Dear WCU: students share stories only they can tell

Senior Paige Rushing’s message about dealing with anxiety. Photo by Keegan Wiggins

A picture is worth a thousand words.

WCU students Leena Boakye, Chloe Joyce and Jahniece Graham proved just that by using Dear World’s distinct message-on-skin portraits to share the stories only they could tell during the Dear WCU two-day event.

Just like every other participant, Boakye, Joyce and Graham followed Dear World’s process to uncover deeper meanings behind their messages.

One of Dear World’s storytellers, Fresh Johnson, facilitated the process following these three simple steps:

The journals participants use to create the perfect message for their portraits. Photo by Keegan Wiggins

  1. Reflect
  2. Identify
  3. Connect

“I think my favorite part is the actual process of starting and finishing the story, seeing where they start out at is a generic space and watching those layers come off as they begin to learn about themselves in the process,” said Johnson.

With some words of advice, WCU student, Yasin Muhammad, recommended being honest with yourself throughout the process.

“Be honest with the person that you are and where you come from because that makes this experience even better,” said Muhammad.

To kick off the process, participants are given a journal and are asked to reflect on their life. This typically happens over a span of a couple of minutes, which gives them just enough time to jot down the meaningful moments from their life.

Next, participants identify three distinct memories, which can be anything from everyday interactions to a life changing event.

Participants then pick one story to tell. This is where participants need to write all the details they can remember like who was there, what did it smell like and where were you.

While crafting their message, participants get the chance to connect with others by sharing their stories with each other in order to help each other create the perfect message.

Dear World photographer, Jack Sorokin, taking WCU student Allyson Wainright’s portrait. Photo by Keegan Wiggins

Once the message is complete, participants’ portraits were taken by Jack Sorokin, Dear World’s photographer.

When shooting the portraits, Sorokin aims to give participants something truly authentic.

“This is an opportunity to be very vulnerable, be really real. I hope that people walk away with an image that reflects that,” said Sorokin.

Dear WCU brought the event to an end with a live show,  on Sept. 26 in the UC Grand Room.

The live show kicks off with Johnson sharing Dear World’s other works, which include portraits, videos and stories of Syrian refugees as well as survivors of the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting.

Senior Leena Boakye’s powerful portrait. Courtesy of Dear World Facebook

Following Johnson’s presentation, WCU students Boakye, Joyce and Graham shared the stories behind their messages.

Leena Boakye was the first to share her story about initially rejecting denying a culture that she felt she didn’t belong to.

In her story, she describes taking a family trip to Ghana where she experienced horrible culture shock.

“My mom was super disappointed in me denying my own people, something that was a part of me,” said Boakye. “During my time there, we spent about a month there, every day I grew more comfortable with that part of me, and I stopped fighting the culture that was always mine.”

Following Boakye, Chloe Joyce shared her story about how being alone changed her outlook on life.

Chloe Joyce reflecting on her life as she works on her message. Photo by Keegan Wiggins

“I was alone that day. It was the first day that I’ve ever actually been alone. I hadn’t talked to anyone,” explained Joyce.

Joyce had decided to enjoy an ice cream at the Catafount, where she not only met a multitude of new people, but she also met her best friend.

“It kind of taught me that even though I was feeling alone, I’m never actually alone,” said Joyce. “There are people everywhere just waiting to make a connection, meet you, have fun with you, make a memory.”

Lastly, Jahniece Graham shared her powerful story of initially denying her brother as family and how it played into her depression and suicidal thoughts.

“Before my brother was born, I disowned him,” said Graham. “I did not like his father and I was not going to accept that he is my blood, and I was determined to not have any type of connection with this child.”

However, once her brother was born, her stance completely changed.

“I just fell in love with him immediately. That was the first time in fourteen years of life that I loved something enough not to want to kill myself,” said Graham.

Jahniece Graham writing Jasylyn Littlejohn’s message onto her arm. Photo by Keegan Wiggins

Following these three stories, students were given another chance to go through the process themselves.

Brandon Lokey, the assistant director of campus activities, was beyond happy with the results of Dear WCU.

“I think this event was definitely a success,” said Lokey. “I think it’s a great opportunity again to allow people to speak and be heard.”

Lokey would love to bring Dear World back to Western and give students another chance to share their unique stories.

A story only you can share.

To learn more about Dear World click here and be sure to follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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Dear WCU- share your story with the world