By Carrie Fox
Simple messages can have a lasting impact.
In the summer of 2016, Carolyn and I attended the Social Innovation Summit in Washington, DC. It was, as it always is, a gathering of powerhouse social entrepreneurs, community leaders, and change agents all committed to developing and advancing impactful social partnerships. The two-day Summit was rich with inspiration and real, face-to-face, no-phone-required connections.
But, the most inspired moment for me came during the opening session. That’s when photographer Robert Fogarty introduced me to his powerful project, #DearWorld.
Since its inception, #DearWorld has traveled the globe, capturing stories of love and loss from Boston marathon bombing survivors to the people of South Sudan. They’ve visited Syrian refugees in the second largest refugee camp in the world. They’ve traveled to Joplin, Missouri, where 160 residents died in a tornado; and Brooklyn, New York, where a 6-alarm fire destroyed 111 homes during Hurricane Sandy. Their most recent series, covered 40 victims’ families, first responders and survivors of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando.
Fogarty, who started the project in 2010, originally as a project called Dear New Orleans, has a simple request for each of his photo subjects:
- Reflect on your personal story, whatever it may be
- Write a message on your skin that symbolizes your personal story
- Share your portrait with family, friends and colleagues
The one “rule” he says, is that whatever message or phrase you choose, there must be a real story behind it. He asks people to share one message to someone, or something that they care about.
Through the project, Fogarty has collected thousands of photos: portraits of children living in refugee camps (“I want the life I had to come back”) to survivors of the Boston Marathon (“Still Standing, Still Beautiful”). He’s collected stories from first generation college students (“I’m going to college”), to first-time moms (“Precious Life”) to cancer survivors (“C is for Courage”) and formerly homeless individuals (“You believed in me”).
The compelling project is storytelling in a very real, raw and vulnerable form. It’s a challenge to capture your life, your philosophy, your story in 7 words — typically — or less, writing it on your hands, face or body in black Sharpie. As Fogarty said from the stage, “We all have stories to share, and they deserve to be heard.” This is his way of amplifying them.
The project made me think a lot about what my words would be. How would I define what matters most to me, and what message I’d want to share with the world? Maybe it should be a simple “Kindness Matters”, or a channeling of my favorite Keb Mo song, “There’s More Than One Way Home.” Maybe it should be about my daughters, or my approach to work, or my mom.
And then it hit me.
In communications, we often get wrapped up in getting every word right, so much that the power of the story can get lost in the process. Fogarty’s project is a good reminder that effective messages are often the ones that come from the heart. Overthink the message and you can lose it. If you’re true to the process of storytelling, you’ll naturally know where to go in telling your story — what has impacted you, inspired you, saddened you, or angered you. That’s where you start.
So, without any more thought, I’d say:
Change Starts with Me.
Click here to watch Robert Fogarty describe #DearWorld in his own words, and see some of his most compelling portraits.