Be the Change

Photograph of protesters taken by Imani McCray that is included in his “Be the change you want to see” photojournalism booklet focused on social justice.

East Carolina University senior graphic design major Imani McCray’s booklet “Be the Change you want to see,” released Sept. 16, is a call to action for social justice.

The photojournalism campaign is intended to advocate for the people who try to make the world a better place, according to McCray.

The creation of this booklet was a two year process, McCray said. He said he intended for the booklet to be a comic book, but when he began the process he realized he would need a lot of outsourced work, so he decided to major in graphic design at ECU so he could do the work needed for this project himself.

“I can’t positively impact the world if I haven’t taken the time to invest in myself and sort out any emotional strife I have. I have to really change myself. I can’t expect anyone else to change themselves,” McCray said.

While living in India, the start of his journeys for the booklet, McCray said he volunteered at an orphanage for over a month and the children there were happy and positive without any money or any of the privileges he had as a child in America. He said it was one of the most transformative times in his life.

McCray said, while he documented the protests in New York over the summer after the murder of George Floyd, it felt like he was living in the 1960’s. He said there were so many people who protested and used their art to make a change.

The greatest take away from his travels and from the interviews he did for his campaign are attitude and action, according to McCray. He said everyone is going through obstacles in some way or another.

“My goal for this project is to be able to give people information to make informed decisions for how they want to shape their future as well as provide real-time resources for people if they do want to get involved,” McCray said.

Director of the ECU Italy Intensives Linda Darty and professors of photography Lucy Plato Clark and Mercedes Jelinek helped McCray become the photographer he is today, according to McCray. He said his photos would have not been as impactful without their positive influence and push for his success in photography.

Jelinek said McCray was her student when she taught at ECU Italy Intensives. She said she would describe McCray as an “adventurous and fearless spirit.” She said he has an open heart and an eye for successful images.

“It's been a pleasure getting to know him and see how his work has progressed in such a short time,” Jelinek said in an email statement. “I am very proud of what he has accomplished.”

Jelinek said there was a feeling of sadness after she read the beginning of the booklet. She said she felt angry as she reflected on the past year. She said she felt hopeful as she finished the booklet with a new light that has been difficult to find lately.

Jelinek said she was impressed by the booklet. She praised the way it was designed, the choices of text and the layout, which she said complimented the images in the booklet well.

“The images he chose are raw, compelling, meaningful, and work well in black and white. He should be proud of what he has accomplished. I am looking forward to whatever he does next,” Jelinek said.

Hallie Anna Ehly, McCray’s mother, describes McCray as an adventurous child and said he “really sees life” when she describes his artwork even as a child. She said she has a picture he drew when he was five years old of the two of them holding hands in front of a slide when they lived in New York.

Ehly said the booklet is well put together, well researched and offers a lot of insight. She said McCray is passionate and she is proud of his love and compassion for everyone. She said he doesn’t do what he does for money; he does it because he sees the need for the culture and for his people.

“It (the booklet) makes you more compassionate, seeing it (social issues) from the inside and it shows his love and compassion for everyone,” Ehly said.

Sarah Lazure, marketing coordinator at Emerge Gallery and Art Center, said she has known McCray since he has been a student at ECU. She said McCray has contributed three pieces to the Black Voices Matter exhibit in Uptown Greenville.

Lazure said she encourages people to take a look at McCray’s work and the other artists who contributed to the Black Voices Matter exhibition throughout Uptown Greenville since they do not have to go inside of the gallery. She said McCray has a large banner at the Greenville Museum of Art, a piece titled “Revolution” at The Scullery and another piece titled “Heroes” at Pitt Street Brewing Company.

“I personally support all of this. I hope that his booklet will help those that may don’t get it or had the right connection. That he’s able to inform, reach and educate others,” Lazure said.

The content of the booklet is very informative, according to Lazure. She said it starts out with facts about COVID-19 and photos to go along with the information. Lazure said she was surprised and impressed with the interviews McCray conducted with frontline workers.

McCray said he continues to raise money through a gofundme account to fund the second issue of the booklet, which he plans to title “Revolution or Renaissance.” It will document the 2020 election in Washington, District of Columbia.

He said he plans to interview members of Capitol Hill and to go to New York to document people’s reaction to the end of 2020 and New Years Eve in Times Square, according to McCray.

“Hopefully, this is something that I can continue to do, so there are always new resources and there are always new actions to get behind in a positive way to impact the world,” McCray said.

A printable version of the first issue booklet is available to patrons of the gofundme along with a poster and stickers, according to McCray. For more information about McCray visit his website, Instagram page and Twitter page.

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