The concept of the “other,” where participants learn to see one another and themselves, drew S.T.R.O.N.G Youth to my Accompagnateur photo workshops in 2019. Youth affiliated with street organizations and enmeshed in the justice system, and local white youth from more affluent neighborhoods of Long Island were partnered for activities with the camera and therapeutic conversations. Our goal was to connect the groups with their common bonds as teenagers, sharing thoughts and experiences in conversation, and through the medium of the camera, seeing the other, not the stereotypes of offenders and “moral” citizens.   

We led a second workshop in the summer of 2021 to empower youth with gang affiliations and dealings with the criminal justice system. These teens lives are full of deep-seated struggles and inter-generational trauma. These youth are stalked by gangs. The institutions that could protect them are more likely to ignore or deport them.
We sought to improve the emotional health of the participants and tap into the amazing strength and resilience that has brought them from their homelands through hazardous border crossings, immigration centers, to picturesque, but an unstable place on Long Island.

The creative process validated these youths’ perspectives and provides opportunities for reflection and dialogue. With therapeutic methodologies that reinforce photography’s ability for self-exploration, we support these youths to find their voices and shore self-confidence.

The resulting photographs, portraits of empowered youth and the families who support them, were exhibited at STRONG Youth Art Showcase: What 2020 Gave Me, September 3, 2021.









Testimonials





“With My Grandmother”


This is my grandmother, small in stature, but a giant in my life. She is like a mother to me. She helped my mother raise me in El Salvador. I grew up in Canton Sebastian, without the support of a father, where at a young age I was introduced to street life. My family and I immigrated to this country, where I ended up celebrating my 13th birthday at an Immigration Detention Center. These detention centers are meant to kill your spirit. To me resilience is having the ability to see a bright future, even when the here and now look bleak.

—Jonathan Torres





“Generational”


My grandparents came here from El Salvador to look for better opportunities, for themselves but also keeping in mind those who would be born afterward. What's remarkable is that they would think of my siblings and me even before we were born. It has not been an easy journey for them. And it has not been an easy journey for me. I have been through difficult times in my short life. I've been rejected by my biological father, sexually abused, displaced from one U.S. state to another. Often dismissed and misunderstood. I have been able to stand my ground and choose love instead of hate because my grandparents taught me so. I model myself on them, my heroes. Here I am and I am resilient.

—Desiree Romero





“God's Plan”


I'm a man of many words, but countless are unspoken. From a young age, I've had to overcome many obstacles. From almost dying at school at the age of 10 to now navigating the streets of Brentwood where different colors can get you killed, where streets are flooded with lethal drugs. To me that's resilience. Every day putting on a smile in the face of adversity. Resilience already exists, hidden, inside all of us, we just have to unlock it. Look at all the faces of my peers from Brentwood to Hempstead and you will see Resilience unlocked!

—Keyshawn Grenville