Memphian to Follow: Kirstin Cheers (Humans of Memphis)
"Humans of New York" is an incredibly popular online photography project started by a New Yorker named Brandon Stanton. The photoblog documents the every day lives and thoughts of people he meets on the street in New York City. We now have our own "Humans of Memphis" created and curated by recent college grad Kirstin Cheers.
"I know that we want to recruit people. And that's a good thing. Every city should be trying to attract talent and attract millennials. But let's not neglect the talent that we have here."
Earlier this summer, Kirstin took a camera she bought with her college graduation money and started taking portraits of people she saw as she explored Memphis. Just like the original concept, some of the photos Kirstin takes are happy, and some are sad. Some are posed and some are very candid. The quotes from the individuals are presented usually without context, and names aren't used (kind of like the photo I took of Kirstin above).
I recently went to lunch with Kirstin to ask her a couple of questions about herself and her project.
What's your background? I'm a native Memphian, born and raised in South Memphis. I graduated from Central High School, and I graduated from The University of Memphis this May with a degree in journalism and a minor in political science. I go to New Olivet Baptist Church on Southern. I did an internship in Nashville in the State Capitol and another internship in D.C.
What would be your dream job? Political journalist. Like Soledad O'Brien, doing my own video photograph projects, geared towards social change. Writing and blogging. Creating documentaries and putting names with faces, or putting social issues with faces, and bringing those issues to light to those people who don't understand what's going on in the world.
What's your motivation for doing Humans of Memphis? I want people to really listen to native Millennials and ask what it is about Memphis that they need, or what is it about Memphis that they don't like. No one hates Memphis just because it's Memphis. There are reasons and there are things that [young people] are looking for, or things that they need that we continue to ignore. And I just think, if I can be the one person to hear it, the one person to put it out there, then maybe someone would be like, "Oh let's consider the fun things that 18 year olds and under can do in Memphis…" and make a difference.
What have been some of your experiences photographing Memphians? I drove by Union Baptist Church and saw these girls sitting on the steps. I stopped and talked to them. I said, "What do y'all like to do?" And one of them said "Oh, we sing, rap, and dance." "All of y'all?" I asked. "Yeah, we can all sing, rap, and dance." And then one girl was like, "Do you want me to sing for you?" And so she sang a Beyonce song. She was about 17. She went to Central High School. That's another thing that people don't realize – we have so much hidden talent here. I know that we want to recruit people. And that's a good thing. Every city should be trying to attract talent and attract millennials. But let's not neglect the talent that we have here.
Do you love Memphis? If so, why? I do love Memphis. I think that the reason that I am who I am today is because of Memphis and the things that I've learned. Memphis is definitely a hustle city. You have to learn how to hustle on your own, you have to learn how to make something out of nothing, and I appreciate that. People say if you can make it in NYC, you can make it anywhere, and I don't agree with that. If you can make it in Memphis, you can make it absolutely anywhere.
Are you going to stay here? Because I've been outside, but I've spent most of my life here, I'm at this crossroads. Am I supposed to be here? What am I supposed to do? It's my prayer every night. Do I stay here and be a part of this renaissance? Or should I be selfish and go to other places and see what they're doing there, and maybe bring some of that back here? Because that's my ultimate goal…if I go away, I definitely want to come back. I would love to raise my children here. My entire family is here. I love my family.
Humans of Memphis is looking for Memphis stories. If you want to share for a chance to be featured by Kirstin, simply Like "Humans of Memphis" on Facebook and then send them a message, or leave a comment on this post saying you want to get in touch with her.
How to follow Humans of Memphis online: