Imagine Them Grown

Imagine them grown:

11-year-old Carol Denise McNair at 61;
14-year-old Addie Mae Collins at 64;
14-year-old Cynthia Wesley at 64;
14-year-old Carole Robertson at 64;
13-year-old Virgil Ware at 63; and
16-year-old James Johnny Robinson at 66.

That’s what “The Birmingham Project,” the work of Dawoud Bey, NYC-born photographer and teacher at Columbia College Chicago, asks us to do. His exhibit shows us young people the same age as the four girls killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama (9/15/63), as well as two teenage boys killed the same day in related violence. Each young person’s photograph is paired with that of someone 50 years older, hinting at how each young person might have aged.

Dawoud Bey. Mary Parker and Caela Cowan, 2012, 2 inkjet prints mounted to dibond, overall: 101.6 x 162.56 cm (40 x 64 in.), National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Collectors Committee and the Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

Bey’s work thus offers us one way to visual what a community loses in the death of its young people.

We don’t have a photographic series to aid in this effort, when it comes to our own town, but we can still imagine the grown people we will be missing due to the violent deaths of 13 youth this past year. We lost four pre-schoolers, 10-year-old Makiyah Wilson of Northeast, and the following minor teens to homicide in 2018:

  • December 13 — 2900 block of Knox Place, SE (shooting)
    15-year-old Anacostia student Gerald Watson of Southeast
  • May 16 — 600 block of Alabama Ave, SE (shooting)
    15-year-old Ballou student Jaylyn Wheeler, of Southeast
  • May 9 — 300 block of Anacostia Road, SE (shooting)
    17-year-old Damoni Gaither, of Southeast
  • May 1 — 1300 block of 2nd Street, NE (stabbing)
    16-year-old Tyshon Perry, of Northeast
  • January 28 — 1000 block of Mount Olivet Road, NE (1/25 shooting)
    16-year-old Taiyania Thompson, of Northeast
  • January 14 — 1700 block of Minnesota Avenue, SE (shooting)
    14-year-old Steven Slaughter, of Southeast
  • January 12 — 400 block of Riggs Road, NE (shooting)
    17-year-old Davon Fisher, of Northeast
  • January 5 — 5000 Block of Jay Street, NE (12/9/16 shooting)
    17-year-old James Colter, of Northeast

— more information at SayThisName

Imagine them grown.

And then imagine their classmates, friends, and neighbors — the ones who survived but remain traumatized in varying degrees — as grown people.

I had planned to add bits here about the need for trauma-sensitive schools and the sheer impact on some of our communities….

…Visit DCFPI and the Child-Focused Advocacy section of this resource page on that; see also this article on “age urban children start to become at high risk of being victims of either a major gunshot wound or stabbing”….

Instead, I’ll just repeat: Imagine them grown.

Acknowledge that we are failing our youth, that this is not a neighborhood-specific problem, and that every one of us has a responsibility to mourn and organize.

“The Birmingham Project” is scheduled to remain at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC through March 24, 2019. Note, however, that the NGA is currently closed (1/3/19) due to federal shutdown.

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