Shot of the #WeAreLawrence program captured by one of our youth participants Sarah Zeweldi 

Shot of the #WeAreLawrence program captured by one of our youth participants Sarah Zeweldi 

Know that art is power is power no matter what the medium is that you use.

Five month ago I landed back in Toronto from my transition out of a higher education career and some down time traveling on the road. I was looking to pursue a freelance schedule to chase some of my long term goals to in community organizing and international development. While stressing finding a stronger focus in my own long term game plan, I decided to give photography one last chance. 

While on the road I saw a call out for a We Are Lawrence cultural hotspot project instigated by long time friend Che Kothari; a photographer & civic leader who has under taken massive work in Toronto to build the arts community through initiatives such as the Manifesto organization. First crossing paths in 2006 when I was organizing as a student for the hip hop community, I always will remember that moment as someone who was just beginning my journey as an aspiring photographer. What felt impossible for me to chase my own path in arts was no longer the case when seeing another photographer with similar heritage that shared the same passion for urban arts & culture. 

Surrounding yourself with that energy is uplifting, so I thought why not connect back to like minded change makers. The We Are Lawrence project was looking for participants from the Scarborough community who were interested in being a part of a photography program that would document the Lawrence Ave East community in order to showcase those stories in an outdoor exhibit that would transform the look and feel of the community. 

I applied knowing that I wanted to contribute to the storytelling of a place that has built my own identity as a leader and I ended up catching a red eye flight back to Toronto to just in time to make the interview for the program. I was jet lagged from both my travels and working on the road but walked into the interview at McGregor Park Community Centre to simply share my story and passion for photography and the art of storytelling.  

Shot of the #WeAreLawrence program captured by one of our youth participants Petrose Tesfai 

Shot of the #WeAreLawrence program captured by one of our youth participants Petrose Tesfai 

I come from a part of Toronto that is often misunderstood by outsiders. It's a place whose complex stories are ones that even the insiders are trying to understand. It is more than a place that just raised me. It's more than a place I'm proud to call home. It's a world of many beginnings with verses that are still unheard and pages that are still waiting to be written

Scarborough for me has always been that misunderstood community. An arrival city for many new immigrants on the margins making neighbourhoods in the east end underserved & under-resourced. I grew up seeing the boroughs as under served because young talent who grow up to taken on leadership roles are more drawn to the energy of the city core where a faster pace life takes place. I experienced how these homes are under resourced because there are not always enough opportunities and safe spaces for young people to grow into to their full potential. 

Yet so much life takes place here that is not being noted in the media, the stories of generations that have grown up in Scarborough and have helped built the communities often get left behind in the process of everyday survival. The we are lawrence project was a chance to change those gears. It represented the change that I wish to see in neighbourhoods that exist within the margins by providing platforms for youth to flourish and create themselves 

Shot captured by Ann Brokleman mentor to the #WeAreLawrence Family. 

Shot captured by Ann Brokleman mentor to the #WeAreLawrence Family. 

I walked into that interview that day not knowing exactly what I was going to get out of the program. What I did know is that I was ready to learn again in order to impact a community that was my home. With past experience in photography and community organizing I was blessed to be taken into the program by mentors Che Kothari & Jalani Morgan as an apprentice to assist with the outdoor exhibit on Lawrence Ave.  

So for the last five months I've been working with a number of talented youth participants to learn, build, grow and share their stories of this community. For me It has felt like an overdue home coming where I've been able to return to the east end to start exploring my own identity. It feels like my own journey has come full circle through assisting as co-curator for the outdoor photography exhibit with two like minded Toronto photographers that have advocated for the community arts and culture scene.  

Preparation for the We Are Lawrence Avenue Reception. Photo by Ann Brokleman

Preparation for the We Are Lawrence Avenue Reception. Photo by Ann Brokleman

This month will share the stories of what was once an undocumented community falling within the margins and the young people from that community who have decided to use art as a tool to empower others.

Through the building of We Are Lawrence, I've come to realize how extremely powerful art can be .

I would like to drive this home with two points

1) Art has the ability to change the way we see reality

In places where survival has become the everyday, art helps displace that thought process. Imagine someone who is commuting to work, consumed by the daily grind and then sees a portrait of someone in a bus shelter. For a moment that person will move away from his own reality to be reflect on that person. That moment can lead to curiosity and wonder to want to know more about someone else's story, which brings me to my second point

2) Art brings us closer together as a community 

Through art we are able to reach down to the deepest fabric of storytelling that connects us to one another. It brings us closer together as a community by allowing us to understand the stories of who we are as humanity. Imagine young people who are empower to share their own stories and in return capture the stories of a community for the world to see. 

For me personally the #WeAreLawrence is represents the beginning of a new generation of possible change for the Scarborough community. A change where we young people can be proud to call this their home because they have been a part of building the Scarborough identity. A change that very well could be the start of what I see as the Scarborough Renaissance

I would like to invite you to visit Scarborough this month (November 2014) to see the outdoor exhibit and if your are not based within the GTA or Toronto to visit then please check out to learn about the photographers and stories being shared from this beautiful community in the south side of Scarborough. 

The project is a collaboration between City of Toronto Arts & Culture Services and Toronto-based artist, instigator and photographer, Che Kothari – with mentoring support by local artist Jalani Morgan.
Interested in creating similar projects within your community 
Connect with Hard Knock Leadership on more ways to build through arts education 
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