On Wednesday, Dear World was brought to Slippery Rock to allow the SRU community a chance to tell their stories and spread their messages.
According to executive producer Jonah Evans, Dear World began in New Orleans not long after Hurricane Katrina; he and a few others were uncertain whether or not the last chapter of their city had been written, so they ran around asking people to write love notes to the city on their bodies. One man came in with his wife, and when she opened his shirt for the picture, the photographer, and others behind the scenes, saw that he had written “Cancer Free.” That, Evans said, is when those involved realized the Dear World project was much bigger than the city of New Orleans.
Soon, the organization was traveling all over the world. Dear World took photographs in Boston, Mass. after the infamous Boston Marathon bombing, and at the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan where hundreds of Syrian refugee children were held. No matter how many different places they went or different people they photographed, Evans said, the most common theme was love, and this held true at Slippery Rock, as well.
“If you heard even a sliver of the stories we got to hear today, you’d be inspired,” Evans said.
A photo session was held on Wednesday, the day before the program would be opened to the public, for students and faculty involved with the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership (CSIL). The CSIL is home to groups such as the Student Government Association (SGA) and Black Action Society (BAS), among many others.
One faculty member who had her photo taken Wednesday was one of the advisers to SGA and assistant professor of communication Dr. Christine Pease-Hernandez. Pease-Hernandez said SGA, as well as the President’s Commission for Race and Ethnicity, wanted to bring Dear World to campus to highlight the people who make up our community.
“We’re all unique, and we all have our own stories,” Pease-Hernandez said. “We cross paths with people every day without knowing what their stories are.”
Pease-Hernandez, who wrote “Te extraño Mamá,” which means “I miss you Mom” in Spanish, said she had been thinking about her mother, who passed away a few years ago, when she was approached for her photograph.
“I was thinking about her and being thankful,” she said. “I was given the chance to share my story and connect with a student who’s going through something similar, and we both agreed that people should never take their mothers for granted; life isn’t guaranteed.”
Along with faculty members, many students involved with the CSIL also had their photographs taken Wednesday, including senior public health major and president of Black Action Society O’Dell Richardson, who wrote “End the stereotype.”
“I’m an inner city kid from Philadelphia, and I wasn’t raised by my father,” Richardson said. “A lot of people have this stereotype in their mind of kids like me, and those kids don’t get far, but here I am about to graduate college.”
Richardson said the message he had written was for those who are letting their stereotypes stop them or prevent them from reaching their goals.
“I did not,” Richardson said. “I beat the stereotype. I ended that stereotype in my own way.”
Richardson said he hopes the Dear World project helps those who participated, and even those who simply see the photographs, gain a better outlook on life, and a better understanding of what someone may be going through.
On Thursday, the project was made available for other students and faculty members to participate from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the second floor of the Smith Student Center outside the Suite. Volunteers waited with black markers in hand to hear stories from students and faculty members about family, friends and hardships, and would write the words of the student or faculty member’s choice somewhere on their body. People used their arms, hands, torsos, and foreheads for space to portray their messages.
Later, at 7 p.m. in the Smith Student Center Ballroom, Evans and the other members of Dear World showed a presentation consisting of some of their favorite photos since the beginning of the project, a short video produced in Boston and many of the photos taken at Slippery Rock. Several students also made short speeches about their stories and the messages they wanted to share with the world. Before the reveal of the pictures, Evans said SRU had set a record; the Dear World photographers had taken photos of over 300 members of the SRU community.