this is in Liberia and I made reference to this photo earlier 'cause the question was about how do you photograph in some sensitive situations? So to give you the backstory we arrived in Liberia in a rain storm. We drove 45 minutes on washed-away roads to get to the school. As you can see, ...
there's just a dirt floor. There's no electricity in the classroom and it was made, the room was made darker by the passing storm. So you can see there's only, there's light coming from this wall because it's just basically a cinder block wall that's exposed. So air comes through. The light was really, it was really really dark in this room. But I'm always prepared, right? So I have a flash. I could put a flash on to make my beautiful pictures if that was the intention. It that was the reason that we were there. But it wasn't. The reason why we were there was so that Mrs. Obama could connect with these girls and they could share their personal and intimate stories in a way that felt very comfortable. How do you think they'd feel if (announcer blows air) my flash was going off? Everybody in this circle would turn around and look at me, right? And then hopefully at some point pretend not to notice. But we speak a different language. Maybe they would still notice. They definitely would be uncomfortable. I was aware of that. And I was aware about keeping my needs in check, right? So you know, leaning on my foundation of photography, I used all of my skills to be completely still to lower my aperture and to crank up my ISO as high as I could without having grain, stay really still, make a tri-pod out of myself, and in the decisive moment, (takes deep breath) take the breath so my breath doesn't shake the camera, and take the photo. And to you it looks like there's light in the room. But I know there was not light in the room. And I also know from my time as a newspaper photographer, that you never come back with a long line of excuses of why you didn't get the photo. Because when people pick up their newspaper, they just wanna see the photo, and when people wanna learn about Let Girls Learn, they don't wanna just "Oh well, it's too dark," and "I didn't wanna put my flash on "so I didn't take the pictures." No. You figure out a way to take the pictures. And so these girls were sharing, you know, about all of the challenges they have to go through to get an education. This young woman talking about how she has to walk to school. Two hours, each way through dangerous conditions to get to her school that has no electricity and very few books but is extremely proud for her opportunity to get an education. Because she knows what doors are gonna open for her. I mean I was in tears behind my camera just hearing their stories. I mean, they were so excited to meet Mrs. Obama but like, we were totally blown away by them and I'll never forget this day, you know, and thinking about, you know, what I can do in my personal life to empower young women and girls. I love this photo. So this is a group of Turnaround Arts students and Turnaround Arts was a program started under the leadership of Mrs. Obama and it started as a pilot program in five or six schools in the country and showed that if you integrate arts in to the curriculum, not just in art classes, but all day long, empower kids to think creatively. That you can actually turn the school around. So these kids were from the Boston area and they were once one of the lowest performing schools in the state and after a lot of work they became one of the most improved. One of the top schools. So Mrs. Obama invited them to perform at The White House and they performed in the room next door, which is called The Diplomatic Reception Room and they had a luncheon for Mrs. Obama and her guests and the girl in the pink bow, she wrote a poem about not judging a book by its cover and not letting your circumstances define you, and she worked with her community, the other students, to make it into a rap and a dance that they performed. And so after they were just waiting in this room called the Map Room, they thought they were gonna after their performance get on their bus and go back to their school. But Mrs. Obama was so impressed with these kids and after we left the luncheon, you know I'm always a few steps ahead of her, I hear her say, "Where did those kids go? "They were amazing. "I wanna surprise them." Which I'm always like, "Yes!" 'Cause that's gonna make a great photo. So I hear that, I slip in the door just a few seconds before her and she just opens the door (announcer blows air) and says something like, "Hey everybody!" (crowd laughs) and this is the moment, you know? Like thinking about a surprise, how long does a surprise last? (snaps finger) That raw moment, I love this kid's face. (crowd laughs) You know all of these reactions. And you know, I loved photographing Turnaround Art students every time they came to The White House whether they performed or oh we did this thing called a White House Talent Show. You know, seeing young kids who haven't had a lot of opportunity find that spark of creativity in themselves you know, sometimes it's just a flicker at first but then it becomes this effulgent light you know, that they, "Wow, I didn't know", and I was in tears behind my camera because I saw myself in these kids. You know? I didn't grow up with very much money. I didn't have a lot of resources. I didn't have a lot of encouraging voices in my life. But I had art. I had my creativity, I had my imagination. This was the thing that gave me hope that allowed me to dream and opened up doors for me. Even the doors to The White House. So after The White House, (announcer chuckles) I continued to work with Turnaround Art students. Turnaround Arts now lives in The Kennedy Center. So a program of The Kennedy Center and they've designated Turnaround Artists around the country. A lot of celebrity artists and I got to be on the list. (announcer laughs) And so I go around and visit with students and lead them in photo workshops and you know, here we're using frames but most of the time I just use a piece of paper, you know, I just fold a piece of paper in half and rip a little square. Just rip a little square and show them how to use a camera. Because I know a lot of people can't afford a camera. I couldn't afford a camera when I was younger. But doesn't mean I can't be a photographer, you know, so accessibility is really important to me, bringing arts into underserved communities and allowing people that opportunity to dream.