2002 — student award of excellence
Roberto’s love of photography began at a young age, but he did not consider it as a career path until his last year as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia. After graduating, he pursued his masters in photojournalism and online media at the University of Florida. He then worked as a photographer and photo editor for the Legal Times in Washington, DC for about three years before starting his own photography business. His work has been published in National Geographic Traveler, Budget Travel, The New York Times, Time Magazine and Smithsonian. Roberto is available for editorial and advertising work around the world.
Irvin Smith lives in east Gainesville. He is a 20 year old black man in an impoverished, predominantly black community. “It’s hard sometimes,” Smith said, “working 40 hours a week at Wal-Mart for a few bucks an hour. I’m always getting a ride from a friend with a car.” Smith, who lives with his paralyzed uncle, gets home from work at 8 a.m., sleeps until 3 p.m. and then runs to his trainer.
Since he was 17, he has trained with Leon Bradley to be an Olympic boxer. Bradley worries about the problems that Smith and other poor east Gainesville youth can get into. “You see them kids drinking the 40 oz. on the corner, driving around in their big cars,” Bradley said. “If a guy can’t beat you with fists, he comes back with a gun. Bam! Bam!”
Smith hopes that boxing will bring him a brighter future than what Gainesville and Alachua County seem to offer. According to the 1998 Florida Statistical abstract, the poverty rate in Alachua County is 20.2 percent. University of Florida sociology professor Leonard Beeghley says it’s hard to overcome the obstacles that poverty presents. “People are choosing between limited alternatives. They have lousy schools. They don’t have access to medical treatment. They’re stuck in awful housing. You can’t make it on $7 or $8 an hour.”
Seven dollars an hour is what Smith earns at Wal-Mart. Housing with his uncle is rent-free and his mother pays for his insurance. Many of his friends are not so lucky. “Some of my friends, they get kicked out by their parents and get a place, 10 people in one place. One of my cousins deals drugs now,” Smith said. Close to his home are “places with rock-bottom rents that can be leased on a week-by-week basis. [They are] crash pads for drug dealers and prostitutes,” wrote Tim Lockette recently in the Gainesville Sun.
While some of his childhood friends slip into trouble, Smith is working hard to find sponsors to fund his boxing. Large matches that count toward the rankings are usually in south Florida or further away in other states. One man from his church has financed some of the travel expenses. Smith hopes that success at the Golden Glove Tournament on May 3rd will rally some more sponsorships.
For the next few weeks, I will document the life of Irvin Smith, a man with dreams, as he struggles to reach them in a poor, down trodden community. I will document him training with meager equipment, working at Wal-Mart and spending time with friends. I hope my photos will show both his spirit for achievement and the environment which is so difficult for many people to overcome. Perhaps the photos will enlighten middle-class Gainesville residents about a neighborhood they avoid and fear. Maybe someone will want to help Irvin.