FLINT, Michigan -- Alvin Jermaine Brown of EyeSnapStudios and Jennifer James of JJ Photography are two Flintstones on a mission: to foster community and recognize the incredible resilience and tenacity of Flint’s next generation of leaders, and do it through the vehicle of photography. They do all that and more through a one-day event called Walk N Shine, a free senior photo extravaganza for Flint’s graduating class of 2021, happening downtown Flint Saturday, August 7.
There is no drama or negativity, just a wide range of community photographers, restaurants, clothing lines, makeup artists, organizations, and volunteers showering each other and every student and family with love and support. The event, created as a response to the plethora of students in need of senior photos, spurred the two into action. What started as a conversation ultimately turned into a yearly affair and has gained phenomenal community backing.
In their second year, Brown and James have committed themselves to take the lessons learned from their lives and photography classes from Mott Community College professor Bob Rentschler to build a long-lasting legacy. Flintside caught up with the duo in Cafe Rhema to talk about all things Walk N Shine and what it means to them and the community.
Flintside: Talk to me about the name of this event, Walk N Shine. I gather the walk is related to walking across the stage for graduation. But what does the shine mean?
The basis behind the name is to recognize graduating high school seniors who have managed to get through the high school portion of their lives. As teenagers, we faced peer pressure, hormones, friends, family problems, drug addictions, pregnancy, and suicide. Yet, despite going through those, they have still managed to push through. So, we want to honor and recognize them for all their endeavors. [As they] step into adulthood, it’s going to be their time to shine their light into the world.”
Flintside: This is an opportunity for graduating high school seniors across the city. When we think about an event of this magnitude, it can be a little daunting. How did you two manage to put all the pieces together?
: “We were both added to this group called Adopt-A-Senior. I put out there, ‘Hey, I’m working full time, but I’m willing to do free senior photos.’ It was an overwhelming amount of people who contacted me [and him]. I called Alvin, and we collaborated, talked, and laughed. I got five photographers, and he got five. He found a makeup artist, and I found one, and we started with that. We reached out to our photography professor Bob Rentschler at Mott Community College. He got in touch with Canon USA, Inc., and they sponsor our event and send us camera equipment for the photographers. We had four clothing lines donate, and we had Luigi’s sponsor and fed everyone. Alvin hooked up with the Greater Flint Arts Council and Ferris Wheel to let us utilize their space.”
Flintside: This event is student-centered and focused. To shine a light on students utilizing photography as the vehicle goes far beyond simply taking photos. Can you talk about how this event feels to be more holistic in its approach?
We both talk to [everybody] and make them aware that this event is not about you. These students do have issues at home, and we need people who can adapt to that and relate. I speak to each kid individually and their parent/s or guardian/s because if there are certain things that we need to be aware of, I can place them with the right photographer. We want the kids to feel comfortable and (have it) be a day of enjoyment and celebrating their accomplishments. If I can touch one graduate’s life with a few words, a smile, or a picture, so be it; that’s God’s blessing.”
We want to make sure the students know that they are appreciated, and this is their day. It’s a great opportunity for the photographers to work, build a genuine connection, and let them know they understand where they’re coming from because I had my own challenges. We are who the graduates are going to open up to. So we want to be able to set a positive example by being open and recognizing them.”
Flintside: Walk N Shine, I feel, is a testament to what’s possible when you say you want to do or achieve something. I believe it showcases to the graduating seniors that there is a community of people who love and honor them. What do you feel is the significance of Walk N Shine?
Honestly, I’m very thankful that this event is well put together because it does take a whole village to raise a child. That’s what this event is a showcase to represent. We, as a collective, can come together and make a positive change to the youth that’s coming up. We’re not going to be here forever, so make sure to take the time to pass all your knowledge and utensils to the next person. One of the best ways is to make sure these students feel recognized and acknowledged for any and everything. This event is something I want to see continued in Flint long after I’m gone.”
Flintside: When you both look at what you created last year and looking at what you’re about to accomplish this year, what does it all mean?
My main focus is for the students to come down and enjoy the day—that it’s all about them. I want the students to come to something where there’s no negativity or hesitation [to take photos] because you don’t have any clothes or shoes. It’s a blessing to be able to provide that. It’s about providing that help to families who can’t afford [senior photos]. It’s not about the money or politics. It’s to let these kids see how the community can pull together to provide this for them.”
What Walk N Shine means to me is the impact it has on everybody that comes across it, whether you are the ones volunteering, the students, photographers, to see how it impacts people and create a positive change in their mindset. It leaves an impact to say, wow, some great things are going on within our city. It took only one day out of 365 days to utilize everything that I have been blessed with to give back. Walk N Shine means a lot when I see how big of an impact it has and how it touches the lives of all those who take part in it.”
You can find more information about Walk N Shine on Facebook. To stay up to date on Alvin J. Brown and Eye Snap Studios you can follow him on Facebook, Eye Snap Studios, and Instagram. To learn more about Jennifer James, you can visit her via Instagram.