It was April 12, 2011 and I was standing at the corner of Euclid & Wildemere taking the first photos in my Detroit Nomad project.
After about 2 or 3 photos, I noticed a man approaching me. Before I knew it, he was just a few feet from me, which is when he said (don’t shoot me) as he laughed. It was clear that he meant not to photograph him.
Him? His name? This Man? Orthneil Rawlins…
With the ice somewhat broken, he asked me why I was taking photos of the old abandoned apartment building. I explained to him that it was the 1st place that I lived in when I moved to Detroit in 1979.
I also talked a little about the project with him and my goal (which is still formulating).
As we talked, I told him how devastated I was to see my old neighborhood in ruins. It was SHOCKING!!!!!
I then flipped the focus of the conversation and asked him some questions. I started with asking him how long he lived in the neighborhood to which he answered about 10 years or so.
He moved to Detroit from Texas but he didn’t have a southern accent. He sounded a little more exotic. He then told me that he moved to the USA from Barbados way back when.
I then asked him what made him move to Detroit from Texas and he went into a story that I was not prepared to hear.
His tone changed a little and he started to tell me about his daughter being murdered by some drug dealers many years ago during her senior year of high school.
It seems as if she got hooked into the wrong kind of boyfriend that was into drugs. There were some missing drugs at one point & his daughter was confronted by her boyfriend’s people one day at home.
This confrontation was happening as Mr. Rawlins was on his way home from work. When he approached his home, he heard commotion and his daughter being assaulted and subsequently murdered.
While he tried to enter the home, he was shot by one of the assailants through the door in his genitals.
At this point, I was all in like it was story hour. Mr. Rawlins was telling the story like a true Griot. He was telling the story as if it was not about him but some other unfortunate man.
At the end of the story, he said, “the same day I lost my daughter, I lost my testicles.” YIKES!
After this incident, his life was forever changed on many levels. He then showed me a photo of his daughter, who was very pretty.
We had some more chit chat for several more minutes but I was so distracted by the story & my own thoughts about my project.
Before we parted ways, I asked if he would mind if I shot him then and if I could tell his story.
When I drove away, I was in a strange zone. I met this random man who suffered two tragedies but making peace with life as I was working to understand my own history and where I am now.
I think Mr. Rawlins stepped into my life at the right time to help me think about personal growth, dealing with life as it happens to you & around you.
What a way to kick off my project……