Scarborough Made Photo Project


Scarborough Made Photo Project

Documenting stories from Toronto’s arrival city, Scarborough.

Views from Toronto’s Arrival City #ScarboroughMade

Views from Toronto’s Arrival City #ScarboroughMade

When my family decided to leave the Arabian Gulf, it was because they wanted to see us have more opportunities than they had working as migrants in a foreign land. 

We made it to Toronto, Canada in the summer of 1999, with life feeling even more foreign. Just a month before the millennium, we moved into an apartment building in the east end of Scarborough. This apartment building and Scarborough has remained my family’s home since then. 

Like many other newcomers arriving from different parts of the world, I got my start to a new life in Scarborough. This is where I would have to learn to navigate the good, bad and ugly of growing up in an arrival city. 

Portrait of Creative Director & Producer Alex Narvaez #ScarboroughMade

Portrait of Creative Director & Producer Alex Narvaez #ScarboroughMade

Defining the arrival city.

The term arrival city has different aliases which are often used to describe neighbourhoods that exist on the outskirts of major cities like Mumbai, Panama, Bangkok, Sydney, Toronto, Paris or Los Angeles.

Most often these neighbourhoods are also followed with the labeled as at risk, marginalized, low income or under resourced. Some may see them depicted more as ghettos, favelas, slums, shanty towns or barrios of the developing countries and in the more developed countries others know them as the Hispanic quarters, the Chinatowns, Little India’s and other ethnic enclaves.

For me, arrival cities are a symbol of the layered cultural diversity painted by the many migratory movements of our world over time.

A breeding grounds for a raw potential of underdog survival lives in every arrival city. This potential is always marked by the dream of becoming successful which in most eyes is met by need to move out to someplace better than here.

Regardless of where these arrival cities are situated or what they are called or who represents them, one fact remains in common for its inhabitants. The fact that we all want a life for our families that is better than what we had before.

A double edged dream that seems to end in a demise of the arrival city. 

Portrait of Digital Media Storyteller Dominique Bennett Bouchard #ScarboroughMade

Portrait of Digital Media Storyteller Dominique Bennett Bouchard #ScarboroughMade

The tale of the 6ix

In the case of Toronto, its surrounding arrival cities became suburbs after the amalgamation of the 6 boroughs (which included Scarborough) into the city of Toronto in 1998. This is a move than many criticize today as what further marginalized some of these neighbourhoods that exist beyond the margins of the city centre.

Over the next decade as I transitioned from a disengaged kid on the block to an engaged civic leader working around the world. I would also witness the growth of Toronto but not see much change in Scarborough.

I wondered if success could be found in these come up cities for young people, when most of their energy was focused onto making it in the bright lights of the downtown hustle & bustle. 

Scarborough had a different kind of hustle. More often I would see it be the portrayed in the media, mostly for its negative challenges around crime or violence than for the untapped potential of human capital that contributes towards the vibrancy of Toronto. 

Which brings me to the Scarborough Made Photo Project. 

After having the opportunity to work and travel around a number of communities with a similar build to Scarborough, I’ve come to see arrival cities around the world as unique economies of their own, filled with beautiful life stories of hustle, struggle and hope. 

This year as I want to give back to the city that raised me by sharing my craft and documenting the stories which highlight the realities of coming up from Scarborough.

So join me in telling the story of Toronto’s East by contributing your voice as someone who is #ScarboroughMade

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Got a story to tell? We are on the look out for stories of the unconventional leadership journey from creatives, change makers & global citizens. Join the collective and contribute a story for the Hard Knock Leadership publication.


New Year, Same Me, Different Strategy


New Year, Same Me, Different Strategy

The new year is our gift, a brand new chance to say goodbye to our last year’s bad habits & lost resolutions. It’s an opportunity to become the best versions of ourselves once again, so that we can do the same things much differently than we did 9 months ago.

Oh Yes! it’s that time of year again where we get use hearing...

“It’s a new year & this year, is going to be my year!”

Don’t believe in new year’s resolutions? Great! I’m writing this post just for you as revolutionary statement against redundant resolutions. Believe in making yearly resolutions? Well then this one's for you too.

You can call it whatever you want; personal resolutions, life goals or career aspirations. End of the day we all just want to be in the right mindset to own the the start of a new year.

Now we can all start with the right mindset but the challenge comes in keeping that mindset consistent throughout the year, with all the suffocating noise from the realities around us. Every year can easily become another roller coaster ride of ups & downs.

So I’m writing this post to share 3 new strategies that I’ll be using to get me through another year of our crazy lives.

First of all let’s clear the air on this New Year, New Me, BS.

I’ll be human and admit that it is not easy keep the same mindset for the whole entire year. We’ve all jumped on that starting hype at some point (including me), where everyone embraces the momentum for change in the initial first few months of the year. Then somewhere along those first few months, life hits us in the face again & we are back at where we started the year before.

You give up on your daily workout because you had a longer day at work or you have that cigarette on break because, shit.. life is just stressing the hell out of you right now!

BOOM! Old habits can hit you just like that. Then the next thing you know, you end up waiting for another new year to start back on those broken promises to yourself.

Like anything in our life, if we want to see change, we just need to keep working at it. It’s not easy to keep the right mindset throughout the year but it is easy to accept failure by giving up on what we started.

My strategy here is to have a reset button. Don’t just reset at the start of the year, reset every single time you fail so you can stop failing in long run. It’s only called New Year, New Me BS because we give up on working towards our new self before the year even ends.

Whenever shit hits the fan for us this year, let’s hit the reset button & work at it again no matter how long it takes us!

Urban Dictionary definition of badass: Ultra-cool M*****F****R

Urban Dictionary definition of badass: Ultra-cool M*****F****R

Secondly Let’s talk about the importance of a Vision.

If you want to own the year, then you need to have a badass vision for how you’re going to step our game up from the year before. If you haven’t spent the end of your last year reflecting on your highs & lows, then spend the start of your new year making sense of what you we able to accomplish.

Within the last 6 years, I’ve spent my new year’s eve in 6 different countries, waking up to life in a total different reality every single year.
I had a different set of eyes to look at the world with but & I could also see that the new year’s hangover from each new country pretty much felt the same.

Only by looking back on my previous years could I have had the vision to not drink my way into yet another new year. Yes! bringing in the new year sober can be Badassery indeed!

So this is where you to bust out the pen & paper or the digital note option to look back at your past year. Hell, you can go back even further if you like. Try to summarize that year in a sentence or a catch phrase that makes sense to you. Now ask yourself what will the title of this year be for you, based on those chapters of your previous years?

For example after looking back & reflecting on my past year, I’ve proclaimed that 2016 is the year I make my work
World Class.”

Once you’ve developed your new year proclamation or power phrase, take the first two weeks to really map out & massage in the tangible goals that are attached to you living for our new year stance.

The strategy here is that whenever we get lost in direction somewhere along the year, we can look back at our vision like it’s a guiding compass.

A vision doesn’t mean nothing, if you can’t back it up. So don’t forget to create those goals so we can measure how badass we really are.

Lastly let’s talk about living an extraordinary year.

You know that quote that goes something like “if your dreams don’t scare you, then you’re probably not dreaming big enough.”

Well for us perpetual dreamers, there are times that we’ve dreamed big enough to accomplish what we thought unimaginable and now we are left asking “how on earth am I possibly going to top this?”

Since starting this world tour, I’ve trained Mixed Martial Arts in 4 different countries last year. Now I’m not necessarily training to become an Ultimate Fighting Championship contender but I do really enjoy being able to have a sport or adventure based activity that make my life a memorable one.

However the question still remains, how do I take this to the next level?

Well the answer has been quite simple if we are willing to accept the challenge to do more. In my case I look at what’s the next gradual step to what I’m currently doing or I ask myself what’s the next craziest thing I could add to my life that works with my new year vision & goals?

For example leveling up could mean I compete in an exhibition fight, or the next craziest thing I could add on to my life that works with my vision for physical fitness and endurance could possibly be training for the Ironman race perhaps.

The real fun in living legendary comes in finding new things that can make your goals or resolutions even more interesting to take on. So be ambitious in your dreams as there is nothing more beautiful than dreaming about the possibilities of achieving your own greatness.

The takeaway strategy here is for us to do the things that give us life profit by making us realize how every new year is another year to get back to chasing those dreams from where we left off the year before.

Go ahead I dare you to make your year legendary!

Yes it’s a new year, but it’s the same me & I’m just in a different country, coming at you with a different strategy.

Every new year is chance to kickstart that fire inside you again incase it was starting fade out in your past 12 months. Not all years start off the same way, some start off great and some start off rough. We can’t control what life will hand us but we can control how we choose to live regardless of what year it is.

Wishing all you dreamers & hard knock leaders the very best for a badass year ahead!

#1love the kid

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Lessons of a Hard Knock Leader on the Road to 30


Lessons of a Hard Knock Leader on the Road to 30

They say your 30’s will be the true coming of age. It’s a time where you learn to command your life much differently because your lived experiences has made you more in tune with who you are.

 In my 20’s I lived so recklessly that I accepted the idea of living fast & dying young. I was surrounded by a destructive world where I lost friends to the streets, substance abuse, mental illness & dangerous lifestyles. 

I started to silence my emotions and numb my feelings until I fell down the rabbit hole too. I couldn’t imagine making it to 30 with the way I was living so instead I just lived like today was my last. 

I remember reading a piece by Nic Haralambous called advice from 30 year old me to 20 year old me & it made me think about the conversation I would want to have with myself. When a my brother in hustle Hamza Khan wrote & quoted me in his coming of age piece 27 things I learned at 27, I was reminded how life lessons can transcend from one person to another. 

A year ago when I turned 29 & I wrote a post on my birthday to share the lessons that I’ve learned from my journey. Without a doubt it was only in my late 20’s after switching my game up, that my understanding of living life to its fullest had actually changed for the better. 

Today I turn 30 and I’ll be flying back overseas to continue chasing my vision of becoming an international visual artist & change maker. So it was only fitting that I share some hard knock reflections & lessons from my twenties.


Life is short, make every moment count!

I know it sounds cliché but I lived like life was short, so I told myself that I had to make every moment count while I was here. In my early 20’s this usually felt more like selfishly living for today instead of appreciating the beauty of having a tomorrow. 

It was only in my very late 20’s that I finally started making sense of the different circles of thinking I gained from my life experiences around the world. I learned to no longer carry the weight of my past as something that was negative. Instead I accepted it as something that revealed whom I was destined to be.  

I started appreciating how my struggle allowed me to live and think differently from others. Making it through hard times gave me more reason to celebrate & appreciate the life I was given. 

I aspired to live better by chasing experiences instead of money & the celebrations… well.. while it usually involved more drunken nights than I would like to count but it made me realize that I was still learning how to deal with the demons that I picked up along the way. 

As I end my 20’s I’m finding ways to retire from that rockstar life that I’ve know so well by seeking more mental clarity versus the drowning of past pains. 

Despite the care free attitude, what has made my life count the most was constantly re-defining what this life meant to me. I’ve learned to develop more healthier habits that have given me more peace over the years & I’ve accepted my past as reason for who I am today. 

Yes life does feel short when you have been living it a certain way and yes it can get hard & quite sad at times. However you start to learn how to appreciate the people around that have taught you lessons both good and bad. There is value in the struggle & I’ve learned to move away from being a victim in order to start being a game-changer. 

I’ll share this quote from someone I knew who was a recovered alcoholic. 

There are no such thing as bad days, there are only bad moments in a day. Don’t let the bad moments make your entire day go bad. 

What truly makes the our time count are the moments we strived to do better than before. 


I challenge you to define what life truly means to you & spend the next decade of my time here in this world, making that life happen. This is something I’ve committed to myself for my 30’s


Whatever you want to do, just start now! 

How many times have you told yourself, that you wish you could do something like travel? Or how many times have you waited for new year’s to make a resolution about something that affects your life now like quitting smoking or getting physically fit? 

Why do we wait for later if we can just start now?

I’ve taken a page from Robin Sharma piece on the 2 greatest words. This notion of chasing your dreams by acting on the idea of “just starting” really resonated with me. It’s a lesson I’ve been always believed in but only started practicing since leaving my full time career last year, in order to focus on the things I’ve always wanted to do.

Nothing happens unless you move

For me movement is life. In my 20’s I started fighting complacency by constantly challenging myself to do the things that added value to the world. Traveling the world at a young age and seeing the good, bad & ugly realities only pushed me in wanting to be part of the change that was needed. I dreamed about it for years. 

Realize that you can only spend so much time dreaming and wishing for before those thoughts gets lost in the noise and chaos of reality. The longer you wait to take something on, the longer it will take you to get there. 

In my 20’s I made a transition from a damaging life, living and breathing the streets to a professional career where I was helping others find their way. If I did not take this dive to make changes in my life at that point, then I never would have.

It was not an easy transition at all & I struggled with those two changing identities for years but as I continued to start working towards my future, I started to accomplish my life’s worth. 

Even during my current reinvention where I’m starting to work towards my dreams of doing international development & humanitarian work, I first had to fight complacency to not give up on that dream in exchange for settling with the stability & security that could have been offered at home. 

It’s not that I wasn’t content with what I had, It’s that I knew that after making it off the streets that I was destined for more.

Today I’m traveling the world as a change maker and visual artist because it’s what I’ve started dreaming about doing in life & it’s what I’ve decided to just start working towards. Remember I’m not saying it’s easy because if it was, then everyone would be doing it & hard knock leaders are not everybody.  

Our lives change forever when we aspire to live our dreams. When we change our lives, we change our world forever. When we change our world forever, we inevitably change the world of others too. 


I challenge you to start on the life goals you’ve been dreaming about right now. My 30’s will already be changed since committing myself to start living my dreams every single day. 


Don’t let the music die in you!

Without a doubt, my life has changed dramatically since deciding that I was destined to accomplish more. It would always mean living outside my comfort zone in some way, such as entering into neighbourhoods that I once saw as territorial divides to living on the road for the upcoming years instead of settling down with the norm of what everyone else was doing around me. 

It’s not that there is anything wrong in looking for a steady career & financial security. It’s when you choose to settle with something & let the music die in you, that’s when there is a problem. I’ve seen too many people who are willing to be unhappy with their jobs and do nothing about it by letting that work kill them softly.

Now if you have a job be thankful, because there is a million others who would be willing to take it. Just realize that the music dies in us when the job we do takes us away from our reasons to be great & do amazing things. 

When we are at the top of our game, we are like maestro’s commanding the symphony of our life. However when we choose to be average, we give away our talents. When we give up on the talents we’ve earned, the music starts to die in us. 

This may sound harsh but at the age of 30 I’m no longer okay with being average. If I wanted an average life, I would’ve settled as street dealer chasing paper till my death or as a cubicle monkey pushing paper for someone else’s resume.

No disrespect to anyone who is putting in work for survival but take a moment and ask yourself if you are you currently happy OR if are you currently being the best version of yourself? If the answer is NO to both of these questions then you’re probably fallen into the box of mediocrity where the world is constantly being programmed to deliver the message that average is acceptable.

You can spend your 20’s trying to learn from the great’s in order to master your craft. By your 30’s it’s time to focus on to being the greatest by becoming the the master. Not there yet? Well just start because all masters had to be beginners at some point. 

Whatever you decide to do & whenever you decide to do it, make sure it world class. The reality is that there are more sad stories in the world then there are happy ones. People will die at the age of 30 and only get buried 60, don’t let the graveyard be where your dreams finally go to rest. 


I challenge you to make your life a happy one regardless of the difficulties you’ve faced & the ones you will continue to face. In my 30’s the struggle will only fuel my growth as hard knock leader. 


This journey is the one you’re suppose to be on. 

Can there be a guarantee that work we commit to right now will lead us to where we want to be in the future? Are we ever sure the dream we are chasing is even right for us? 

If we had all the answers then there would be no journey. There is no guarantee for success, there is only the will to never give up on it. Those who do journey, know that if that if they don’t take this road, it would only lead to regrets. 

Most give it up on that journey because of uncertainty. Most give up from the fear of failure. 

On every journey someone will hit their lowest low. What reveals our strength is our ability to bounce back from that failure. To bounce back we must accept the journey we are suppose to be on & remove doubt & fear.

I’ll share the words of a brother & mentor who has guided me in the arts, when he was asked about his own journey in life

I’ve come to the realization that life is made up of a billion deep breaths & that’s why I always say to be happy, smile & breath deeply because this is the journey that you’re suppose to be on.

As you grow older you learn to trust yourself more to keep heading down on that journey because you know it was meant for you. You slowly start to learn how to be at peace with who you’ve become & leave behind the person that others expect you to be. You breathe more accepting that YES this is the journey that I’m suppose to be on. 

When we find peace with the journey that we are on, the road ahead becomes a beautiful part of growth in the life we have. We start to take control destiny and show up stronger for our final curtain call. 

At times our identity may feel conflicted from the environments we grew up around, to the different hardships & struggles we have endured. However life is dealt to us, it should never stop us from making the extraordinary happen. 


I challenge you to keep believing in yourself & the journey that you are on, no matter how hard it gets. I hope to look back in my 40’s someday & acknowledge that this is what set my life apart from everything else I was doing. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this personal reflection. Feel free to share your comments or recommend to others if you see value in these words.  
1love the kid  

Note from the author:

I’m going to be disconnecting by getting off the grid for the next bit of my journey as I make a move overseas to Australia & focus on creating new works. 

If you’re interested in having Hard Knock Leadership be a catalyst to your community building efforts then drop a line:

As I head back on the overseas for 2016 I want to thank everyone who has been following my journey and supporting me along the way. Stay Inspired Always.


Hard Knock Highlights of 2015


Hard Knock Highlights of 2015

Between freelancing through my work as a creative & building community movements through Hard Knock Leadership it's been one hell of a rollercoaster ride in balancing the dream of being internationally based. 

After spending 6 months on the road overseas, a return to the 6ix felt more than right. I made it back to Toronto for a surprise visit this summer and decided to adapt the policy of working in silence behind the scenes to make more movements than announcements. I guess time passes by quickly when you're focused on the hustle because now I'm preparing to head back on the road again without a giving you an update on my current movements.

So in order to answer the question "What exactly are you doing?" which I often get, I'm sharing the Hard Knock Highlights of this year. 

Hard Knock Highlights: Year 2

Registration of Indian Private Limited Enterprise

Tamil Nadu, India (c) Sid Naidu Photography

My main reason for the return was to handle some paperwork that would allow me to travel back to India as an overseas citizen. I spent the first four months of travel overseas in my native lands of Southern India, trying to get an understanding for how I could play more of a long term role with my cultural heritage. 

This summer I stepped on board as a managing director and registered an Indian Private Limited Enterprise with the goal of creating solutions that supports sustainable development internationally. This has opened up a whole new world for me to explore and while at the moment I'm still developing what my exactly this role will look like for me over the next two years expect that you will hear about more potential projects from India.  

Local & Global creative collaborations:

Building the collective has become an important area of focus for me. Call it squad goals but I truly believe in the idea of going further together with other like minded individuals to build the empire. 

Year One India: While overseas in India, I took on the role of an international correspondent to support the Year One Publication. By exploring content for an Indian audience, for my boys who are behind the digital consulting firm Splash Effects, I contributed a piece to their publication with a Hard Knock angle that highlighted the strength of India's very own Queen of the Boxing Ring: Mary Kom 

Surface Collective: My one month stay in Bangkok fostered the building of another creative partnership with a fellow Canadian creative, Rod Tasaka, founder of The Surface Collective. I've been working with Rod behind the scenes to vision out a collective creative brand that supports local inspiration and collaborations while on the road, along with contributing as an artist to his creative design work with surface. 

Siamese Connection: On my return to Toronto, I've been mapping out some long term collaborations both local & global with one of my good friends Marwa Siam Abdou who wrote a piece on my personal story while I was overseas as her Tales of Toronto project. 

She has recently broken into the role of a film maker creating her very first short film that touches on the very personal and challenging topic of autism under the lens of migrant families. Take a look at the trailer below  

I've been supporting Marwa's production company Siamese connection through my role as a documentary photographer as we both share a common vision on wanting to tell the untold stories of underrepresented ethnicities.  Expect to see more creative work under this lens. 

I started the year reinventing my career from a higher education specialist to a full time artist & creative. While I'm still trying to navigate highs and lows of freelancer's life, I've dedicated part of my purpose and long term goals to fostering more creative collaborations with other creators.

I'm always looking to build & collaborate with creatives both locally & globally so give me a shout if you see potential in working together to create something great.

Inside Out Project Toronto 2015 


For anyone knows me as creator knows that my photography style has heavily been influenced by the work JR Artist & the Inside Out Project. 

I remember when I first saw JR's ted talk that challenged the world to stand up for what they cared about by participating in his global art project that would turn the world inside out. 

I had to opportunity to jump on board with JR's team to support with their installation at Nathan Phillips Square for Nuit Blanche. To be part of the Toronto team to support a project that has given me so much creative energy in the last couple of years was truly an honour. 

We Are Dixon Project

Over the summer I was approached by the City of Toronto & A community service group in the west end to support youth from Dixon community through Arts Education. 

The We Are Dixon project was created to connect with youth from the west end around the idea of photography as a tool for community building, which continued from a similar project in Scarborough last year. This project worked with somali youth to develop an knowledge around the power storytelling and camera fundamentals. 

My involvement in this project was an opportunity to build bridges between the east & west ends of the city as part of the long term goal of arts educational programming via HKL.

Here is more of an in depth overview of the content & curriculum provided in the program- 

Arts is Power: We Are Storytellers

Grolsch Global Creates 

This October I was selected as a finalist for Grolsch Global's #discoverinteresting campaign by acclaimed Toronto artist & curator Soteeoh. The campaign brought together 20 instagrammers to contribute their work to a live gallery event hosted at The Rivoli on Queen St. West. Canvas pieces from each artist was part of a silent auction that raised funds towards StreetArt Toronto. My journey as an artist began 13 years ago capturing the streets of Scarborough through black and white film and being able to put Scarborough back on the map in a positive highlighting it speaks to my purpose as an artist.  

Eye on Scarborough (c) Sid Naidu Photography

Eye on Scarborough (c) Sid Naidu Photography

If you would like to see my Toronto work hanging out somewhere in your space, high resolution digital prints like this can now be purchased through my online store.

The Journey Continues in Australia 

On a final note, I wanted to announce my upcoming international tour dates.

I will be continuing my journey with an overseas residency in Melbourne, Australia for 2016. On this tour I will once again be exploring the ability of creating various bodies of work as an international artist and community builder. Want to know about my stories of wonderlust? Then read my piece on the road less traveled

If you are interested in bringing the work I do to your community, shoot me an email at to build. 

Structural Building of Hard Knock Leadership 

This year Hard Knock Leadership has been testing various platforms to provide more of a foundational structure for its long term vision. Had the opportunity to be a part of Toronto local startup Sojo this summer for their ideas bootcamp in order to ideate a model the work of HKL through social entrepreneurship. The team at Sojo has been helpful in helping a number of change makers turn their ideas into actions.

Hard Knock Leadership is currently identified as social initiative that was created to serve and adapt to different aspects of youth based change in disadvantaged communities around the world. 

This Hard Knock Highlight post aims to provide updates on the movements HKL is currently involved with


Art Is Power: We Are Storytellers


Art Is Power: We Are Storytellers

Art can transform lives. It gives us the power to question, to confront, to explore and challenge how we think about the world.

Art can transform lives. It gives us the power to question, to confront, to explore and challenge how we think about the world.

Since I've returned to the 6ix aka Toronto this summer, I've been working behind the scenes to strengthen a number of principles that will define the long term goals of hard knock leadership.

At the moment youth based arts education has become a primary focus for me since I'm currently practicing as an international visual artist. So on this return I decided to invest more of my time in building bridges between my passion as an artist and my purpose as a community builder. 

Over the summer I was approached to support the building of the We Are Dixon project in the west end, around this idea of creating youth storytellers to capture underrepresented communities through photography. The vision of this project was to build on the momentum We Are Lawrence project that I stepped on board with as an apprentice and a co-curator last year.

Here short doc highlighting the work that was done. 

This is a documentary of We Are Lawrence Avenue (2014), a dynamic outdoor community driven photography exhibit on Lawrence Avenue East in Toronto, Canada. We Are Lawrence Avenue told the story of Lawrence Avenue in Scarborough's Wexford Heights neighbourhood, featuring portraits of people who live, work and play in the community.

Arts Education Curriculum & Content 

For me the value of arts education programming revolves around empowering others with the tools to become leaders for their community. 

Our specific focus through the We Are Dixon & We Are Lawrence projects in Toronto, was to help foster and create youth storytellers within the disadvantaged and under resourced margins of the city.

The direction for these projects is to use photography as the storytelling medium in places where mainstream media outlets control the view of community representation. These programs help showcase the stories not being covered. The work aims to speaks to the human side of these communities. 

I'm writing this article to share with you some of the video curriculum Hard Knock Leadership is using for arts education programming with the goal of creating tomorrow's artistic leaders.

The modules we've created for our programming pulls visual resources that showcase how storytelling is taken on through photography. A crucial part of the curriculum is the ability for youth to reflect on their own personal stories in connection to the visual resources provided. 

My hopes is that this article will provide you with some insights for how grassroots storytelling can possibly happen within your community.


The Power of storytelling

One of my strongest inspirations for visual arts in the recent years has been JR, a street artist and photographer who made me realize that the streets is the largest gallery in the world. As the winner of 2011 TED prize he was able to create the largest participatory art project in the world. 

Since my arts education programming has always aimed to highlight the the power of art as a tool for community building & storytelling, JR's TED talk video is an essential to how art has the ability to change the world. 

JR exhibits his photographs in the biggest art gallery on the planet. His work is presented freely in the streets of the world, catching the attention of people who are not museum visitors. His work mixes Art and Action; it talks about commitment, freedom, identity and limit.

The above video is a condensed video with english subtitles that I share during my workshops.  A link to the full length video on is provided below. The full length video also has the ability to provide subtitles in different languages, which became extremely helpful when working with international audiences. It helped me facilitate the pop up exhibit & workshop titled "Suenos de la Calle" for youth in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. 

JR Ted Talk: Use art to turn the world inside out (Full Length) 

JR's 28mm project highlighted in the video, captured portraits of the people from Montfermeil in Paris to share the story of a community that the media had continued to misrepresent. The 28mm style of portraiture is something that has heavily influenced the lens of my own photography and artistic process and I often use the project as an example to how marginalized communities around the world often face the same struggle of being misunderstood.

To see a short video & learn more about the 28mm project, click the link below.

JR's Portraits of a generation: The 28mm project

The inside out projects instigated by JR is a prime example I use on how storytelling and art can be a powerful tool to change the way people view the world.

Reflection Question: If you could use art to change the world through the inside out project, what story would you tell?


Telling the story of our communities

My purpose as storyteller is to focus on the stories that are not being told. Whenever I sit at a table to build dialogue aimed at finding solutions for various issues that arise with different communities, the question I'm always asking myself who needs to be here at this table that is not sitting here right now.

For many neighborhoods that have been labelled marginalized, low income or prioritized a big issue that arises is the perception of what outsiders believe exist in the communities. Very often the media has a strong hold on telling the story of our communities with their angle on the negative side versus the stories that empower these communities instead. 

Here of an example from Somali photographer Muhamed Mumin,  who took on the role of becoming a cultural storyteller for his community through photography because no one else was doing it 

Mohamud Mumin creates striking portraits of fellow Somali immigrants, hoping to spark dialogue about the immigrant experience in Minnesota. 

 It is important to understand our stories before we search for the stories that are not being told. One of the biggest lessons that I carry to this day as an artist is that it is about being human first and artist second. Framing photography from a human perspective gives life to work I take on because it gives the power back to the people whose portraits were taken. Especially when you're walking into communities that have been misunderstood building a connection with the people before capturing the stories is what creates real humanistic value in our conversations

I take this example of framing photography through a human perspective by photographer Wayne Lawrence who captured the streets of Detroit by once again focusing on the untold narratives in humanity 

Wayne Lawrence: It's all about the people - Framing the human story of Detroit

Similar to projects like Humans of New York, documentary photography has always aimed to share the real stories of people around the world. When creating our community stories, it's essential that we look at the human side to connect with one another. 

Reflection Question: Share a human story about your community that is not being told to others?


Finding our voice as storytellers 

When I first started doing photography, I struggled because I could not relate with the photographers doing fine art, I need to find the ones that were sharing the stories of the culture and people similar to the people that I was surrounded with.

Because we all look at the world from different lenses it becomes important to understand our voice as a storyteller & how it resonates with the work of others. 

Finding local artists who shared the untold stories is what kept me in the game and inspired me to continue exploring the hidden narratives of communities that are not being shared with the world.


Growing up in Guelph, Ontario, Che struggled to figure out his purpose. At the age of 15, a family vacation opened up his world. Surrounded by the rich roots of the Caribbean, with a camera in hand, Che eagerly documented everything he saw, determined to share what was happening in the world with everyone back home. That deep sense of urgency and community spirit drove Che into an accomplished career as a photographer and beloved cultural community instigator. Watch more at

My own journey as an artist would not be be this way if it was not for international artists like JR and Che Kothari who have helped shape my vision for creating with purpose. 

Being mentored by Che Kothari during the We Are Lawrence and supporting the Inside Out Project in Toronto that was curated by JR has helped me also strengthen my voice as a storyteller in both my life and the work I do.

One of the most valuable life learning tools that was passed onto me by Che Kothari was these reflective questions that was given to him by his mentor d'bi young pulling from her sorplusi methodology for artists. 

Reflection Questions: Who Am I? How Am I? What is My Purpose?

These questions is how I start all of my programming to build the idea of self knowledge. You can ask yourself these questions whenever you need to realign your voice as a storyteller, leader or creator. I use it often in my own life to find my voice and understand the voice of others. 


The Role of storytelling in Arts Education 

While the arts education programming HKL looks to build revolves around the need to provide more tools to communities that are under resourced and often misrepresented by mainstream media, our programming always changes according to the need of the community and more importantly the youth who take a lead in championing these ideas. 

For me without the voice of youth there is no actual programming, for they are the ones I hope would start playing a key role in creating change for their community through storytelling. 

When I walk into prioritized neighbourhoods in the west or the east and we are challenged by our geographical divisions between the hoods, I often share with the youth this idea. 

If you take the language and the people out of the different concrete jungles in the world, our struggles will still sound and feel the same. 

While storytelling becomes a strong pillar to engage communities in reflecting on the understandings of their own narratives, it is art that becomes our healing process for people to see the world in a more humanistic way.

This is why I say that art is power. 

This article breakdown some of the curriculum & content from Hard Knock Leadership's Arts Education Storytelling Programming. 
Interested in creating similar projects within your community 
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