Visitors to the 10th floor of the Walker Building can now get a glimpse into an experience they may never have contemplated: homelessness.
In a Different Light, an exhibit created by members of the Boston Youth Advisory Board (YAB), features prose, poetry, photography, and mixed media pieces that convey what it’s really like to be young and on the streets.
“They wanted to create a space where everyone had to pay attention to them, not just [service agencies] but members of the community,” said Boston YAB co-facilitator Jamila Bradley.
The Boston Youth Advisory Board is a city-funded program that brings together people under 25 who are or who have recently experienced homelessness. The members of the group advise the city on improving services for young adults facing homelessness or housing instability.
The idea for the exhibit, which opened on October 19 with a reception, sprang from a realization that the members had that they found strange: the only people who seemed to be aware of them were the agencies, like Bridge Over Troubled Waters, that were already serving them.
“That they had never engaged with their literal peers was something they felt was sort of strange and something important to do,” Bradley said. “The members wanted some sort of big event that pulls together members of the community that don’t normally interact with youth who are experiencing homelessness and bring them into their world.”
The exhibit landed at Emerson after the board drew up a huge list of Boston businesses, associations, and colleges and universities, and began reaching out to them to see who was interested in partnering with them, she said.
Emerson, through the Division of Diversity and Inclusion, jumped at the chance.
“Emerson ended up being our most incredible resource, in terms of space and food and helping us set up printing and framing,” Bradley said, while the city helped with getting the members access to camera equipment, if they needed it.
The pieces in the exhibit range from short matter-of-fact descriptions of what it feels like to not have a place to go, to poems about the experience, to photographs that show what their world looks like. One member made a collage that riffs on the “What my friends think I do” meme; She framed examples of what people think homeless people need (hats) vs. what they actually need (socks and tampons).
Bradley and her co-facilitator, Lauren Leonardis, don’t know the specific situations of all the YAB members, beyond the fact that everyone on the Board—including Bradley and her co-facilitator, has experienced homelessness.
Bradley said the Youth Advisory Board helps members in “low-barrier” ways; for instance, there’s food served at every meeting. But it also empowers members on a number of levels, and In a Different Light is an example of that.
“There’s something to be said for being able to stand in your own narrative that doesn’t make you feel like a passenger,” she said.