ReFOCUS Photography Student- Melak (Eritrea)


I hated history when I was a kid. Actually, I really disliked school altogether because it didn't make sense to just do something simply because it is what we do. Begrudgingly, I went through the motions long enough to graduate university with a lot of debt and a degree I wasn't using.

Yet, I still didn't see the value in it all until I was face to face with people whose lives were directly impacted by history and the absence of education. I felt their hunger- for access, for information, for knowledge, for real skills, for a chance and for just a sliver of respect.

Perhaps the contrast with my own relationship with education subtly pushed me towards becoming a teacher. At the core of it I simply wanted to be the kind of teacher I didn't have- one that facilitated experiences, generated opportunities and always tried to find a way. 

In hindsight, I bet I did have those kinds of teachers but didn't see them or their efforts. It has been nearly twenty years since I started working with youth and helping them develop the skills necessary to see their world, and for their world to see them. 

After nearly two decades guiding youth toward meaningful relationships with media I relinquished my classroom to re-imagine what education can mean in all possible contexts. This exploration has led me back to people who have fled war, economic catastrophe and all forms of persecution. They are knocking on the doors of modernity seeking safety, stability, opportunity, connection and humanity.

When I look at them I don't see the disengaged kid I was, begrudgingly going through the motions because it is "what we do." I see people with drive, persistence, patience, hope, and an insatiable hunger for what is possible. 

In our ReFOCUS refugee media classes they respect me as their teacher, feverishly taking notes, absorbing theories, putting them into action and seeking feedback. Although they look to me as their teacher, I am the one learning that just like our nations, our classrooms simply do not need traditional walls.
earned his BS Finance from Seton Hall University; studied photographic printing at the International Center for Photography; earned his Master of Arts in Teaching from the Center for Creative Teaching at Bennington College; holds certifications in history, Career in Technical Education (CTE) film and video production, and was honored with the 2016 Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching in Philadelphia. 

Founding Director- Rough Cut Media-USA
Founder- Rough Cut Film Festival- USA
Cofounder- ReFOCUS Refugee Media Labs- Greece