“But We Keep Going,” the Paul Robeson High School senior portrait series, was released on the evening of the 17th Leah Appleton and Greenhouse Media.
Event photos by Charles Shan Cerrone.
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Although the pandemic forced graduates of Paul Robeson High School in West Philadelphia to spend most of their senior year apart in 2021, the help of friends in Drexel University’s Writers Room meant finishing the degree with the opportunity to grow taller than to feel life.
Thirty-one of the seniors were portrayed as part of TRIPOD, Writers Room’s intergenerational storytelling program supported by Canon Solutions America. These images and students’ thoughts about the pandemic and its future were shared online, social media, and in real life and projected onto the Nesbitt Hall side of the University City Campus at 33approx and market streets on June 17th. The exhibition was synchronized But we keep going.
Some of the seniors, artists and supporters of the Writers Room and Paul Robeson’s leadership were in attendance to see the likeness of these students on display seven stories high and spoke kind words of the opportunity that arose due to the perceived need and desires artistic ingenuity.
Devin Welsh, BA English ’20, directed the exhibition as part of his position as ArtistYear AmeriCorps Fellow at Paul Robeson High School. Supporting fellows in New York, Philadelphia, North Carolina and Colorado, ArtistYear aims to “bring art justice to public schools in economically difficult neighborhoods that may otherwise not have an art program,” said Welsh.
He said the idea for But we keep going was created during a virtual meeting in late 2020 when the Robeson seniors involved in TRIPOD talked about the difficulties of distance learning and all the rites of passage they missed due to the pandemic – including their senior portraits.
“Rachel [Wenrick, director of Writers Room and associate teaching professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences] private sent me a message on Zoom and said: ‘I think we can do something there.’ So we spun around to see what was possible, âsaid Welsh. âIt was really about celebrating them. â¦ You had such a short year as a senior, and 2020 wasn’t that great for you as a juniors either. So they got into it and took their entire senior year. “
Although the Robeson High School class did their portraits and even a personal graduation ceremony in 2021, the But we keep going The project and exhibition on June 17th highlighted the vital connection between the university and the community created through programs such as Writers Room. Richard Gordon IV, Principal of Paul Robeson High School, addressed the crowd that had gathered at the projection event and thanked attendees for not only putting the students in the spotlight, but also giving them access and opportunity through TRIPOD to learn, grow and showcase their passions.
“It is very important for us to connect with resources in the community,” said Gordon. âWe are allowed to personalize learning for our students and to ensure that every single student who enters our building is engaged in some way. … What Writers Room has done has really impacted individual passions, motivating students to take a look at jobs that they often thought were out of reach. Writers Room showed them that it is within their reach, that they can make all the dreams they have for themselves come true. “
Dejah McIntosh, 20, of West Philadelphia and a 2019 graduate of Paul Robeson High School is one such example. She has worked for Writers Room and TRIPOD for several years and has been the talent behind the camera for most of the portraits shown in But we keep going. She said she was happy to help illuminate the 2021 class and showcase her own work as well.
“As a Robeson student, all I know is that this year has been really tough for her,” said McIntosh. âI thought to myself, ‘I kind of want to take pictures of everyone. Can that be a thing? ‘ And it turned out to be a thing and I was only there to help. I had a great time photographing everyone. Everyone was very nice about it. “
But we keep going was also created in collaboration with the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center and Pearlstein Gallery of Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, and supported by AmeriCorps, the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, and Pennoni Honors College.
Below you will find photos from the event on June 17, as well as selected portraits and quotes from the exhibition. You can see the full But we keep going portrait Row on the Writers Room website.