Winner: Eké Williams, San José State University School of Information

Documentary Photography Bootcamp

Problem Statement:

For decades, reduced crime rates, improved poverty levels and better health outcomes have continued to change NYC.  While some neighborhoods have experienced rapid transformations, others have experienced it at a far slower pace.  One neighborhood in particular is East New York located in the borough of Brooklyn which to some, is known as the last frontier as it borders Queens County.  East New York is special to me because I have worked in this community for almost four years.  The community suffers from various socio-economic problems such as poverty and lack of education.  When people are subjected to these circumstances, the quality of life becomes diminished and it shows in their behavior and the kinds of actions they choose for recreation especially for young people.

The term “Youth Disconnection” is defined as youth who are not enrolled in school or actively employed.  The Social Science Research Council reported that the East New York Community has the second highest rate of youth disconnect in New York City with 25 percent of the community’s youth (ages 16-24) disconnected.  As a Technology Training Supervisor at the New Lots Library, I see this problem each day. Our young adults are most impacted by these conditions.  Their desire for education and acquiring skills is not always a priority.  Instead, they resort to a life with minimal instruction and more street notoriety, naively assuming this is all they need to get by. They often fail to realize that lacking necessary education and skills greatly affects their livelihood.

Innovation:

In response to the Youth Disconnect problem, I decided to team up with BRIC, a Brooklyn based media training organization to create a resource that is fun, interesting, but most importantly, educational.  The innovation was a photography class offered as a seven-week program.  The youth would learn the basics of point and shoot photography, learn how to edit their photos using Adobe Photoshop software, and have the opportunity to exhibit their work to friends, family and their neighbors in the East New York Community during the culminating event.  On March 10, 2017, I stood before a panel of judges and an audience to pitch my innovative proposal which would eventually be called Documentary Photography Bootcamp (DPB).  DPB was selected and awarded $7,500 for funding during Brooklyn Public Library’s round three of the BKLYN Incubator program.  The funds were used to purchase 12 Cannon SX500 cameras, a curriculum designed and taught by experienced photography professionals, refreshments and other materials for producing final artwork such as canvases and easels.

DPB was comprised of two groups; a summer cohort and a fall cohort.  Each group consisted of on average 10 participants.  The summer cohort started in July 2017 and was held at the Arlington Library.  The fall cohort started in late September 2017 at the New Lots Library. Both libraries serve the East New York Community.

Aside from providing these young people with new skills and a positive environment for fostering creativity, one major goal of this project ensured the youth develop a love for their community.  This was done through community immersion where photographs were taken in the East New York neighborhood.  The young photographers took images of things around them.  From immersing in their own community, they were able to see things they hadn’t noticed before, and developed an appreciation for their surroundings.  The young people recognized that there are always opportunities to improve their neighborhood simply by interacting with their neighbors, local business owners and conversing with their elders about the neighborhood’s history and how they can help make it better.

DPB proved to be a major success.  The most gratifying part of the experience was its culminating event; a semi-formal affair with hors d’oeuvres, and sparkling cider.  The young photographers invited their friends and family to see their passionate photography.  Sophia, one of the young photographers, was accompanied by her parents.  In addition, her aunt and uncle visiting from Spain were also in attendance.  “”This program was a really great outlet for me.  It was something I could look forward to every week creatively.”” – Sophia, 16 – summer ’17)
Another participant expressed his interest in continuing the program.  “”I really like this class, it was so much fun, I’m interested in a Part II”” – Joshua, 17 – fall ’17).   For a first time initiative, DPB received a lot of great feedback.  The young adults enjoyed the program as expressed through surveys and their weekly attendance.  Their parents expressed their own gratitude saying that their children had access to a free service that was not only educational but inclusive. In fact, quite a few of the parents asked about DPB’s future plans.  The program’s success made it a popular choice for replication at various Brooklyn libraries in 2018.

As a catalyst for change, I am proud to have recognized a need for improvement on a grassroots level.  I was fortunate to work together with a team of professionals who equally share the same interests.  By creating and coordinating DPB, I’ve accomplished not only my goal of connecting the youth, but I also played a role in improving the lives of young people in my community.