Photo: Courtesy of Dear World

Students share personal stories through Dear World

Dear World asked USC a question: "If you had one story to share with the world, what would you say?" And USC responded en masse.

The Dear World program, which takes portraits of people with personal statements written in marker on their skin, was initially founded after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. The project broadened when one man walked in who wanted to write about something that had nothing to do with the hurricane — he had just received the news that his cancer was in remission. His experience led the group to shift from focusing on hope for New Orleans to telling personal stories to the world.

“For my portrait, I wrote ‘Don’t let your scars change who you are,'” fourth-year English student Laffon Brelland said. “A lot of people, especially myself, deal with emotional scars, and then I also have physical scars and I thought that was a good line to kind of personify my life and what I’ve been through, and what I’m constantly going through every day.” 

The portraits, taken from 10-4 p.m. on Tuesday in the Leadership and Service Center, serve as a jumping off point into personal experience. Five students were selected to share their story at the Storytelling and Photo Reveal event at 8 p.m. Brelland was one of those five students. 

His message was one of self-recognition and the decision to change for the better.

The story he told: He went to someone’s home to settle a threat against his family. During the encounter, Brelland had a gun pointed at him. He remembers everyone yelling, and thinking to himself how this was the end, how he would never see his friends or family again. He survived, but walked away a changed man.

Courtesy of Dear World
Courtesy of Dear World

“Some of the wounds on my arm are from that fight, some are from others. But regardless, that day, that moment, I decided I wasn't going to become the things that I hated growing up. My mother always tells people I'm a kind, smart, compassionate person. Some days I want to believe her. Some days I can’t,” Brelland said. “She told me once that who you are is an everyday choice and not to let yesterday change you.”

Second-year public health student Taylor Wright spoke on his experiences with racism following the 2008 election.

“I wrote ‘The day after the election …,’” Wright said. “After President Obama was elected I went to school the next day excited about sharing that memory with my classmates, and they didn’t share that excitement with me, and some of their comments really set me aback and made me think about my position as an African-American in a Southern, white, Christian school and how they really kind of thought about me.”

Fourth-year English student Marie Silver decided that she wanted to speak on her experiences with counseling and mental health with the message “To move on, I had to Let It Go.”

“I really had feelings, emotions built up that I knew I had to let go, such as anxiety,” Silver said, “such as being ashamed to have been going to counseling and having it stigmatized that something is going on. I need to take care of my mental health, and having those fears, I had to let go in order to move on.”

Other students took a different approach, writing things from "It all started with a whale" to "She brought me cookies." In all, 58 people had their portraits taken, including University President Harris Pastides. On his arms, he wrote "I went nuts, and he picked me up."

“For USC as a whole, it’s good for the students to see that they are not alone in a lot of things they are suffering in, and a lot of things where they think ‘oh, you know I’m by myself’ or ‘no one will understand.' It’s good to show that they have someone else, maybe, who understands them and that they are more connected than they are not connected,” said Dawn Jefferson, film producer for Dear World.

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