Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Giving back

"Alone in the hallway, a lost student attempts to reduce the sunlit glare of the second level floor with her hand as she tries to locate a classroom at Patapsco Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore City on Monday morning."

Photography is a dream job of mine, but photojournalism is even bigger dream. On Monday, I was reminded of the wonderful people I often get to meet that willingly let me into their lives and sometimes show what they offer to the world.

Although it was an assignment many photojournalists have had, it's a refreshing one that we often over look.

On Monday, I ventured down to Patapsco Elementary/Middle School to sit in with Margaret Hoffer's first grade class where Stacy Justice, a Towson student, student teaches. The story wasn't so much about the class, teacher or student teacher, but the overall partnership between Towson University and Cherry Hill.

According to Towson University's Web site, "The Cherry Hill Learning Zone initiative represents a partnership among the Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore City government, Towson University and Cherry Hill's grassroots organizations. Working together, the partnership is leveraging its resources to build upon the strengths of the Cherry Hill community to meet its needs and nurture its potential in areas related to community development, economic development and educational development."

Cherry Hill is not a neighborhood in Baltimore City one would want to visit on a Saturday afternoon. With the majority of the households head by single females, with an average annual income of under $20,000, Cherry Hill has the highest concentration of public housing in Baltimore.

With the partnership, Towson University students are given the opportunity to intern at the school and give back to the community by improving the quality of life of its residents and youth.

I had driven through Cherry Hill with my brothers and father when in my teens and I knew it wasn't a safe place to be raised. So when I got to the classroom Monday morning, I wasn't expecting mid to upper class students like those in Harford County where I grew up.

The students were so energized to see someone new in the classroom, but once I hung out for a bit, most, if not all of them ignored me when they became comfortable with my presence.

It was endearing watching them sing, dance and learn throughout the day.

When the class and teachers went to lunch, I walked the halls alone. I witnessed a fight and more than a dozen students who just wanted their picture taken. Many of them were thrilled to see a photographer and wanted to talk to me.

When I was waiting for the class to come back and unlock the room, the (above) girl kept looking around lost. She kept trying to block the glare of the sun when she gazed down the hall, so after I snapped her picture, I asked if she needed help. Although I didn't know where she needed to go, I was eager to help her and not make fun of her for being lost.

Being at Cherry Hill and in a first grade classroom for half a day made me realize how important teachers are, and how they can make a difference in children's lives. They are enthusiastic about giving back to the community and helping children succeed, even if the students are from an unfortunate upbringing.

It then reminded of those who aren't afraid to give advice to a young kid adult like me. There are some people who don't want to give back to the photojournalism community because they're too concerned with their own lives and being better than you.

Those indisposed to help shape the community positively often miss what their job is really about. It's not about making money, being the best shooter or knocking your competition out cold. It's about making a difference for the greater good and giving back to help mold aspiring photographers into successful story tellers.

Imagine what the world would be like if teachers didn't give back to students and only cared about themselves? What if they, instead of helping a student, mocked them and betrayed them? It would give a bad name to teachers and diminish the chances of producing talented, educated students.

The same goes with photojournalism. If a photographer is unwilling to give back and is only concerned about their competition, what’re they doing for the community other than killing it slowly? It really goes with any profession.

As for these children at Cherry Hill, they are getting the teaching they need and deserve. I probably didn't make a direct impact on these children’s lives, but at times when I wasn’t shooting, I took the time to help, interact and socialize with them.

For myself, I am fortunate enough to have those in the journalism industry, friends and other photographers take an interest in me, with hopes to help guide me in the right direction. Sure, we all can name a few bad apples that may try to hold us back for being what we want to be, but I doubt they are happy always being negative.

When I left Cherry Hill Monday afternoon, I quietly told the Ms. Justice I was leaving and thanked her for allowing me into the classroom. As I headed for the door, a little girl said, "Mr. Patrick, are you leaving?" Before I could even say "Yes," the students got out of their chairs and hugged me. One little girl even said she wanted me to be their teacher. It made my day.

It’s the little things that make us optimistic, like: these students displaying a strong effort in school, even if they come from troubled homes, the children appreciating me for who I am and the tiny bit of influence I had on them, and seeing what teachers do on a daily basis by inspiring students and giving back to the community.

These things sometimes make your smile and realize that you’re happy and life is good.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very poignant essay. :-)


Wednesday, March 19, 2008 5:17:00 PM  

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