Student project celebrates, spotlights neighborhood

Students from Ruskin Elementary School presented a photography exhibit at the Dayton Metro Library this week that served as a celebration — and call to action — for their neighborhood.

The “Rise Up!” photovoice exhibit was produced by students in Ruskin’s Miracle Makers after-school program.

Ruskin serves a largely poor neighborhood, scarred with abandoned homes and working to recover from the opioid crisis.

Miracle Makers Education Director Ellen Mays said the project empowered “people that are usually a marginalized community, giving them a space where their voice is heard.”

For 10 weeks, roughly 250 students and parents photographed their neighborhood and their lives, the things they love and the things they want to see changed.

On a 40-foot skyline banner, kids pasted pictures they took on a walk of their neighborhood; photos of playgrounds they enjoy and burned out houses they wish people would tear down. They added notes such as “In my community, I love to be kind.”

Kids explored who they were and their favorite parts of themselves with other exhibits. University of Dayton graduate student Tom Cook showed a rough cut of a documentary he’s doing on the program. Another exhibit featured family portraits showing  how diverse Ruskin families are, yet how they are based on love.

“It gave us an opportunity to learn about each other,” said Sharae Clay, whose fifth-grade daughter attends Ruskin. “To learn each other’s stories, to learn each other’s struggles.”

Another portion of the exhibit featured photographs from parents and notes on their hope for the community. Many wanted the drugs, garbage and abandoned homes cleaned up.

Clay said she hopes the community leaders who attended the library event consider why they think it’s OK for her neighborhood to be strewn with trash and burned-out buildings.

“I think it’s because they think we’re not worth it,” she said. “Well, you’re wrong, because we are.”

Before they left, attendees were asked to write down on a cut-out handprint some task, large or small, they can commit to in response to the photos they saw. Kids wrote things like “I will throw trash in the trash can.” Adults wrote things like “Take pride in my community and improve the things I can.”