Malik Dodson is a high school senior at Park Slope Collegiate Secondary School. Last year Malik participated in an Urban Memory Project and is a guest blogger for UMP this Fall.
I’ve mentioned before that Park Slope Collegiate’s Class of 2016 have a Brooklyn History class. I’ve also mentioned that a part of their curriculum is to take pictures of what they describe as their New York. These photographic assignments are then published on the class’ private Flickr site where only the seniors and PSC’s senior social studies teacher, Mr. Salak, may view them. As I’ve previously mentioned, students were tasked with taking pictures of what they call their New York. This ranges from places they travel to or see everyday, to the people they know and care about, to even the eateries they frequent. During this assignment, an incident occurred, an incident regarding censorship.
A student, who’ll remain anonymous for the sake of his privacy, posted a photograph featuring several gang members wearing their affiliated color and displaying their “sign.” Of course, for a school Flickr site, the picture is inappropriate, however Mr. Salak and I raised the questions: “What if this is really the student’s New York? What if the youth in this picture are the people he cares about and this sense of rakish “brotherhood” is what makes up this city for him?” There was no question about it unfortunately, it would have to be taken down, but for the sake of this article I spoke with PSC’s principal, Ms. Bloomberg.
Principal Bloomberg’s words summarized, were that despite the private status of the account, featuring this type of photography might unfortunately deliver the wrong message at face value without anyone to explain its significance, and would seem as if the school endorsed such activity. That although photography is a powerful medium it can often be corrupted and misinterpreted. My own thoughts on her words were that if this picture hadn’t appeared in the setting it did, if, for example, it had instead appeared in a men’s youth center, such as Boys 2 Men, it’d be taken in a completely different light. Ironically, the origins of this group were very similar to what I think the student in question tried to accomplish, they were intended for union of community and brotherhood. It’s unfortunate what they’ve evolved into.
I went seeking the advice of my uncle, previously mentioned in my introduction piece. My uncle is an alumni of an historically black university, Tuskegee, from which he received his doctorate. My uncle thought that rather than a display of brotherhood, the picture may be showing a cry for help, that this is what the student faces everyday and is trying to display. That this is the reality of his New York, his city, his life. Censorship usually blanks out part of the story or all of it completely. As often stated, history is written by the victor and there are three sides to every story: Your side, my side and the whole truth. The reality of the photograph was different for my uncle, who may never get to experience viewing it due to it being taken down, then it was for Ms. Bloomberg, who saw it as detrimental to the image of the school. However, for the student whose story may never be told, I wonder if this picture symbolised something deeper than brotherhood or a tragic reality. I myself had a friend who will also remain anonymous who was affiliated with a certain group. He often expressed to me that he lives this lifestyle not for brotherhood and nor does he wish to display it in a plea for help. He lived the life he did simply because it was all he knew. It was all he was exposed to and he didn’t mind that at all. If he were to go public and display this to the media I’m sure it would be misconstrued. Similarly, there was a multi-media piece done by the New York Times called “One in 8 Million” one segment of which centered on a young man named Joshua Febres who had found himself part of a Crip gang set. The video is quite interesting and displays the realness found in these boys’ and girls’ experiences, who are predominantly black.