By Mentoring Youth, Baltimore Photographer Heals Torn Community

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BALTIMORE – This month marked the third anniversary of Freddie Gray‘s death. The 25-year-old man died a week after he was arrested by Baltimore police, put in a paddy wagon and suffered spinal cord injuries that his family blamed on officers.

After a week of peaceful protests, riots broke out in response to Gray’s death – one in a series of high-profile deaths of black men who died in encounters with police. The uprising that followed, which prompted the Maryland governor to declare a state of emergency, was life-changing for at least one Baltimore resident – 29-year-old amateur photographer Devin Allen.

Allen gained national attention when his photograph of a protester being chased by police during the 2015 riots was published on the cover of Time magazine. Since then, Allen has helped the community, especially children, rebuild through photography.

“My career is built off the broken back of Freddie Gray,” Allen said. “The platform I gained catapulted my career.”

He said the accolades he received after Time published his photo gave him the responsibility of looking after his community.

“Being in the uprising shaped my whole being and existence. My whole life has been about me, my friends and my family. Being in the uprising, you gain a whole new family – all of Baltimore became my family,” Allen said. “[Now] I focus more on the youth and make sure everything I’ve learned comes back to the community.”

Allen’s photography documents the everyday life of Baltimore residents, capturing the people of Baltimore in their purest forms. The photographs aren’t always happy or appealing; they’re raw, and that authenticity has contributed to the praise he has drawn for his work.

The widespread acclaim motivated Allen to create a youth program, Through Their Eyes, to give the children of Baltimore a chance to express themselves through photography and to keep them off the streets. While teaching them to use cameras, Allen emphasized the importance of making the young people he works with feel like he’s one of them by being accessible.

“I’ve been on the streets, I come from where you come from, I grew up with your cousins,” Allen said he tells youngsters.

He said his involvement in the youth program, along with the publicity he gained through photography, motivates him to teach the children in his program as much as he can.

“I spend my time trying to inspire the youth. I focus more on the youth and make sure everything I’ve learned comes back to the community,” Allen said.

In addition to his youth program, Allen also participates in community events. On April 12, he helped organize a three-day series of events called Healing Through Creative Expression. The theme for the last day of the series was Healing Through Human Connection, which emphasized movement, conversation and communication.

The goal of the event was to heal Baltimore as a community – something Allen said the city desperately needed. The event was created around the idea that art is a tool for helping people recover from trauma, opening a space for the speakers to discuss their pasts and what they have done to heal themselves.

Allen’s photography is on display in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. He said he also plans on taking his exhibit to New York City, Los Angeles and London. Allen’s work has also been featured on Oprah Winfrey’s television network and BuzzFeed.

By Aya Driouche

Capital News Service

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