Inspired by the popular Humans of New York, which captures portfolios of people from all walks of life, a Halifax version of the photo blog is using its reach to try and shatter some misconceptions of North Dartmouth.
Halifolks, a site solely run by Jack Scrine and Katie Thomas with more than 20,000 likes on Facebook, is working with Between the Bridges, a provincial government initiative launched a year ago.
Between the Bridges is a long-term collective effort of 15 different volunteers, government agencies, and residents in North Dartmouth aiming to gather stories and ideas to envision positive change in the area.
Marah Haywood, a policy analyst for the provincial cabinet, approached and hired Halifolks in late August to capture portfolios of at least 10 of its residents and community leaders. Haywood said she was inspired to collaborate after she’d seen the positive response many Halifolks posts received and how it gave a voice to many misunderstood people in the community.
“North Dartmouth has a negative reputation to many people in HRM and I feel that there is so much more to the community,” said Haywood.
Scrine and Thomas, who started Halifolks in July 2014, were ready to capture these stories in a span of two weeks.
“Our goal was almost similar to what a newspaper or media coverage would be,” said Scrine. “It was more our role to help shed some light on the good work being done.”
The creators of Halifolks expected to find good stories before the project, but the strength of the community surprised them.
“A lot of what we do regularly with Halifolks has to do with individuals and personal stories,” said Scrine. “What really was mind-blowing was arriving at community events and seeing community involvement. I haven’t seen a neighbourhood gathering like that in a long time.”
Each post on Halifolks is accompanied by a direct quote and a photograph, something Thomas and Scrine say is more “raw” and unfiltered than traditional journalism.
“Along with [the] image comes judgment,” said Scrine. Often, the accompanying text is “not the story you expected to hear.”
A number of positive comments and thousands of interactions on Facebook showed that many were left inspired by one particular story from the Between the Bridges photo series on the Halifolks page: Carlos Beals’s portfolio.
Beals, who is now involved with the Between the Bridges project, was once was a troubled kid born and raised in North Dartmouth. After leaving his community and studying criminal justice in Toronto, he returned to his hometown to use his knowledge and help young people.
“I think people saw a message that you don’t see often because there’s not a lot of publicity in the north end of Dartmouth. If it weren’t for Halifolks you wouldn’t have heard it,” said Beals. “The fact that I came back to assist other people in finding their own outlet, that’s a powerful and positive message.”
Beals now works as an outreach coordinator at Ceasefire, an organization in North Dartmouth trying to eliminate gun violence.
The main goal of the Between the Bridges project is to empower the community’s own leaders and give North End residents the authority to enable change instead of a government authority imposing plans.
Just like many residents from the area, Beals was skeptical in joining the Between the Bridges project because of failed government projects in the past. However, he is now involved as a volunteer and in charge of conducting one-on-one interviews and public consultations to collect stories and experiences, as well as hosting community events.
“The community is slowly buying into it and starting to participate — that’s because trusted leaders in the community are leading,” said Beals.
On Sept. 30, organizers held a progress meeting to overview the project so far, which attracted almost 90 residents.
“I think we’ve built up some momentum,” said Haywood. “I hope that we will be able to keep that going over the next several months.”
Residents and leaders from the community were willing to be photographed, said Thomas and Scrine, because the Halifolks brand is about overcoming obstacles and fans trust that Halifolks will find the most positive quotes to accompany the photograph.
Although Beals is happy with the Halifolks positive response, he would like more long-term publicity and would also like residents to take the positive messages to heart.
“When I talk to young people and ask, ‘Where do you see yourself in two years from now?’, they say they see themselves being incarcerated. These negative stories have brainwashed our own community and youth,” said Beals.
Thomas and Scrine hope to be more involved with community projects like this one in the future.
“We want to continue to tell untold stories that deal with people who might not get a chance to get their story told,” said Scrine.