I was sitting in the house Friday morning when I scrolled through my Facebook feed to find that protests were beginning after the failed conviction of former police officer Jason Stockley for the murder of an unarmed man. I saw many of the people I’m connected to posting about how they were either downtown protesting or asking how to support protesters with supplies. Having taken the day off I was free to go downtown and join them but I didn’t. Instead, I spent the entire day, from sunup to sundown, thinking and writing. This thinking brought me to the fact that I view myself as one who seeks solutions to the core issue as opposed to being a reactionary. Rather than run out and protest I’d rather find a way to prevent the need to protest in the first place.
It was later that evening when I remembered a request from my friend Gabbi to volunteer at 6 a.m. the following morning [Saturday] to help with setting up for Conscious Fest, a festival that builds and promotes positive images blackness. I’m not a morning person at all which is why I didn’t give her a straight answer when she first asked. However, I did plan to volunteer, just later in the day when I would free from having to engage with the early AM.
After seeing all of the hurt and anger that was being expressed regarding the verdict I myself began to feel a sense of frustration, not at the verdict, but at the fact that this has become an all too familiar routine for black people. I was frustrated that I have to continuously discard my happy feelings for the day in exchange for rage because we continually face every form of discrimination that the so called color-blind population swear no longer exists. Every time we see that first post about an injustice we know what time it is. Even if you don’t consider yourself politically active you are dragged into these feelings by the world around you.
This intensifying frustration lead me to a place of wanting to contribute, not towards tearing down the city in protest, but building up something else that will support our people. This brought me back to Gabbi’s request for volunteers. As much as I resisted getting up at 4ish in the morning to make it to the Conscious Fest setup on time I decided that it was something I needed to do, so I made that commitment.
My decision to go beyond my already planned level of volunteering lead me into a 12-hour day that ranged from moving and setting up tables three hours before the event to staying an hour after to help with cleanup. Most photographers who volunteer their services simply do so in the capacity of a photographer which is capturing images. I did more than that because I realized that as important as it was to document such an event it was just as important to contribute towards its existence. This philosophy possibly gave me one of the most unique perspectives of Conscious Fest and I’m grateful for having experienced it in the way that I did.
What did I get from an experience that I both photographed and volunteered for? I got a true sense of what it takes to build a movement, literally from the ground up one table at a time. Many people show up after the movement has already been constructed and let their social media accounts give them credit for their presence but I had the opportunity to be there before these people ever showed up. As a photographer, this translates into experiencing a deeper connection with the people you capture and allows you to no longer see them as just subjects, but as comrades that you’ve bled and sweat with. This is what it meant for me to be Conscious on September 16th, 2017.