Sitting on an uncomfortable chair in the ballroom of a San Francisco hotel last Friday, I felt pretty purposeless. Along with around 5,000 other journalism students, I was watching the man behind the podium come unglued.
His name is Richard Ross. He is a photographer. He travels and takes pictures to earn his living.
But he’s not in it for the glamor. Richard isn’t on the sidelines at NBA games or in the rainforests of Brazil. He could take pictures of celebrities, of beautiful people and mountain vistas around the world. Instead, he’ll be spending a day this week in a solitary confinement room.
This is because of his drive. His need to right the wrongs of the world. Richard has spent the last four years traveling to various juvenile detention centers around the country and documenting the injustices that occur there. On his website, juvenile-in-justice.com, he displays pictures of children forced to stay in solitary confinement for weeks. Or eleven-year-old kids forced to room with young adults charged with murder.
When Richard isn’t shooting, he’s traveling, giving speeches to groups similar to the one I was with in San Francisco. He tells them about what he’s seen. His face turned a bitter red with anger as he spoke in San Francisco. He had to apologize when he almost cursed.
“How can you sleep at night when you know all of this?” He rubbed his eyes and looked out at us. “I know I can’t.”
I’m not normally moved by keynote speakers. They always say the same thing, give stale advice and try to make it sound fresh. Half of the time, I doze off or text or make jokes with the kids around me.
Last Friday, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the stage. Because, cheesy as it is, it gave me a wake up call.
Richard has his passion. He has something that makes him burn inside, that makes him so angry that he can’t sleep. His hatred of injustice drives him to travel to cold, barren, frightening cells. To talk to children who have been addicted to cocaine since they were seven, convicted of murder before they were legal adults.
And here I am, complaining about having to do a 30 minute phone interview with my friend’s mom. In the comfort of my own home. With a bag of almonds and a kitten to keep me company.
Where’s my passion? Where’s my drive? I’m a young, over-privileged teenager. I should be inciting a riot somewhere. I should have something that makes me itch with rage, a cause that I blazon on every t-shirt and bumper sticker I own.
Instead I find myself being passive. I don’t have a cause. But I want to find one. So this summer, I’m planning on finding something that I care about and finally devoting myself to it. Not journalism, or basketball, or something else that is centered on bettering myself. I want to finally do something for others, and I would suggest you do the same.