A man recounts having to tell his young niece that her father had been shot in a bungled burglary. A woman describes her mother, “the rock of my life,” beginning to hear voices and failing to recognize her. Another recounts the kitchen table conversation where she admitted to her father that she was pregnant at 16.
“To this day, I still feel the shame, fear, and uncertainty that pulsed through me,” says that last woman, Kim Janey, the acting mayor of Boston. In an arresting public photo exhibit, she also recounts what the painful moment meant to her and how it turned her life around. “That conversation also connected me to prenatal care, support from my loving aunts, and enabled me to graduate,” she said.
The candidates competing to be the next mayor of Boston are used to sharing their uncommonly compelling narratives and personal challenges as they try to connect with everyday voters on the campaign trail. Now, they’re telling their stories in the Boston Uncornered Photo Project, an exhibit that aims to shift the public mindset by displaying larger-than-life portraits of successful public figures alongside those of former gang members. Each photo subject shares a story of a time they felt “cornered” but found a way to free themselves from a negative narrative.
“We are asking people to think about our shared humanity, the unifying aspect, and to think differently of who gang-involved individuals are and the potential they have to change the city by transforming their own lives and influencing their communities,” said Michelle Caldeira, the project’s cofounder and senior vice president.
Boston Uncornered, the Mayoral Edition, features a series of 5-foot-by-8-foot black and white portraits, one for each of the six major candidates who entered the race, including state Representative Jon Santiago, who dropped out in July. All were photographed by acclaimed sports photographer John Huet before he headed to the Tokyo Olympics.
“It was powerful,” said candidate and City Councilor Andrea Campbell, who shared with the photographer a different slice of the tragic story she often tells on the campaign trail, about her twin brother’s death in law enforcement custody. She recounted traveling to see him for what she knew would be the last time and, stuck in fear and hopelessness, turned to prayer.
“It matters that we tell our stories, because it incentivizes others to do the same — and to do it without any sense of shame, even as folks are grappling with that,” Campbell said.
Mayoral candidate John Barros shared the story of finding the strength to tell his niece of her father’s death; Councilor Michelle Wu told of channeling her fears about her mother’s late-onset schizophrenia into caring for her sisters; and Annissa Essaibi George remembered the joy in being elected an at-large city councilor, after her Tunisian father had long warned her, “A girl with an Arab name like yours will never be elected to anything in this City.”
Boston Uncornered, founded in 2016, is an initiative of the education nonprofit College Bound Dorchester that aims to help former gang members become positive influences and college graduates, offering weekly stipends to participants who turn away from street corners to pursue college degrees.
Since it debuted on Boston Common two years ago, the traveling photo exhibit has been installed at Gillette Stadium, Patriot Place, and Seaport Common, and has featured Boston titans including former mayor Martin J. Walsh, US Representative Ayanna Pressley, and New England Patriot Devin McCourty.
The photos will be displayed at Sea Green Park in the Boston Seaport District through Sept. 15.