There’s power in stories. Every culture has its own history of storytelling through dance, painting or words. "Dear World" tells stories through photographs. The organization, founded by Robert Fogarty, gained acclaim in 2011 at the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, but Fogarty had been snapping pictures well before that. Before it became "Dear World," the program was originally called "Dear New Orleans," a project founded after Hurricane Katrina. The team asked people to
write a love note to the city of New Orleans. What we found is people were sharing these stories of love and of loss and of hope and of fear.
~ Jonah Evans, the executive producer of "Dear World"
The project has only grown from there. Evans estimates that "Dear World" has shot close to 60,000 portraits around the world.
We’re learning that there are common stories. Well, you know the first thing we learned is that everyone has a story and we’ve photographed presidents and we’ve photographed janitors, and that desire to share your story and to be heard knows no boundaries of race or religion or geography.
~ Jonah Evans
"Dear World" Visits the Panthers
Bernard McCrary, the director of Black Student Achievement, actually participated in a "Dear World" shoot before at a National Association of Student Personnel Administrators Conference in New Orleans. After the experience, McCrary knew he wanted to bring the program to Georgia State for the "Dear World" college tour.
I think it’s a great opportunity to showcase the diversity of Georgia State, but also bring together a great group of people. We really have a lot more in common than people realize. I really wanna see people come out and just have open and honest dialogue about their stories and things that are happening to them.
~ Bernard McCrary
After a photo shoot from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the "Dear World" staff, headed by Evans, chose five students’ stories from the shoot to present at the storytelling event.
One of the things that has really inspired me about our time at Georgia State is the resilience and the diversity of where students are coming from and what they believe is possible by coming to Georgia State.
~ Jonah Evans
Ashley Brown, a residence hall director at Georgia State, shared her story of heartbreak. When she was just 14 years old, Brown’s family was torn apart when her mother was deported to Jamaica, taking Brown’s younger brother with her. Brown recounted how her family went from being middle class to poor almost overnight. Thankfully, her family endured, and Brown put herself through college, earning not just one but two degrees. Her brother is now an international golf player at age 13.
It [the "Dear World" experience] was phenomenal. I believe in this work, and I believe in listening to people. I think it’s therapeutic, as well as needed, so that we can love and understand each other better.
~ Ashley Brown
Jamila Velez-Khader, a freshman at Georgia State, shared her own story through her "Dear World" portrait. Velez-Khader, who is of Palestinian and Puerto Rican descent, talked about her struggle with identity as she attended a predominantly white high school. She felt excluded and alone, but, because of this, Velez-Khader learned it’s ok to feel like you don’t fit in, to be the other as she called it.
There is nothing to be ashamed about in the mosaic of differences that make the world a better place.
~ Jamila Velez-Khader
Velez-Khader went on to describe the "Dear World" event as a raw and emotional first meeting. Her curiosity about other's experiences has influenced her goal of talking to one person a week about their "Dear World" portrait.
I got to meet four other amazing people and hear their stories. I think the idea of storytelling is so powerful, especially right now in the digital age.
~ Jamila Velez-Khader
"Dear World" may have left campus, but the stories they pulled out of students will remain. Students can check out the shoot for themselves and follow Velez-Khader’s lead by getting to know some of their fellow students. Students might be surprised by the stories they hear.
Following up after "Dear World"
Students who did not have a chance to come to the photo shoot or viewing can still have a chance to see all their classmates in action. "Dear World" will post a digital gallery of photos within the next two weeks on their Facebook page. There will also be a temporary gallery installment at the Gallery Lounge, Student Center East, Suite 306, from January to February, which will feature the photos selected for the keynote speaker event, as well as several others.
Black Student Achievement will be hosting a dialogues series called Hot Wings and Hot Topics every first and third Monday starting September 19, 2016.
We’re really looking to kind of continue the conversation from this "Dear World" event, of course. People are sharing their stories, but we don’t want it to just stop there. The dialogue series is an opportunity for us to pick back up with what happened at "Dear World."
~ Bernard McCrary
Black Student Achievement would like to thank and give credit to The Signal for covering this story. For more information on "Dear World" at Georgia State, visit The Signal.