A once white door on the side of a red brick building; today it is “tagged” by graffiti. To some, it is just an unavoidable reality of urban life, an eyesore you walk by and don’t give a second thought.
Matthew Pomerleau sees something more.
“The tagging could represent possible gang-related graffiti,” he wrote in the description of the photo he took in the city’s Acre neighborhood. “The best way to make this area safer would be to clean and/or re-paint the door.”
Matthew was one of 12 young men, all of whom have been affected by violence and understand the truths of the streets of Lowell better than anyone, who recently participated in a three-month photography project.
The project, dubbed Photovoice, gave the participants the opportunity to express what places and situations make them feel safe or unsafe in the city through the camera lens. They met several times a week, guided by Photovoice Coordinator Kerry Dates. Funding was provided through a grant by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
On Thursday September 19, three months of work were displayed in the Mayor’s Reception Room in the Photovoice Safety Summit, an art show attracting dozens of community members as well as former Lowell Police Superintendent Ken Lavallee and City Manager Bernie Lynch.
Photovoice participants included: Saunders Khath, Brendon Ly, Brian Mao, Luis Mateo, Timothy Nuth, Tyrone Nuth, Matthew Pomerleau, Nelson Rodriguez, Angel Ruiz, Sarin Ruom, Matthew Sekayi, and Ricky Wainaina.
Saunders Khath showcased a photo titled “The Brave,” depicting Lowell Fire Department Engine 3 driving through the city’s Highlands neighborhood.
“The reason that I took this photo was that it made me feel safe to see the fire truck in the neighborhood,” he wrote. “Although I am unsure of what the reason was that they are in this particular area, it is nice to see them. I also took this picture because the American flag was flying in the photo next to the Engine.”
Another of Khath’s photos depicts kids playing in the playground at Clemente Park. It looks like a nice scene of kids having fun, but he sees it differently.
Khath explains the scene made him feel unsafe because the kids were playing unsupervised and the park is close to the road in a neighborhood that can be dangerous.
“The park is also littered and the children are playing with it,” he added. “This is a concern of mine because it is common to see young children outside by themselves without supervision. We can encourage the community to pick up litter in the parks so that people do not get hurt.”
City Manager Bernie Lynch was particularly taken by Ricky Wainaina’s “Happy Place,” an interestingly-angled photo that shows a bench downtown where Wainaina often went to think.
“I could sit here and clear my head and was able to have the courage to keep pushing forward, which has gotten me to where I am today,” he wrote. “I hope the city and the community continue to do a good job in maintaining the beauty of this area.”
“This project gave these youth a positive alternative and an opportunity to showcase their artistic talent,” said Taylor. “Additionally, it gave them a chance to have their voice heard by city leaders and residents.”
“The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with several attendees expressing their admiration for the young men and the photos they took,” Taylor added. “I personally was very pleased with the event and the number of city leaders and community members who expressed their support for these young men and this project.”