There’s power in stories. Every culture has its own history of storytelling through dance, painting or words. Dear World tells stories through photographs.
The organization, founded by Robert Fogarty, gained acclaim in 2011 at the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, but Fogarty had been snapping pictures well before that.
Before it became Dear World, the program was originally called “Dear New Orleans,” a project founded after Hurricane Katrina. The team asked people to “write a love note to the city of New Orleans,” according to Jonah Evans, the executive producer of Dear World.
“What we found is people were sharing these stories of love and of loss and of hope and of fear,” Evans said.
The project has only grown from there. Evans estimates that Dear World has shot close to 60,000 portraits around the world.
“We’re learning that there are common stories,” Evans said. “Well, you know the first thing we learned is that everyone has a story and we’ve photographed presidents and we’ve photographed janitors, and that desire to share your story and to be heard knows no boundaries of race or religion or geography.”
Dear World visits the Panthers
Bernard McCrary, the Director of the Office of Black Student Achievement, actually participated in a Dear World shoot before at a National Association of Student Personnel Administrators Conference in New Orleans. After the experience, McCrary knew he wanted to bring the program to Georgia State for the Dear World college tour.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to showcase the diversity of Georgia State, but also bring together a great group of people. We really have a lot more in common than people realize,” McCrary said. “I really wanna see people come out and just have open and honest dialogue about their stories and things that are happening to them.”
After a photo shoot from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Dear World staff, headed by Evans, chose five students’ stories from the shoot to present at the storytelling event.
“One of the things that has really inspired me about our time at Georgia State is the resilience and the diversity of where students are coming from and what they believe is possible by coming to Georgia State,” Evans said.
Ashley Brown, a Residence Hall Director here at Georgia State, shared her story of heartbreak. When she was just 14-years-old, Brown’s family was torn apart when her mother was deported to Jamaica, taking Brown’s younger brother with her. Brown recounted how her family went from being middle class to poor almost overnight. Thankfully, her family endured through this and Brown put herself through college, earning not just one but two degrees. Her brother now is an international golf player at age 13.
“It [the Dear World experience] was phenomenal,” Brown said. “I believe in this work and I believe in listening to people. I think it’s therapeutic, as well as needed, so that we can love and understand each other better.”
Jamila Velez-Khader, a freshman at Georgia State, shared her own story through her Dear World portrait. Velez-Khader, who is of Palestinian and Puerto Rican descent, talked about her struggle with identity as she attended a predominantly white high school. She felt excluded and alone, but, because of this, Velez-Khader learned it’s OK to feel like you don’t fit in – to be “the other” as she called it.
“There is nothing to be ashamed about in the mosaic of differences that make the world a better place,” Velez-Khader said.
Velez-Khader went on to describe the Dear World event as a “raw” and emotional first meeting. Her curiosity about other experiences has influenced her goal of talking to one person a week about their Dear World portrait.
“I got to meet four other amazing people and hear their stories, Velez-Khader said. “I think the idea of storytelling is so powerful, especially right now in the digital age.”
Dear World may have left campus, but the stories they pulled out of students will remain. Check out the shoot for yourself and follow Velez-Khader’s lead by getting to know some of your fellow students. You might be shocked what stories you find.
Following Up After Dear World
If you didn’t get a chance to come to the photo shoot or viewing, you’ll still have a chance to see all your classmates in action. Dear World will post a digital gallery of photos within the next two weeks on their Facebook page. There will also be a temporary gallery installment at the art gallery in Student Center East from January to February, which will feature the photos selected for the Keynote Speaker event, as well as several others.
The Office of Black Student Achievement will be hosting a dialogues series called “Hot Wings and Hot Topics.” The series will be hosted every first and third Monday starting Sept. 19.
“We’re really looking to kind of continue the conversation from this Dear World event, of course,” McCary said. “People are sharing their stories, but we don’t want it to just stop there. The dialogue series is an opportunity for us to pick back up with what happened at Dear World.”