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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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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 
Connect with Hard Knock Leadership on more ways to build through arts education 
contact for inquiries



Art is Power: The We Are Lawrence Project

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 
contact for inquiries


The Rebirth of An Artist: Part 3


The Rebirth of An Artist: Part 3

"Art is not what you see but what you make others see" - Shot for the Heart & Hustle Portrait Collection

"Art is not what you see but what you make others see" - Shot for the Heart & Hustle Portrait Collection

Sometimes I wonder If what I create actually provides any real value! It's the questions that artists ponder on before pulling the plug on their creativity. It's the the self critique that very often does more damage then benefit. It's the question that lets us fall out of love with art. 

I was creating part time with not enough time to dig deeper into my craft. If creating art was about paying the bills then It became a burden.  People pay for flattery and I'm more interested in depicting the reality I see. I'll risk not appealing to everyone so I could focus on the aesthetics that only few will appreciate, after all the artist sees what other's only catch a glimpse of right? I let my ego sink in then spit it right back out. 

Creating art, is mental warfare at times. We can get so carried away in the process, we forget the purpose of why we are creating in the first place and more importantly why it matters to keep on creating despite being consumed by the noise of doubt.

Let me elaborate on this by saying through my rebirth as an artist, creating has become purpose for me & when I stop creating, I seize to exist. In fact creating as a purpose goes beyond art, it is what we do in life. When we write, reflect, share stories; we are creating vibrations through our energy. 

Now when photography was more of a part time flex for me, I was consumed by the noise of capturing instead creating. I was shooting what was in front of me but not truly curating the story of what I was seeing. I have digital archives holding thousands of un released images, many which I have buried for a time that warrants its curation for the world. In my last post I mentioned that: 

I became attached to photography as an art form because it allowed me to reclaim the arts and change my own lens to focus on what was not rightfully being shared with the world. I've always taken pride in being able to be a professional photographer to support other people who were passionate about something they were involved in and in some way, capturing their picture was a chance to share with the world, my passion.

What I should also mention is that we can burn the fuse on any of our passions. I came to a point where I stopped capturing people in my photography work because I couldn't see the value in what I was creating. It was a dangerous cycle for me because when I stopped adding humanity to my work, I lacked the energy that pushed me to continuously pursue my passion for the arts.

We need to be critical of who we are in order to create the best version of who we need to be. However we should never let that self critique stop us from realizing the purpose of our creations. I realized that regardless of the styles I shoot under, I never choose this art to create for myself. I chose photography to collaborate, create & inspire others.   

I'm counting 5 months of choosing to chase my dreams of creating full time. The eight years before that is what I needed to understand the type of creator I've become. I believe I'm starting to create some of the best work I've ever done but knowing that some of that best is still yet to come. 

This November I will be launching an exhibit with a group of young artists. It is the Scarborough showcase, which has been one of the most pinnacle projects of my photography career & the true catalyst for this artist's rebirth. This entire 3 part reflection has been the pre amble to an outdoor community based photography exhibit on Lawrence Avenue, called #WeAreLawrenceAve.

With the teaching & direction of Toronto's very own instigator of community & culture; Che Kothari, ( a strong mentor to me these last five months and an inspiration for years beyond that) I've been apprenticing under his leadership to co-curate the stories of humanity in a place that need it the most: my home in the Borough.   

The most important part of this work for me will always be the untold stories of others & that is what has led to my rebirth as an artist. The value we can provide in art comes from our own ability to create a world that has a better understanding of the humanity that exists within it. 

Stay tuned for the full release of the #WeAreLawrence Project next week

"Hard Knock Awakenings" was created as a form of reflective based storytelling, dedicated to realizations of purpose, struggle & passion in paths of life we have taken. 
Do you have a Hard Knock Awakening to share? connect with @hardknockleader on twitter
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This is leadership for the everyday hustle
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The Rebirth of An Artist: Part 2

Shot on assignment with fellow creatives. (Hamza Khan co-founder of Splash Effects)

Shot on assignment with fellow creatives. (Hamza Khan co-founder of Splash Effects)

#truth I'm back to three cups of coffee a day & all I want to do is create stuff! To be honest, it didn't quite start off like this during my rebirth as an artist.

After I left my traditional career path for the one less traveled; I took my camera along for the journey one last time in hopes that I could rekindle my passion for the arts. After 10 plus years of photography being my side hustle I was struggling to find a deeper meaning in why I was striving to be a photographer. I knew I was going to start a new chapter in my life but questioned if art was something worth personally continuing when all I wanted to do was find a stronger long term focus. 

In my beginning stages as a photographer I've always enjoyed covering different subject matter as it allowed me to learn more about the craft. It was also the different opportunities I was given to shoot that encouraged me to have a positive outlook on life. Fact of the matter is that if it wasn't for photography I may have never fallen into my role of community organizing, allowing me to first document and then support the building of creative environments for young people. 

The difficulty was that as I became more and more preoccupied with my role as a civic leader, my photography work have to take a back burner. It naturally became less important when given opportunities to assist with the growth of a community. Eventually I no longer had the time to focus on creative shoots in Toronto & even the independent travel photography work while on the road would have to sit in my archives for a year or two before I was able to release any of it.

With the lack of committed time, I also started to feel that deep down inside the photography work I was doing wasn't speaking to me anymore. Something was missing from the way I was shooting that started to make it more of a robotic process than an art form. I would look at the shots I had take after an international trip and would struggle to find true purpose in why It was important to capture these images.  

Like the cave I was crawling into, my travel work started to move solely into lone landscapes; and while it spoke to so many people that have enjoy my work as photographer, I could not find the answers I was looking for to find stronger meaning in what I was shooting. 

Four months ago, in Montreal I gave it one last shot to figure it out. I started to look at the great bodies of work I had created from my travels around the world, to documenting some of the growth of the hip hop and cultural movements as a student. I knew all of these images were works that I had created, but what exactly was I trying to create and why did it matter so much? 

Today we live in a world that has been conditioned, overwhelmingly, to visualize.  Photography is a tool that has become more accessible for everyone to start taking pictures, yet not many of us may not be able to answer "what does it mean to take a picture?". In this image driven way of life, every second is a moment we feel pressured to capture; as if the moment un-captured is something that will be forgotten forever.  

In one way the democratization of photography is something I applaud. The accessibility has allowed for the untold stories to now be in the forefront of our world news. What I fell in love with was this reclamation of the art form. Historically used & commissioned only by the most elite, it was now a tool for the masses to empower and inspire the world through images. Today we are all story tellers, but of what nature?

The digitalization of the camera and our world has made it more affordable for anyone to shoot and share. The affordability in digitalization however would mean that the art of film photography would start to become a niche, warranted only for the camera purists or new age hipsters. This was a double edge sword, the possible forging of a new age camera elite & the disconnect to an important part of art history. Regardless the evolution of photography has attracted us all at some point. 

I became attached to photography as an art form because it allowed me to reclaim the art and change the lens to focus on what was not rightfully being shared with the world. I always took pride in being able to be a professional photographer to support other people who were passionate about something they were involved in and in some way, capturing their picture was a chance to share with the world my passion.

It was here that I started to realize what was missing from my work.

To be continued next week in: The Rebirth of an Artist - Part 3   

"Hard Knock Awakenings" was created as a form of reflective based storytelling, dedicated to realizations of purpose, struggle & passion in paths of life we have taken. 
Do you have a Hard Knock Awakening to share? connect with @hardknockleader on twitter
Like & share your comments on
This is leadership for the everyday hustle