“Making A Difference” by Meredith Stout

We welcome our guest blogger, Meredith Stout:

Fourteen years ago, in my early sixties, and without much direction, I was dabbling in art and doing some free-lance photography. At the same time, I was increasingly dismayed by the social injustices around me and wanted to use my love of photography to somehow make a difference in my community.

My life focus changed dramatically when, serendipitously, I was asked by a local magazine to do a photo documentary of the Women’s Daytime Drop-in Center, a small agency in Berkeley that provides support for homeless women and children. Thus began a journey in social activism and art that would change my life.

At first I was embarrassed by my fancy camera and was anxious about how to proceed, but I was struck by the beauty and openness of the women. I finally had the courage to ask one woman if she would like a photograph. She beamed. I began taking close up portraits, developing them in my darkroom, and giving each client a copy.

“You’re beautiful” I would say from behind my lens. “I wish you could see yourself.” Through our close bond, the women began to feel visible and cared about. I soon realized that the photographs were so evocative that this was not a standard documentary; it was about the dignity and truth of these women.

One day I met a client at the Center, Zelma Brown, who began writing poetry to express what she saw in the images. Although we were from totally different backgrounds, she, a young African American from an abusive upbringing, and I, a white college educated former faculty wife, we saw life through the same lens. We both cared deeply about the injustices of poverty and racism.

Soon I enlarged and framed the photographs and we had a gallery show. Then some friends volunteered to read the poetry, we projected the photos on a large screen, added music and discovered that our art had evolved into a powerful multimedia performance. We formed a non-profit called The Sisters Project, someone donated a van, and soon Zelma and I and six readers were giving presentations throughout the Bay Area about the plight of homeless women and children. In addition to being a photographer, I became an administrator, a fundraiser, and a public speaker — all because I began with one photograph.

Two years after Zelma’s untimely death in 2008, The Sisters Project has closed. I continue to photograph at the Drop-In Center and cook lunch for the women every Thursday. I  deeply believe that if you do what you love to do and you keep doing it, you will make a difference. You may never know what that difference is, but it will happen.

You are invited to visit the Red Oak Realty Company, 2099 Pleasant Valley Ave in Oakland (@ Broadway) to see a beautiful exhibit of the photographs. Also please visit HYPERLINK http://www.jjill.com/jjillonline/compassion/community.aspx for another story about my work, and http://www.womensdropin.org/ for more information about the Women’s Daytime Drop-In Center.

Contact for Meredith Stout: mstout@there.net.

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  1. Esther says:

    Dear Meredith,
    Thank you for sharing this story. Doing what you love to do is not all that easy for many people. Finding out what you love to do is sometimes a challenge. Yet, once you find it, you’ll know it – as you did, fancy camera and all. Esther

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