Documentary: Space for Hope
"Space for Hope" is a photo exhibition created in collaboration with the Luna Stage Company of West Orange New Jersey and the playwright Amy Hartman . It is being exhibited at Luna Stage in conjunction with the production of Amy's play Mercy and the Firefly. The play touches on a number of troubling social issues including gang violence and at risk youth. The intent of the collaboration was to document some local community organizations that were creating space for hope for local at risk youth,and to profile some of those young people.
For many of us myself included, young people at risk, like the character Mercy in the play Mercy and the Firefly, remain largely an abstraction. Acknowledged in a generic sense but without the spark of specific recognition. For the most part, most of the time, they remain faceless.
On January 25th in the middle of this project, an 18yr old Orange high school student was murdered. Shot and killed at midday on South Center street in Orange a short distance from the school. I never saw his face. Never photographed him. But his death is a tragic and stark reminder that for the young people that I did photograph and for all the faceless others who remain unseen being “at risk” is not an abstraction but a very real and potentially deadly possibility. One they must navigate every day. It makes their hope and accomplishments all the more remarkable.
Over a few weeks I spent time talking with and photographing some young people in this community. Isaiah, the superhero. Marie with the quick smile and her friend Santana, who had her back. The Haitian “Divas” and Marran, the poet and protector. For these kids and the staff members from the community organizations working with them, Jada Gore, Mr Blanco, Ms. LeBron, Brandy and Ms Trisha at The Space at Orange High School, Lorena LaGrassa at the Valley Arts District, for all of them, kids and staff alike, hope is not an abstract ideal, it’s a vocation. Its something they are all "working" everyday. A palpable hope. One with a weight to it. Not the weight of burden but of something substantial. Powerful.
There’s a lot of bad out there. A lot of risk, a lot of violence, injustice and unfairness. There is heart wrenching disappointment and seductive temptation. False truths and false promises, and just plain evil. And all that hope that seems so powerful and invincible can suddenly seem weightless, ethereal like a ghost. Slipping away in a single gunshot. But as the characters in Mercy and the Firefly demonstrate, we are all, all of us more resilient, more forgiving and more capable of nurturing each other and cultivating hope then we sometimes realize.
The young people and the staff of The Space at Orange High School and at ORNG Ink who are featured in this Photo Essay, are proving that each and every day. They inspire me. I hope you see something in these words and images of them that inspires you.