A Chicago-area wedding photographer is on a mission to empower Black youth and restore their confidence, one camera flash at a time.
That’s the driving force behind Jermaine Horton‘s latest venture, the Art of Confidence Project, and he’s just getting started.
“We want to empower the children,” Horton, 37, told Atlanta Black Star of his passion project, launched late last year. “That’s always the number one goal; it’s the number one thing we care about.”
“We want to, through imagery, allow them to see something that they’ve never seen,” he added. “Out of that, we hope we can have something that impacts and changes their lives.”
Horton recently took his talents to the small town community of Tatum, Texas, to help a young boy penalized over his hair. Four–year–old Michael Trimble, affectionately known as “Tink,” was set to begin school last year in the district’s Head Start program when administrators took issue with his long, curly hair.
Tink’s grandmother, Edwina “Randi” Woodley, immediately challenged the Tatum ISD dress code policy, which states “no ponytails, ducktails, rat tails, male bun or puffballs shall be allowed on male students,” nor shall the hair extend past the top of a T-shirt collar.
After voicing her displeasure to a school principal and later to the district’s superintendent, Woodley would soon find herself faced with an ultimatum.
“He (the superintendent) told me I could either cut it, braid it and pin it up, or put my grandson in a dress and send him to school, and when prompted my grandson must say he’s a girl,” she told NBC News at the time.
Woodley, like other Black parents in the Tatum school community, found the dress code policy to be racially discriminatory. The school district would later amend its hair rule so as “not to single out any ethnic group.” Still, Tink would be “unenrolled” from school over the dispute and amid claims from district officials that Woodley had manipulated the Head Start system to get her grandson in.
Tink’s story wasn’t unique, however, and was just the latest in a string of incidents involving Black students punished over their hair/hairstyles. Enter Horton, who jumped at the chance to celebrate Tink with a photo shoot designed especially for him.
The Chicago-based photographer experimented with a number of themes, showing an exuberant Tink dressed as a king and another of him shooting webs like his favorite neighborhood superhero, Spiderman.
“His hair is his crown,” Horton explained, pointing to shots of the young boy with his hair up, down, free-flowing and braided. “And so we wanted everyone to see how kingly he looks.”
As part of the two-day shoot, Horton would also have 4-year-old Tink do what he calls the signature “scream” shot, where the tiny tot let out his mightiest roar.
“It’s releasing all the negativity, releasing all the anger — whatever you felt in that moment,” he explained. “Just let it go. And that’s always something we want to capture with that.”
This isn’t the first time Horton has used his photography as a means to restore people’s confidence. Last year, he hosted a similar shoot for an 8-year-old Michigan girl who was denied having her school picture taken after administrators said her red hair extensions weren’t in compliance with school dress code.
Third-grader Marian Scott recalled feeling like she lost part of herself when she was sent back to class that day, in tears. Horton stepped in to turn her frown upside down and hopes to continue doing the same for others through his work.
“I want them to know they have hope,” he continued, “that they have people that believe in them and that everyone doesn’t feel the way that those people who mistreated them feel.”
On Facebook, Horton reported that young Tink is attending a new school and doing better than ever. Plus, the fast friends are now more like family.
Horton said he was “so excited” when Trimble’s grandmother asked him to be the boy’s godfather, an offer he happily accepted.
“I said ‘yes,’ and so now I treat him like he’s my own,” he told ABS.