Category Archives: Post-College Friends

Faces: Naomi L

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Faces: : Naomi L

Places:  Champaign, IL

Oh my!:  Photo shoot fun and discussion on social justice and like issues we hold near and dear

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Meet Naomi:

I met Naomi last year through my Master’s in Social Work program at the University of Illinois. I didn’t get to make many friends due to a full class load and 3 jobs, but I’m glad she’s one of the few friends that I made.

Naomi is a British-Indian who immigrated to the States when she was thirteen years old. Despite a difficult move to a predominately Caucasian town, she has been able to adjust to life in the States, all the while merging her multicultural experiences into a unique personal identity.  While her smooth British accent is telling of her diverse background, it doesn’t take long to realize that Naomi has an impressive array of skills as well as philosophies on diverse matters, too.  But before we get to that, here she is in her beautiful salwar kameez:


 


Aside from being a British-Indian, Naomi can be described in so many other ways.  She describers herself as a “queer, desi, feminist social worker-in-training,” but can also be described as a social advocate, humanitarian, writer, pianist, clarinetist, guitarist, and progressive thinker. An activist at heart, she has spent her time volunteering at a women’s shelter, empowering young women as a music teacher at Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls, and interning at the juvenile detention center where she captured a passion for working with vulnerable and marginalized youth and their families.  She is now pursuing a job in this field in hopes to achieve freedom for all by giving people the tools and support to empower and liberate themselves.  On the side, Naomi is an extremely gifted writer, and writes regularly for (gaysi), a desi LGBT blog where she shares her views and personal anecdotes in compelling, thought-provoking ways.  (Check it out!)  She truly has a way of connecting with the human heart and mind, and speaks life and rawness to her readers.  Since she is such a great writer and great mind, I asked her to speak to some of her passions, and here is what she had to say:

Naomi on feminism:

For me, feminism isn’t just about women.  I feel like the feminist movement has come really far from when it was just about women’s and reproductive rights.  It’s still about all of that, but it’s also about racism, colorism, classism, sizeism, ableism… all the isms.  It’s about liberating everyone.  Many feminists use the term “equality” but I prefer the term “liberation.”  “Equality” implies that there is some population in our society right now that is worth striving to be equal to (men, white people, heterosexuals etc.).  However, minority men, poor white people or really any one in our society are not truly, completely free… so why would I want to be equal to them?  I want to be truly, and completely free.

Naomi on freedom:

Being free is a mindset.  Society teaches us a lot of things from the day we are born and a lot of it puts us in chains.  The road to freedom is sorting through everything and figuring out how much of what we learned is in our (collective “our”) best interest.  However, when we’re still living in the culture (and not in a vacuum) it’s hard to achieve total freedom and some people are punished for trying to.

Naomi on the Indian Diaspora

“Desi” is a complicated label. We’re usually the only ones that can pronounce it or know what it means but sometimes there’s a little childish joy in that!  Most desis of the diaspora have had times in their lives where their race has felt like a downer, so it’s nice to have a term that has connotations to something good.  I do think there needs to be more stress on the fact that “desi” is a collective term that should unite all South Asians – not just band Indians or Pakistanis closer to themselves.  When there are terms like “paki” and “sandn*****” being used against other brown people, we need to realize they are our brother and sisters.  We need to make sure we aren’t internalizing racism against our own people.  I was once called a “sandn*****” on the street and, while the term refers to Middle Eastern people, this is a literal example of how those words affect all of us.  Indians actually have some (relative) privilege in the U.S. being considered a “model minority”.  We need to use that to levy people up in the name of solidarity, not push them down.

Naomi on Social Justice

I love Dr. Cornel West’s words: “Never forget: Justice is what love looks like in public!”  That’s how I feel about social justice-minded activism.  A person’s activism shows what/who a person loves and also how they love.  It shows their passion, compassion, empathy, and dedication to those they love.  It’s not just about marching in the streets, though, because not everyone has the ability to do that; but everybody has the ability to love.  If your heart is in the right place, then the actions will follow.  Whether that means marching in the streets, campaigning for causes, being an advocate at your workplace, being an advocate for your friends, being there for your friends, … there are so many ways to do activism and express your love for justice.  Also, I think activism is sometimes a result of realizing that all of humanity is a loved one, not just those you see on a daily basis.

What words of wisdom and inspiration!  I hope you all enjoyed hearing what Naomi has to say, as well as her gorgeous portraits, as much as I did.  Talk about a beautiful mind and person.  Feel free to respond to Naomi’s words or pictures in the box below!

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Faces: London and Lonnell

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Faces:  London & Lonnell

Places:  Champaign, IL

Oh, My!:  A magical shoot of my friend and local hip hop artist, Lonnell Hayes, and his baby boy.

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Introducing London & Lonnell:

London & Lonnell was my first father-son duo.  It was an absolutely magical shoot, capturing their beautiful father-son interactions on camera.  Definitely one of my most rewarding photography moments so far.

Lonnell (the father) and I met in an extremely random way.  Last year, soon after I bought my camera, I was outside on campus playing around with my new toy with a couple of friends.  Out of nowhere, Lonnell came up to me and mentioned that he noticed my gigantic camera/lens and asked if I could shoot some promo pictures sometime for his music group.  I told him I was no pro, but agreed to meet up with him to do it.  This is what we came up with:

(Please forgive the very amateur, strait-on, wall, head-shots.)  🙂

After meeting up a few times for artistic collaborations, I began to learn that Lonnell is no ordinary guy.  An extremely resilient individual, he started his life in a dumpster outside of the hospital, where his mother left him soon after he was born. Fortunately, a janitor found him, and brought him to a woman who took care of him until he was three-years-old.  By the time he was three, this woman was having difficulties making ends meet. She struggled with poverty and was already trying to raise her own children.  Unable to continue caring for him, she dropped Lonnell off at a McDonalds and never came back.  Since then, Lonnell has been in and out of over a dozen foster homes, most of which were abusive.  When he finally managed to escape the system, he found hope and restoration at Cunningham Children’s Home, where he was able to enjoy life for the first time.  Since finishing high school, he has managed to establish himself as a successful musician.  He also owns and operates a recording studio for local artists, where he does sound and video recording, and he takes care of his two children.  I am truly impressed and thankful for all that he has shared with me, and I look forward to more music, video, and photography projects in the future.