Thumbnail image for this story (this will show up on the stories page of the site):
Relevant issues for this story, separated by commas (eg. war, race, gender):
Poverty, Race
Geographical region for this story (eg. Africa, Middle East, Southeast Asia):
North America
Relevant key words for this story, separated by commas (eg. Africa, Hurricane Katrina, Mother Teresa):
USA, New York, Housing Projects
A short summary for this story that will go on the stories page (1-2 sentences):
The complexities of living in the New York City Housing Projects are explored. The focus is on families who are working on getting out of the projects.
Stephanie Keith

2001 — student award of excellence

The New York City Housing Projects were originally built to house middle class families in an idyllic setting, but have instead become a concentration of an urban underprivileged class. They have long been synonymous in the public eye with drugs, violence and despair. Although there is some truth to this impression, there has been little visual documentation to bring the whole picture into focus beyond the stereotypes of welfare Moms and gang warfare. The projects are a complex mixture of both beauty and brutality filled with families that care about each other. My photo project will explore the stereotypes, and bring a greater understanding of the unique culture that exists in the projects.

My first contact with the projects came through following a high school aged football league designed for kids living in and around the projects; some of the most gang infested neighborhoods in NYC. The first time I visited one of the football moms, the city bus left me off in front of the sprawling complex known as the Webster Houses in the Bronx. The mom later told me, “I’m glad that you weren’t too afraid to come in”. She doesn’t always feel safe either, and is aware of the negative stereotype. When talking to someone else in the projects about my photo story, he said, “so you want pictures of drugs and guns” as if those images were the only images people wanted to see.

The projects have been changing lately. The new rules about Welfare becoming Workfare have changed the structure of the families. A mother who formerly stayed at home with her children, now works ten or twelve hours a day. She may have a fuller budget, but money now goes to day care. Violence, which had been a mainstay of project life, has calmed down. People from different ethnicities are moving in. I want to use my photos as an agent for change in the conception of the projects-to give a positive voice to those people who want a good life either outside or inside the projects. I want to help change a negative stereotype by showing life’s complexities beyond a simple snapshot. My essay will also explore the larger issues of why people choose to stay in the projects. Do people stay just out of financial necessity? Or, are they comfortable there? Some people would say that the projects are not so bad. Some people would say that they were.

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