After all, our paths often cross several times...
When I first started the Faces of FAY photo project, my initial intention was to help shift old “Fayettenam” perceptions of Fayetteville among military families like ours. I was on a mission to shed light on the amazing people my paths crossed with during our time in the Fort Bragg/Fayetteville area while helping other military spouses learn more about this beautiful city. Over the past 6 months however, this journey has evolved in a way I couldn’t have imagined during that first interview. I have now met with over 250 Fayettevillians of various diverse backgrounds and this community has shown me the power of an open heart and open mind. Collectively, Fayetteville has taught me we all have a story. Every human being I have met, regardless of social class, race, ableism, gender, religious background, nationality, age, or any other status, has stepped into a bubble of courage and shared vulnerably with me, as I with them. We have sat, choosing to be humanly raw together. I have learned to see everyone in this community as my ‘neighbor.’ After all, our paths often cross several times a week on the streets of historic downtown. I’m also understanding we are all part of a larger community puzzle and together, we are FAY. Fayetteville, for those who aren’t aware, is more than a geographical location; it’s a community of people who believe in each other. They encourage one another and extend a supportive hand to us transient folks. People here have motivated me to see past the shell of a being and search deeper for the heart and soul. This project has also helped me understand human rights through a new lens.
Last week I sat in the rain with a homeless man who had recently been released from prison. He had already served 25 years and was now on parole. He was a gentle and friendly soul who shot me a cheerful ‘hello’ while I was snapping pics. He asked what I was photographing, and we got to talking about the project when I asked if he would be willing to share his story. I would have never known what he was struggling with and what turns his life had taken, had I never asked. This project has given me the courage to go beyond the typical ‘hello, how are you?’ and has taught me to pause and truly be in the moment, intently present with those in the world around me. It’s helped me understand that a homeless man, can have more in common with me than I might think, and all I need to do is lean-in. That day, I held his hands and quietly prayed over him. What I will remember most about him, is not that he was a convicted felon or that he had a rough childhood… what I will remember most is what the camera and recorder couldn’t capture. It was the childlike joy with which he threw his hands into mine and asked that I pray with him. At that very moment, the twinkle and hope in his eyes tugged hard at my momma-heart. He reminded me of the excitement my children display when they get a hug from me. Then it dawned on me that this new ‘neighbor’ of mine, might not have had a hug or felt human touch in years due to his imprisonment. It occurred to me that he never got to hug his mom again before she passed, and that weighed on him heavily. I was also touched by the words of encouragement he had for youth and I left remembering him as someone who would be a great guide and mentor to today’s troubled youth (whether he realizes it or not). He said ‘goodbye’, thanking me for stopping to talk for a bit. I left hoping to see him again. The moment I chose to go against the assumptions and stigmas associated with the homeless and incarcerated populations, a meaningful and beautiful interaction resulted. When I think of human rights, I think of diversity and I’m reminded that regardless of backgrounds, we are all human, with a past that has equipped us to be a contributing member of our Fayetteville community. Something special can happen when we choose to see each other through that lens and make the active choice to lean-in with a deep respect for fellow humans and a newfound curiosity to learn from one another. As we observe the Universal Month for Human Rights during the month of December, let’s try to step outside our comfort zone and take a moment to read about other cultures, ask a friend or co-worker about their background, or simply stop and say hello to someone new, focusing on the things that unite us rather than those that separate us.
Article and Photography by Kathy Coule, creator of Faces of FAY