While half of our rotating cast of characters, also referred to as volunteers and teaching assistants, were in Chad for National Geographic Photo Camp, the other half remained local to put on yet another successful Crossing Borders- Baltimore. Crossing Borders is our regional initiative to help teens who have immigrated to the US, learn more about themselves, each other, and make creative contributions to the multi-cultural fabric that our country consists of, through photographic story-telling. Last Spring, we began working in Baltimore with The Refugee Youth Project, RYP and The Walters Art Gallery. We conducted a six-week program with refugee teens attending Patterson High School, meeting once a week after school and exploring creative writing and portrait photography. One program just wasn’t enough, and with the generous support of the Brook Group, The Walters, a slew of volunteers, donors, and National Geographic photographers, a gala fundraiser generated enough money to produce three additional workshops in Baltimore over the course of a year.
At the beginning of December, we went back to Patterson to work with the students from RYP, for the first of these three workshops. With students from Eritrea, Iraq, Bhutan, and Nepal, some having been in the US for as little as six months, our assignment was simple. Explore the city of Baltimore and it’s people to discover how it may be similar or different to your home and country. Furthermore, since Baltimore is made up of such unique stories and people from many different cultures and backgrounds, they were challenged to write about how they might creatively contribute to this new community, their new home.
There were some familiar faces and plenty of new ones to fill our tiny classroom on the first day. In lieu of doing a six-week format for this particular workshop, we opted for a weekend intensive to more fully engage the students. With winter beginning to rear it’s ugly head, we were lucky to have so many shooting assignments to keep ourselves warm and exploring around the city. The work produced was amazing, and a true account of the open and kind people we encountered in Baltimore.
One of the students, a boy from Iraq, wanted to shoot a portrait of some of the holiday singers performing in Fells Point. He approached the man, asked to take his portrait, to which he agreed, but then asked why we were all roaming around with cameras. The student told him that our assignment was to learn more about this place and it’s people, since Baltimore was their new home. The man immediately wrapped an arm around the student, called him brother, and asked where he was from, starting up a conversation that covered love of family to fellow man. Regardless of the season, our new friend shared with us that he held no hatred in his heart towards anyone, so that at the end of the day he could rest easy, and that was his key to life. His words summed up how we were treated by everyone we encountered in the City of Baltimore- with kind curiosity and open arms. For a city that is given such a negative reputation, and in the midst of bitter temperatures, these students uncovered a warm place filled with even warmer people.