2012 - Ongoing
New York, United States
There are an estimated 1.1 million school children in over 1,800 schools accounted for by the New York City Department of Education (DOE). This sweeping statistic has floated in my head ever since I began photographing youth in New York City in 2011. When I began interacting with these bi-products of the Department of Education on the city streets, I became enthralled with documenting the fleeting romances, playful friendships, mischief making and general teen loitering that is so specific to this demographic and yet hidden to the rest of the world. Photographing the authentic New York City American teenager became a point of obsession and distraction for me as I struggled to figure out what kind of photographer I wanted to be outside of my daily assignment work.
While most of the moments I was capturing felt banal and lighthearted, the more I photographed and got to know these teenagers, the more I realized there was so much more going on beneath the surface. These young people are bi-products of a racially-charged urban society and a segregated school system. This small window of time in the after school hours is theirs to take ownership of, making it the most interesting and authentic to photograph.The more I photographed these teens, the closer I came to the systems that are helping to shape or harm them. Beginning with sports teams (football and wrestling) and by slowly working my way inside select public schools, I've become closer to the issue of segregation that has come to define the New York City school system.
According to a study done by UCLA's Civil Rights Project in 2014, New York State and New York City have the most segregated school system in the country. Segregation and inequity show up in various aspects of the school system but have reach beyond the classroom. For example, New York City schools are continuing to be denied Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) teams based on 'budgetary constraints' while the schools with the most white students receive a disproportionate share of the funding. Another symptom of a segregated school system is the presence of metal detectors in schools that serve mostly Black and Hispanic youth. These are just a few of the themes I hope to explore through the continuation of "The After School Project," in the hopes of reminding the public that our broken public school system is in fact not "post-racial" almost as if Brown vs. The Board of Education never happened. If we are to understand or assist youth globally, we must first take stock of our youth right here in the city that most often exemplifies the entire United States. My role and commitment as a photographer is to provide the public with an intimate window into the lives of our country's youth both inside and outside the classroom.