Taken September 15, 2012 in Philadelphia, PA at the Photowalk Slideshow and Celebration

I saw Trayvon and Jordan in his eyes

USUALLY WHEN I photograph children, they smile at the camera.  They light up, pose, and glam it up, because they’re thrilled that someone with a camera is focusing her attention on them, if only for a brief moment.

those eyes 2012

Photographer Tieshka Smith shot this image as part of an event to celebrate the resilience of Philadelphia’s lower Germantown community in September, 2012.

Well, this little boy didn’t smile at all. Now, I’ve had this happen to me before with children I’ve photographed, but something about this little boy shook me to the core.

I was determined to photograph him anyway, and so I snapped a few frames and kept it moving.

However, as I was editing the photo, I began to wonder about him, his life, his outlook.  Did this pair of sad eyes looking up at me see something in me, or did he decide that there was nothing in his world worth seeing?

Where was the light, the hope, the joy?  He had to be no more than four or five years old.  He was way too young to look so sad.

[blocktext align=”right”]”As I think back on that moment, I wonder if he had some kind of premonition. Was he seeing Trayvon and Jordan, and all the other black boys and girls gunned down before their prime?”[/blocktext]As a mother, I know that children can sometimes withdraw.  They can be consumed by sadness and loss.  Some struggle to be accepted by their peers and others struggle to stay alive.  Our children carry way too many burdens today that I don’t recall carrying as a child.

But as I think back on that moment, I wonder if he had some kind of premonition. Was he seeing Trayvon and Jordan, and all the other black boys and girls gunned down before their prime, before they had a chance to live out their dreams and make their mark on this world?  Was he fearful that this was the world he was inheriting?

Was he sad because perhaps he sensed that there were forces, larger than him, conspiring to diminish (if not end) his life, and the lives of little black boys like him, before they had a chance to begin?

I’ll never know for sure.  But mothers, grandmothers, aunties and all of us who love and care for little Black boys and Black girls must do what we can to keep the lines of communication open.  Sometimes being a listening ear, focusing on what they have to say to us, may be the very thing that can help us pierce the veil of their sadness.

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The eyes of a child are the reflection of what is yet to come. And once again our children have become disposable commodities with no safe haven. Laws and the American mindset need to change and evolve sooner than later or else

Solomon Jones

Agreed. We have to figure out what we can do to change that mindset, however. I’d love to hear ideas concerning how we make that happen.


I think those with a particular mindset that is grounded in irrational fear against “the other,” whether it’s black people, and black boys and men in particular, or whomever doesn’t look like them, have to decide that they want to change. They have to believe that we are human beings, just like them… and there’s a growing body of research that suggests the contrary. I don’t know how one goes about persuading someone like a Michael Dunn or George Zimmerman to be less trigger-happy. They honestly believed that their lives were in danger, and there are a myriad of factors that we can blame for that.

So as far as I’m concerned, my approach through my art, is to challenge preconceived notions about those who are marginalized or othered in this society. I’ve had people come up to me to share how looking at my photos have forced them to rethink ideas they’ve had about black people. To me, a win, no matter how small, is a win that may save the life of a little boy or girl.

Solomon Jones

Art is powerful Tieshka. I hope you can gain even more wins. Your photographs are certainly strong enough to do so.


This kid lives on my block. His nickname is Pop Pop.

Solomon Jones

Pop Pop is the perfect nickname for him. He looks wise beyond his years 🙂

aine doley

I saw Pop Pop yesterday. He said he liked the flowers in the yard. :=)