“Hello everyone. What an incredible short film. Wow. Shout out to Milton Guillén, also a Colby alum. He made this film about my life.
I’m honored to be here. Growing up in a single-parent household in the Bronx, always stressed about getting by, I never imagined the idea of working as an artist and being here today. It’s a blessing.
My idea of success, back then, was working a lucrative desk job, getting out of the Bronx, and living in Manhattan. I wanted to take care of my mom—who’s right there in the audience. She was always in my mind, I always kept her in my head.
After Colby I worked that desk job, but I started feeling helpless. I was doing stuff I didn’t care about. At Colby, I was drawn to video and photography. I realize now that was not so much about the medium, but about identity and self-learning. It’s who you are as a person that makes you a photographer, that drives your art and what you love.
Right when I was looking to leave that desk job, everyone was telling me: Don’t go into photography. There’s always the classic story of the guy who quits his job, leaves, and totally fails at it. But through my photography I could focus on concerns I had for the community around me.
I was concerned about race, violence, family life—all stuff happening in the South Bronx. Over time, I built a voice to tell these stories through social media and through my documentary work.
Soon I had the opportunity to work with the New York Times. I made my living as a photojournalist, photographing a lot of crime and homicide and stories also in my neighborhood.
I remember I was also one of the first to take a train towards Baltimore that night the riots started. On a fellowship at ProPublica, I had a significant role in a Pulitzer Prize-winning story. It’s been an amazing journey but it wasn’t easy.
There aren’t many people of color doing what I was doing. Many can’t afford to take the risk to develop into who they truly are. I’m glad Colby gave me that space to learn and reflect. The true north for me was not being afraid to be the first of my family to go to college, to go down a career path that I knew wasn’t going to make a lot of money. But it’s something I knew I wanted to do regardless of financial means.
Doing something you love, you know, it’s all going to work out in the end. That for me was the breakthrough. Now working at the mayor’s office my mom is telling everyone “my son works at the mayor’s office!” I’m like “Mom, stop. It’s a little bit embarrassing,” but at the same time it’s an honor. You know a kid from Hunts Point telling New Yorkers’ stories, standing next to one of the most important decision makers in the city. It’s pretty dope.
So that’s where I’m at now, working hard and looking ahead to graduate school. I want to expand my vision and network, grow as an artist that engages in social change through documentary work, mostly in neighborhoods. I think people need to interact more, be closer together. Then maybe after that I would teach at a college level—pay it forward for kids in a similar situation. That’s really what it’s about.
It’s about giving all people from all backgrounds the opportunity to reach their full potential like Colby did for me.