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Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Reframing Life"

It was the summer that I turned 16. I had been raped by one of her friends. It was a confusing time to begin with, turning 16 and knowing I was going to be starting yet another school, in yet another state. Like so many times before I packed my bags for my new “home”. I blocked out what happened, and what continued to happen.

School was the last thing on my mind over the next year and it was made clear by both my behavior and my lack of grades. I had one passion that lived through my rape and could continue to thrive through the madness happening around me and to my person. I was lucky enough to have a NYC high school art teacher who was persistent with me and pushed me to apply to the coveted New York State Summer School of the Arts. It was here that I became who people know now and where I found my true voice. I met many others who also had a passion at this program and all of us became quick friends who supported each other emotionally. This experience continued to shape me and my ambitions for my life.

I was lucky enough to get recruited to go to college. I ended up attending Tufts University/School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I was fearful, but hopeful I would become a professional Film Editor like Walter Murch and change the way that Hollywood cinema edits sexual abuse scenes. My 3rd year I wrote a thesis on this topic and realized that this was the way that America made money, sex sells and it doesn’t matter what kind of sex it is, consensual or non consensual.

I quickly was disillusioned and desperate to make an impact. Wanting to wake the public up to these facts, I looked at various different directions to go after graduation from college. A common thread within the career paths were that I wanted to work with teens who had similar experiences to mine. My sister suggested Social Work School within the laundry list of other post bachelor degrees I looked at.

My senior year of college I interviewed for a position at a Boston public charter high school as an art teacher. They were looking for a general art teacher to teach at risk kids. I was clearly well versed with this demographic, I had been one only a short time ago. I pitched a wild idea that was not what they were seeking. I spoke of teaching photography and getting grants to subsidize the whole thing and then having it culminate in a show at the end of the duration of the year. While my pitch of the program might have sounded far fetched and flaky, the hiring committee decided to take a chance and sign me on. Much to their surprise, I did secure grants for supplies, design a curriculum of both practical photography and exposure to different photographers. Additionally, I gathered support from the community around the charter school and the Museum of Fine Arts.

While there were times when it did not seem that things would come together, I persisted and kept faith in my ability and the ability of my students to live up to the expectations that I had set for them. And with the end of the year, came the showing of the student's work. While I designed the space in which art work was presented, the students edited the pictures (done in photoshop after scanning in color negatives) and co-selected their work that was to be exhibited. The student's were also required to write a cohesive artist statement for the gallery and gallery book. While I curated the show and the press related materials, the students had an active role in deciding major factors of the end products.And ultimatly, within the midst of teaching and curtating the show, I did end up being admitted to Social Work School at George Warren Brown School of Social Work/Washington University in St. Louis.

My students in Boston had become part of who I was, much like my friends from NYSSSA, and when moving across half the country, I thought of what their lives would be like; what stories would they have to tell by my age? I left though, knowing that I had given a similar gift that was given to me back when I was their age. They were armed with an impressive portfolio of work printed and mounted professionally.

It is a moment in my life that I don’t like to remember that has made me see my true calling in life. Life is about taking what has happened to you and doing something about it. By doing, I refer to actions that remedy or negate what has been done to you. I have become committed to doing this everyday.

My peers (some who have very similar stories of trial and tribulations as teens) and I have embarked on the mounting of a national not-for-profit foundation using media teaching as a way to empower and restore a voice to teens who have suffered trauma. The foundation is to be called “The Reframing Life Foundation”. The main purpose of the foundation is the research and application of media in the adolescent population who have experienced trauma. Reframing Life’s goal is to not only give a voice but create a group of peers who have similar experiences and a common experience beyond trauma. This will all happen through the power of media-making.

The Reframing Life Foundation plans to run programs during summers, weekends, and after the traditional school day. Ultimately, Reframing Life hopes to have this therapeutic method recognized by both the social work/therapeutic community and by the general academic communities.Eventually, Reframing Life hopes to provide training to individual educators/social workers and have associated programs run in public institutions.

The board of members that we have put together is small (consisting of about 6 individuals), but diverse as far as personal experience, socio-economic status, and academic background- from individuals who work in finance to individuals who are highly skilled artists (bios are posted on Facebook). We all believe in this mission for various reasons, but have a strong passion for the same goal; to provide a voice for those who feel like they have lost or have had theirs stolen from them.We are reachable by email at and we also have a group on Facebook. Just search The Reframing Life Foundation under groups. I urge you to join the Facebook group and possibly inquire about getting involved in the cause.

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