The AjA Project: Photography Programs for San Diego Youth

AjA Project’s Photographers for Change Create City Heights Photo Mural

In partnership with the Karen Organization, The AjA Project ran a nine-month-long program with young women of Southeast Asian refugee origins called Photographers for Change (P4C). During the program, 15 Karen participants, ages 13 to 18 years old, used photography to reflect on their experiences of migration and resettlement, explore their personal and cultural identities, and observe and document their community. Through this process, participants built rapport with one another and peers from their partnering program in Los Angeles. The paralleled programs in City Heights and Historic Filipinotown facilitated dialog with youth in the classroom, which was prompted by original image creation around the identification of issues existing in their respective communities.

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Participants of the City Heights-based Photographers for Change program identified gangs and gang presence as the most impacting and relevant issue in their community. Participants researched and discussed the issue and identified systemic causes of influence of gangs over youth and factors contributing to gang recruitment. Participants photographed literal and symbolic images, documenting and representing the issue in their community. Compiling the information gathered, along with their original images, participants developed a presentation for the Executive Director of the Commission on Gang Prevention, Reverend Rickey Laster, and the Commissioner for Gang Prevention (District 6), Vinh Tran.

After fielding questions about the program and the presentation from Reverend Ricky Laster and Mr. Vinh Tran, The Commissioner for Gang Prevention (District 6) presented statistical information about gang presence, recruitment and retention in gangs to the P4C participants.

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Taking the information gathered from the Commissioner for Gang Prevention (District 6)’s presentation and combining it with research and original images documenting gang presence in their community, P4C participants created an educational resource guide and brochure for the purpose of providing information and community-based resources for youth susceptible to gang recruitment in the community.

Participants included vibrant and colorful images in the resource brochure to support their perspectives of City Heights as a healthy, beautiful community.

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P4C Participants identified specific themes surrounding the ideas of a healthy, happy and holistic community. These themes included friendship, outdoor spaces beautified by nature, love, compassion, consideration for one another, community-based groups and cultural diversity. Participants created abstract, symbolic and literal images representing each of these themes. The participants selected their best images based on extensive image editing criteria and printed 25 of their strongest images 3 feet by 2 feet to create a public-facing mural. The mural creation and installation was focused on reclaiming a space that was formerly occupied by gangs in an area impacted by gang presence. In addition to beautifying the space, the participants’ intention was to inspire residents of City Heights to embrace their community and reimagine it without the presence of gangs.

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The participant-generated black and white large format images were adhered to large pieces of plywood with wheat paste (wallpaper) glue. The effective and fairly inexpensive method served as a medium for participants to engage in both the creation and installation process of the mural.

The P4C community-facing photo mural is located on the North side of Wightman in City Heights between 47th Street and Euclid.

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A very special thanks to the S. Mark Taper Foundation for funding the Photographers for Change program.

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