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Students Behind the Lens: Kaleb Autman




Covid, Classrooms, and Change-makers






Article & Images by Kaleb Autman

Since the announcement of the Covid-19 pandemic, students have been on the front lines fighting for themselves and their communities. This summer, students of every creed came together to support their communities in some of the roughest times in history, but as these students go back to school how will they continue to fight for themselves?

I asked three student change-makers how this moment has impacted their lives and the work that they do. Achieving great things within their communities, this level of commitment, determination and hope is contagious.

© Kaleb Autman
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© Kaleb Autman
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Timothy Jefferson, a freshman at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, moved on campus at the end of August. Speaking about the Covid-19 pandemic, Timothy said, “[Covid] has affected my work as a creator by giving me much more time to reflect and be introspective about my endeavors and projects. It gave me time to fully consider and explore other aspirations.” As a person interested in using technology to benefit all humanity, Timothy splits his time between taking virtual classes at his desk and self-teaching himself digital media skills. Since quarantine, he has volunteered his time as a mentor for young children in his neighborhood; helping them with their homework and daily productivity.

© Kaleb Autman
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© Kaleb Autman
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Another student I connected with was Destiny Harries. She is a rising sophomore at Howard University in Washington, DC. “Covid-19 has allowed me to build stronger inter communal relations. This pandemic has shown that my community has always been the strongest entity of relief for me”. Destiny spent her summer organizing protests and mutual aid drives for her community members in need. “Covid-19 has forced me to think about how to make this work accessible and how to always be looking for ways to bring people into the movement for equity.” Justice and accessibility are deeply important to the work that she does.

© Kaleb Autman
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© Kaleb Autman
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There’s no one I adore more than Avery Sims, a senior at George Westinghouse College Prep. Since the uprising sparked after the killing of George Floyd, Avery has been organizing cleanups on the Westside of Chicago. Seen in many communities across the nation, as resistance swept through, so did the looting of local stores and businesses. He understood the reasons why people did this and went to work repairing the harm done. “Covid-19 has made me focus a lot more on mutual aid; I try to give the hood what it needs to be self-sustainable”. As a high school senior, it is to be expected that he won't have a traditional high school experience. Avery doesn't care, he’d rather be fighting for his community.

Whether your change-making comes in the form of digital activism like Timothy or physical organizing like Destiny and Avery, it is important that in these times we all be reflective of how we can better contribute to the progression of our communities. Covid-19 has stolen lives, creativity, and resources from so many people. It is our collective duty to replace those things in surplus. Students time and time again have forged new paths and understandings of the world as we’ve previously known it. It is the young who challenge us to be the best we can be; it is the young who provide the solutions of tomorrow from the wisdom of yesterday’s elders. As we go back to class, physically or virtually, it is essential for our adult allies to find their place in this work. If Destiny and Avery can fundraise to buy neighbors groceries and pampers for children, then so can we. If Timothy can mentor children during a pandemic, so can we.

These young people’s stories and commitment to social change, in their own right, calls each and every one of us to do more with the little we have. We don't need endless amounts of resources to change the world, we only need hope and determination.

How will you show up for your community? Whether it’s today, tomorrow, or within your future self, the ways in which we show up for those around us are ways they will show up for us when we need them most. Love thy neighbor in order to love thy self.

Kaleb Autman is a freshman at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, IL. He writes, photographs, and cooks in the name of social equality, and has been published by numerous publications. TamronEDU featured his work in Ghana when he was only 15!

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