There is citizen journalism and then there is photographic philanthropy, and they each serve a purpose. I have been covering Occupy events in my area by shooting photos and making them available on flickr, as well as tweeting them around. A few publications have asked me to post to their sites as a citizen journalist, but I haven’t taken that step yet.

April 26, though, I shot an event that wasn’t about Occupy. It was a photographic exhibit called “Facing Forward” by volunteer Marsha Guggenheim that displayed beautiful profiles of women who had graduated from the Community Health Worker Training Program of the Homeless Prenatal Program, alongside short blurbs about their success stories.

The opening event was packed. Like Occupy, it was a mixer of all kinds of people – culturally and economically. I find it the most powerful when philanthropist types come together in the same space with the economically disadvantaged people being served, with shared goals.

I don’t know what sort of graduation ceremony typically happens for women who graduate the Community Health Worker program, but this event was a truly high and joyous celebration of the 132 women who have graduated from the program since its inception in 1995.

There, the twenty-eight women who appeared in the photos proudly posed by their portraits, some with their children and grandchildren by their side. They accepted gift photos from the artist in a special ceremony at the opening event, facilitated by HPP Founder and Executive Director Martha Ryan.

The event was free to attend, and the collection of images was captured in FacingForwardbooks which were available for purchase. The lasting philanthropic benefit of Guggenheim’s project is in the continuing sales of these books, with gorgeous shots of bright colorful women, holding props that represent their passions and successes, alongside their stories.

As a citizen journalist in the room, I noticed there was no video of the ceremonies being recorded so as I took pictures of the event, I also pulled out my cell phone and streamed it. Though the video quality is poor, the audio is fine and more importantly the sweet celebration can be savored.

I wasn’t so surprised to see that the author of the San Francisco Chronicle’s moving article on the exhibit opening, Kevin Fagan, was one that also covers the Occupy movement. “It portrays triumphs and horrors few people experience,” he wrote. “Some of the women fled political oppression in countries such as Nicaragua. Others escaped the oppression of hopelessness in crime-ridden neighborhoods here. Some were beaten as children and chose abusive partners as adults; others were raised by drug addicts and became addicts themselves.”

The word “few” reveals a common misunderstanding of poverty and a disconnect from social struggle. The oppressive situations Fagan describes are far from unique, as they are suffered by millions of people in the US and around the world. In fact, the Homeless Prenatal Program serves 6% of San Francisco families – far from few!

The Homeless Prenatal Program’s broad mission to break the cycle of childhood poverty is achieved by targeting families during the pregnancy and parenting years. Guggenheim’s choice of programs to support demonstrates a strategic wisdom of how to invest her volunteer efforts to make maximum impact. Her impassioned, artistic project expressed appreciation and adoration of real women at the front lines of changing the poverty dynamic in our society, in a format that was contagious and easy to join.

Marsha’s photographic philanthropy and my photographic citizen journalism serve similar purposes but fulfill different functions. My experience at the Facing Forward event reminded me that unity is key to mending disparity. I hope that my citizen advocacy journalistic report of the occasion will help facilitate the success of the grassroots, nonprofit, and philanthropic efforts.

Wendy Kenin is a social strategist training nonprofits and small businesses in the use of grassroots communications tools, from traditional public relations to new media. A doula and mother of four, she is also an appointee to the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission and co-chair of Green Pages, the national newspaper of the Green Party of the United States.


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