ʺ If we are to reach real peace in this world... we shall have to begin with children ʺ -Mahatma Gandhi-
About my project:
A war is underway in the United States today, with the nation’s youth suffering its most devastating consequences. It is an undeclared war, but it is as real and savage as any of the wars that claim the lives of soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. The casualties of this war come from a thousand bloody battles being waged nightly on the neighborhood streets of cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, Memphis, and Los Angeles. Some victims are gang members; some are elementary school children—innocent bystanders walking to school or playing in front of their homes. Tragically, on average, sixteen youth between the ages of 10 and 24 are killed in the United States every day (CDC, 2009) as a result of gun violence. This is more than the number of American servicemen lost each year in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Chicago in 2010, nearly 700 children were hit by gunfire, an average of almost two a day. Sixty-six of these children died. (NPR, 2011)
Too Young to Die is a long-term documentary photography project, now in its fifth year, which seeks to enlighten the public about the effects of youth violence on young victims, their families, and society as a whole. It is an effort to shake the country's conscience in a way that most mainstream media—hyper-commercialized and celebrity obsessed—no longer do. My interest is to get beyond the headlines, beyond the fear and sensationalism, and create understanding of the true costs that are borne by the victims of this violence, and, in the final analysis, by all of us.
My interest in the epidemic of violence stems from my contact with a family whose daughter was the unintended victim of gun violence. I heard about Siretha White on the news and a week later I witnessed her funeral. She looked peaceful surrounded by teddy bears, flowers, and letters placed in her casket by family and friends. Siretha was 10 years old when she was shot and killed by Moses Phillips, whose intended target was standing in front of Siretha’s home. At the time of her senseless death, Siretha was supposed to be enjoying her own birthday party. In fact, Moses was a member of her extended family; he was the godson of Siretha's mother, who practically raised Moses like her own son.
Since I attended Siretha’s funeral in 2006, I’ve been drawn to the complex issues surrounding youth violence. During this time, I have worked on several photo, text, and audio essays that try to make sense of why so many communities face these problems. So far I have covered many funerals of teens taken away before their time, community marches in protest of the overwhelming epidemic of gun violence, and youth languishing in prisons for minor drug offenses to murder. Specifically, I’ve collaborated with Chicago’s local public radio station to produce a photo essay of the thousands of youth who cycle in and out of Illinois’ eight youth prisons. In fact, as many as 1,300 children and youth as young as 13 are locked up at any time.
My work on these complex social issues has convinced me that many of the kids who end up dead or in prison are products of another enormous social problem: our education system. Recently, I spent several months photographing students at Robeson High School in one of Chicago's most dangerous neighborhoods, Englewood. Ninety-eight percent of Englewood’s residents are African-American and the majority of Englewood families survive on less than $19,000 a year…this is in the third largest city in America. These social hardships are the backdrop of violence in America. Roberson students face many challenges as they enter school; they have to walk through metal detectors, witness fights and they often have no idea how to focus on school work in such a dangerous, volatile environment. Robeson is emblematic of many high schools in Chicago in which only 50% of kids who enter, as freshman will ever receive a high school diploma.
With your support, I will publish a book and a 30 minute video documentary which is already halfway finish. I will exhibit these images in neighborhoods impacted by violence. I will invite the press, politicians, students from high schools, colleges and universities and most importantly my subjects who have become my friends throughout the years.
For the past five years I have been documenting not only the violence that is perpetrated against young people, but also the daily life and struggles of these dynamic communities in transition. They have thought me about the will to live on, and hope for a better future. My responsibility as a documentarian is to translate what I see, In the hopes that other human beings can empathize with these profound human casualties. ”
I photograph what I feel and what I see. I express my thoughts, emotions and passions. It is not only for me, but also for the human race. Pictures do not change the world, they change individuals and that is why I take them. "
Dear friends thank you so much for backing my project for three months I have really learned that there is lots to love out there. You all are special and I really appreciate your kind support. Thanks for making this happen I really appreciate your time and effort.Too Young To Die is supported by: Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation and Facing Change: Documenting America (FCDA).
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