after medellín,

It’s taken a while to get this blog (personal but also public diary?) up and running for me, but alas, reflecting on this experience should be a good reason to start.

I’m smack in the middle of my collegiate career. I’ve lived passed a tumultuous first year of moving to a big school after living in a small pond for the first eighteen years of my life. In two years, I’ve met the most amount of new people that I’ve ever met in my entire life–most are people that I’ve met once, and never again (I now greet my social one-and-dones with awkward smirks when I pass them between my classes). And I’ve survived three semesters of French (after knowing nothing about the language before I got to college).

Je suis désolé. I digress.

Throughout my life, never have I felt both so sure and unsure about myself, my placement in the world, and my purpose in this strange combustion of major life events that seem to happen to me every other week or so, as of recent outside of these two years that I have been on a college campus. My recent school project to Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia, has validated this notion even further.

Let me explain:

“When I grow up, I want to be: …” is a phrase that changes over time for most people. I’ve been no different. My cousin passed away in the fall of my fourth grade year. He was a nurse in the daytime, but at night, he was an aspiring filmmaker. My aunt gave me his book about the creation of the Dark Knight trilogy. By the time fifth grade rolled around, I was sent on becoming a movie producer. I made homemade YouTube videos–many individuals from my generation followed the same suit at that time. I was serious about it throughout middle school; I would convince my teachers to play my videos on their projectors when we had free days at the end of the week (not to flex, but I received the “best actor” superlative for Blackburn Elementary’s 6th Grade Class of 2010-2011). By the time sophomore year came by, I started a poetry account on Instagram, another trend at the time. To my surprise, I reached semi-viral success, as my poetry account peaked to 11.7k followers on the platform within a year or so. And two self-published poetry collections later, alongside an acceptance letter to my childhood dream school, I found myself picking up the Canon Rebel t2i that I got as a birthday present in the fall of seventh grade, and I began taking portraits of my friends during the last semester of my senior year of high school.

Enter college. I intended to keep writing as a journalism major, but I joined my school newspaper in my first semester. At this point in my poetry-writing career, I was tired of being ambiguous and vulnerable at the same time, and I knew that my writing had turned from serving my own thoughts, emotions, and desires to pleasing an audience that I had built for the past three years. In the meantime, I had fallen in love with photography. I was diving deeper into visual storytelling every day. Thus, I found myself holding a camera, just as the fifth grader version of me–except this time, I found myself helping other people tell their stories instead of telling my own.

The current capitalization of my visual storytelling experience took place this March of 2019, when I went to Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia with my visual communications department at my school. My role was a photographer, alongside a group of student reporters, videographers, designers, and public relations person. As a class, our project was to cover the Venezuelan political, economic, and humanitarian crisis that is, as of the date of this blog post, is still happening–and still getting worse.

We were only there for about ten days; however, within those ten days, I, alongside the team members of my class worked with phenomenal local Colombian students, Juan, Laura, and María to find, document, and tell the stories of Venezuelans who were displaced into Colombia by the turmoil currently taking place in Venezuela. The ten days in Medellín was one that was too brief; however, in those ten days, I honestly believe that I learned the most in my career so far about the journalistic and creative process. In my time there, I shared time and work with some of the most loving, helpful, and extraordinary creatives and storytellers that I’ve met so far in my life. I also met people that have experienced and still are experiencing hardships that transcend any of my preconceived perceptions of the definition of “struggle.” And as a result, I’ve relearned the potential in storytelling.

There’s a potential in storytelling to help people. Displaying people’s stories can inspire others for action. Sharing their struggles but also displaying their resilience can inspire others to help their story, whether it be directly or not. In my opinion, all it takes is a flip of the switch. In my experiences in Medellín, I learned that as a visual creator and as a photojournalist, I can help construct that switch for the people who need it the most. I can be the amplifier of peoples’ stories.

It’s been a week and a half since my class and I arrived back in the U.S. We still have a lot of processing to do from the trip, and we still have work to do to complete the stories that we started in Medellín. My current struggle in these past two years has always been what I’ve always desired and what I currently am doing in the moment. As of now, I’m a photographer. A photojournalist. A visual communicator. Will I own those same titles in five years? I’m not sure; I never know where life will lead me. I have never known what I would primarily be doing in the next year. But I have always known what I have wanted to be: a storyteller. Whether it be my own story or the stories of others, that desire has always been constant. I think I do it because of my cousin. Maybe this is something he wanted to do. Maybe this is my way of keeping his story alive.

The full website for my class project in Medellín will be linked here and will premiere on April 23rd.