Words are powerful. Even though words are simply strings of letters, they can convey hundreds of stories and emotions. Recently, N.C. Central University’s students were given the opportunity to share their own stories and emotions on their skins.
“Dear World,” a media and storytelling project created by Robert X. Forgarty and Jonah Evans, visited NCCU as a part of its college tour series on April 7. Students lined up in the W.G. Pearson Banquet Hall to participate.
After discussing their lives and experiences with members of the “Dear World” crew, students met with residential life staff to decide exactly what they wanted to say on their bodies and where they wanted their messages written. Then “Dear World” photographer Katie Greenman took photos of the students to be posted on dearworld.me
Students’ messages included accomplishments and the struggle to succeed, such as graduating college, messages of inspiration, statements of future goals. In all, about 200 students participated in the message/photo session, but seven went deeper told their life stories in a storytelling session later in the evening.
Chancellor Debra Saunders-White attended the event, along with a handful of faculty.
Residential life coordinator Janae McKinney can be credited for bringing “Dear Word” to campus. McKinney participated in “Dear World” in 2015 at the NASPA convention in New Orleans. She reached out to “Dear World” and Residential Life Director Ronnie Davis about possibly bringing “Dear World” to NCCU.
“It’s a large program that goes all around the world,” said McKinney, explaining that the program helps students get conversations started about the issues their face. “So to have Central be one of the locations where they stop at, I think a lot of students appreciate that, as well as just having that moment to talk, having a moment to vent.”
Participant Christopher Scott, a biology sophomore, had a residential life assistant write across his shoulder blades the words “If not me, who? If not now, when?” He said he selected this quote because he’s adamant about staying motivated and not giving up when times are tough.
Hip-hop artist, J. Cole, inspired another quote on Scott’s body. On his right hand knuckles were written the letter “F,” a dollar sign and the letter “S,” and a heart. We’ll leave it to the reader to decipher the word intended by the letter “F,” the “S” stands for “spread.”
“Money isn’t everything,” said Scott. “It’s all about spreading love and joy.” I felt like [Dear World] was a great asset to come and spread my voice. … I think people should come out here and spread theirs because it can make a big difference with anybody’s life at any given time.”
At the photo reveal, students, such as mass communication junior Mark Stanback, were provided the opportunity to share their life experiences with their peers and “Dear World,” making it an emotional night for everyone inside the Eagle Landing multipurpose room.
Stanback wrote “believe yourself” across his forearms in memory of getting through college and surviving numerous brain surgeries both before and after enrolling at NCCU.
After listening to others’ stories and sharing his own, Stanback learned that he wasn’t alone.
“There are times when I feel like getting up and going home, but I have come accustomed to saying a prayer a day and that really gets me through,” Stanback said. “I just feel like through all of this, there has to be something in store for me.”
Other messages included: “fear is death,” “a smile can mean different things,” and “never thought I could make it.”
The photos taken by the “Dear World” crew will be released on their Facebook page today.