Meet the people whose participation in The Hope Is Project has been inspiring to Sarah Takako Skinner. Their personal journeys, meaningful experiences with the project, and reflections on its personal impact are all powerful and have been very important to the development and messaging of the project . Below are their portraits photographed by Takako, and some of the images they each took with the Holga camera, accompanied by their own words on how they chose them and what they have meant.
FACES OF THE HOPE IS PROJECT
PHOTOGRAPHED BY TAKAKO
My body is a machine; it is a vessel, carrying me through this battle called life. I’m fighting to survive. I survived the cool blade coursing my skin searching for relief through self-mutilation. It was a relief from the self-hatred and pain of not knowing who I was. I am transgender; a hatred so deep that suicide would have been a solution. I chose to survive.
I survived the verbal assaults of discrimination from society and by my parents, the ones who gave life to this vessel. I survived the rapes; his and then her body on top of mine, taking what was not theirs. The domestic violence, her hands around my neck, whispering, “You’re lucky I’m not taking your last breath”.
I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease in which my body is in constant battle to not reject itself; a slow war against each organ in which the perpetrator is my own health and yet, I survived.
I am neither female nor male - I am both - I am an evolved being.
One who can walk this world with knowledge of both genders and has learned to view this as a gift. Finally the daily battle with the mirror, with the person looking back, fighting for self-acceptance is coming to an end.
I will not be my first obstacle when I wake up and look in the mirror. I have chosen to fight, to choose to survive, even if it’s with a faltered vessel. I’m not a “rape victim”, a “domestic violence victim”, I’m not a “victim of my health”, a “cutter”, "transgender", "gay", a "male or female".
There is only one label for me. I’m me, a survivor. I am hope.
CAPTAIN JAMES VAN THACH
"I have a purpose in life, and that is to provide passion and give hope to others." - the Captain
Captain James Van Thach (US Army, Retired) is a highly decorated war hero. While in Afghanistan he underwent two major battles, changing his life forever. Excruciating medical care allowed him to relearn mobility and cognitive functions, yet he is not yet fully independent and leans on 23+ daily medications, his family and his beloved therapy dog to not only survive, but thrive. Suffering from severe PTSD and depression 'The Captain' as Takako calls him, realized his only Hope for survival was to have meaning, giving other war veterans and currant military men and women Hope, with the goal of passing the bar exam to practice law and having a family of his own. He travels the world giving interviews, speeches and healing messages to those in need of inspiration.
“I chose the photos, because I was picturing in my mind what I saw when looking into my military brothers’ & sisters’ eyes. To help them cope with their suicidal inclinations to take their life and pull that negativity within me and destroy it with my inner core to use it positively to ensure, I provided them the proper coping skills and mental health plan to continue with a Medical Team to assist them long-term. The experience has been rewarding because I have used positive engagement with the Hope Is Project team to build on my inner core which makes me stronger to continue my mission in saving Veterans’ lives, which is priceless!” - The Captain
THE CAPTAIN'S PHOTOS
"Because of you, now I have hope." - Phillip Senteno
Phillip Senteno, is an ex- gang member who served decades of a life prison sentence for killing an inmate. Mid-sentence, a significant person came into his life and changed everything. After going through rehabilitation, he dedicated his life to rehabilitating other men in the prison. Transformed, his only Hope was to be reunited with his family. After many failed paroles, and learning to become his own paralegal, Phillip was granted freedom through the determination and help of family and friends. Phillip dedicates his life to being the best man he can, living sober with faith, and continues to rehabilitate recently released prisoners through his non-profit organization. His Hope is his family and the men he can help.
“In this journey we call life there are many regrets and many joys, so I wanted the images to be both poignant and spiritual in the context each image was photographed. Each photograph expressed a story of the past, the present and the future. In my culture everything is connected. And for the first time in my life I understood what the elders of my tribe meant when they spoke of seeing with your heart not your eyes. Having spent 40 plus years in prison I believed my concept of Hope was for the most part was non-existent. This project called Hope Is, along with Sarah Takoko Skinner, have created a new perspective for men like me to see everything with my heart and not only see Hope, but rather feel what Hope represents.”
"The children are the future, why not make it a good one?" - Mr.Ortiz
A seven year old boy grows up underprivileged on the outskirts of NYC with a determined and loving family who cares deeply for his education. Ridley, who has extreme learning challenges, has triumphed in a Charter School environment - a system the unions are trying to shut down. Without his special school, Ridley could be lost in the public system and become without the attention he needs. Ridley hopes to be a scientist, and the absence of his Charter school means this might not be a possibility. Education is everything to him, it must be protected, so he can keep hope alive for a meaningful future.
“A house protects people, a hospital makes people feel better, schools help people learn and trees are good for the environment. Everything around us is connected, we can make things better, but you need tools make them great. And sometimes things just look cool. It was cool of see that the tree, the tools and the building under construction looked so clear. Some of the picture looked very blurry and it was kinda fun trying to figure out what they were, the parking-lot at the mall and my Dad hugging my brother surprised me. I feel like hope is everywhere, if you have love in your life it's easier to find it; but even then you just have to look. Even when I'm sad or angry I don't stay that way for a long time, and it's because my family gives me hope.”