Ashton and her family.
“I’m the only Black person in my class.” “So am I.” “But it doesn’t matter, my classmates don’t care. I don’t care. I have good friends.”
“But one of the hardest times they had at school was a heritage project. They’re adopted. They know they’re from Africa, but we don’t know what country. They couldn’t trace a family tree or present about their ancestors. In fact, part of slavery and the African American experience in America was to erase their past, to make them less than human. The project seems harmless enough, but not for people of color, not for these boys.”
“Anyone who knows our family knows that we always bring the party. We have larger-than-life personalities that occasionally get us into trouble, but always make life fun. Our personalities also come with extreme passions and loud voices to bring justice and equality into this world.
“While we have always been vocal and persistent to show love and justice, these past few weeks have given us the incredible opportunity to stand with our friends and family on a greater scale.
“On our way to a second protest, (each of the boys carefully holding their hand-made Black Lives Matter signs), our youngest looks up at me with a confused expression. He innocently asks, ‘Wait, didn’t we just do this? Why do we have to go back and tell people again? Didn’t they hear us last time? Why didn’t anything change?’
“I was struck. How do I answer him? How do I tell him that even the people who love him are still making excuses about why they can’t change? How do I tell him most people are forming their opinions based on what the media and people who look like them say, and not taking time to talk to a person of color? How do I tell him that he will face an entire lifetime of fighting like this just to be seen and safe, and that it is something that I will never fully understand? How do I tell him that no matter how loud you are, people afraid of change or confrontation will always be louder?
“It is incredibly humbling to say this is not a new conversation that people of color have with their children. As a white woman and their adoptive older sister, this is a glimpse God has given my family that we otherwise would have never had. My eyes did not open like this until the boys came into our lives. It is okay to own where you were and continually strive to be better. Be willing to listen. While love is always the answer, you cannot love someone without learning them first.
“If we could share one message it would be this: if you have heard the call of love, feel the knock in your heart that this is not right. Then be willing to change yourself. Your day-to-day life is different from theirs. How? Your vote matters. You have power that they don’t have. What you do with the power and voice you are given by society matters. Think back on your family’s day: Did you talk to people who look like you most of the day? Did your children play with other children and watch tv with those who look like them? Add diversity into your everyday life. Being intentional is critical because change happens in closeness. Be in tight proximity with others who have different life experiences than you, because when you are in love with people who are suffering, you will find it impossible to sit back.”
The portraits of Ashton, Chase, and Ashton's family and their words are part of my project to show how Columbus is responding to and working through the current national protests in support of Black Lives Matter.
The young boys in these photos are Ashton's brothers. Ashton's mother and father adopted them years ago. Chase and Ashton recently married, and they help care for the boys over the summer. Ashton is also a legal guardian of the boys. She's also an elementary school Special Education teacher, so her summers off allow her to help care for her brothers. Ashton jokes that "it takes a village." Yes, it does, and they have an amazing village.
In addition to creating the portraits for the project, I have asked participants to “donate what you can” for each portrait sitting. Donations will benefit the Equal Justice Initiative, a national organization directed by Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy.
(If you’re interested in donating directly to the organization, you can donate here.)
As of this post, the project has donated $940 to EJI.
Thank you, Ashton, Chase, and everyone who has joined the project. To join my project, please send me a private message or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I want to tell your story next.
To read more about the project and to see a list of all the sessions, please click this link.