U grad launches photography program to inspire Minneapolis youth

The “Visual Voices” photography program for youth is funded by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

Jerusa Nyakundi teaches a creative photography class at Fairview Park on Wednesday, Nov. 13. Nyakundi’s class was fully funded with the help of the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation board.

Sydni Rose

Jerusa Nyakundi teaches a creative photography class at Fairview Park on Wednesday, Nov. 13. Nyakundi’s class was fully funded with the help of the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation board.

Ksenia Gorinshteyn

As a kid, getting your hands on a camera feels oddly powerful. You’ve been given this device to capture moments that carry meaning to you and those around you.

However, if you’re not getting the hang of it, the short-lived hobby can end up being pushed aside. 

Jerusa Nyakundi, a University of Minnesota alumna, wants to inspire youth to continue capturing those moments on camera. Nyakundi is teaching a six-week photography program for kids ages 12 to 18 funded by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board at Fairview Park. 

“[Teaching] has been such a wonderful experience,” Nyakundi said. “The kids are just looking for space to express themselves and learn something new.”

The program includes exposure trips to places like art museums and lessons in editing, portrait shots and more. “Visual Voice” began on Nov. 6 and runs through Dec. 4 to give participants the time to explore how they want to express themselves.

“Visual Voice” came about after Sarah Williams, an activities coordinator at the Parks and Recreation Board, had been discussing the possibility of starting a digital program for kids.

“I played around with the idea of how I can use media in a positive way,” Williams said. “I felt that technology was a piece of that, and so I wanted to combine technology and media as a tool for engagement.”

Williams’ goal for the program was to teach youth the foundational skills of photography to create a dialogue about their community. 

A coworker gave Nyakundi’s contact information to Williams after hearing about the idea, so she reached out. Once Williams and Nyakundi met, they both knew this was the path for them.

“It was really exciting for her and I to come together as strangers around something that we’re passionate about,” Williams said. “We didn’t really know how we were going to do it, but we trusted the process that if we do come together to create this vision, we’ll get funding somehow.”

“Visual Voice” is funded by the Walter Dziedzic Recreation Innovation fund, and it has allowed Nyakundi the opportunity to fulfill a goal that she spoke into existence back in January.

“I didn’t have any expectation or plan anything out, but when I was writing in my journal one day, I saw that I had put down teaching photography as one of my 2019 goals,” Nyakundi said. “It just manifested into reality.”

So far, the experience has been rewarding for Nyakundi. She’s seeing participants become more comfortable with their cameras, regardless of whether or not they’ve held a camera before.

“Being able to actually hold a piece of technology and us it is like a whole different thing to some of these kids,” Williams said. “It’s a tool of engagement and they’re interested in it. They want to use it, create with it, explore with it.”

Williams and Nyakundi have expressed a wish to continue the program, or a similar one, in the future.

“The Park Board is moving more in the direction of the creative technology space,” Nyakundi said. “It’s gotten good feedback from the whole board moving forward and I want to see the program go on every month.”

Nyakundi has said the kids have expressed wanting to be photographers for National Geographic Magazine and impacting their communities through their new skills. She hopes to help them explore those goals throughout the six weeks.

“The way that they’re learning and investing into themselves, they can use that for change in their communities and to help solve problems in Minneapolis.”

Editor’s note: Jerusa Nyakundi is a former Minnesota Daily employee.