When I was 14, my dad wrote me a note. He told me to figure out what I wanted and to go for it, but also that — if I failed and felt disappointed — that he wouldn’t be; that he’d still love me. I kept this note. Periodically, I read it to be reminded.
The message in that note is the message that I hope TEDYouth delivered to the kids who had the opportunity to attend in New Orleans, and to the thousands of kids who watched from around the world. The message that, with the right dreams and the right support, people can achieve incredible, wonderful things. Kids have boundless desire, and they believe in themselves. We, as adults, need to make sure that we do all we can not to stand in the way of dreams — not to add barriers onto seemingly impossible tasks. It’s true for our contemporaries, but doubly true when it comes to young people.
Photographing TEDYouth just felt right. I’ve been photographing Dear World for nearly four years, but it started here in New Orleans when — in a precursor to the project — I asked New Orleanians to write a “love note to the city.” I’ve had the honor of photographing thousands of kids and adults since, and each person has a story. When I photographed the TEDYouth attendees, I asked them to think about their dreams. Some took it literally and others went their own way, but in each portrait I think the core remains true: being young is both awesome and anxious.
I absolutely loved seeing the graceful stage presence of some very polished teenagers who also were TEDYouth speakers, but what inspired me were the kids who bravely walking on stage when invited to share something during the open mic. You could feel their hearts pound. Imagine that moment: hundreds of your peers all staring back at you. And you sing. Or tell a knock-knock joke.
I hope they have the same types of opportunities that my dad wrote about to me when I was their age.
Here, enjoy some of my favorite images from TEDYouth.