This is one of my images selected for the Director’s Cut Exhibition at the Atlanta Photography Group Gallery. Please join us for the opening reception on June 29, 6-9 pm. The exhibition was curated by Beth Lilly, the Executive Director of the Atlanta Photography Group, and includes photographs by 20 artists. The exhibition dates are June 29 – August 5.
John Ellis embodies all that is good about Decatur. He represents all that is possible when a community celebrates diversity and strives to ensure that all its members are included in the fabric of daily life. It is these qualities that shape our youngest citizens into young adults who are confident, loving, creative, and eager to step beyond our small borders into the world with outstretched arms, ready to embrace friends they have yet to meet.
John is a musician, artist, and writer. He lives with his two moms and younger brother. He also has two dads who live close by and play an active role in his life. John has resided in Decatur 18 years, his whole life. He is keenly aware of how Decatur is unique, in part from hearing his parents’ stories. They grew up in the South and came from religiously conservative backgrounds. They were gay and didn’t really know it, and they didn’t know how to communicate that to their parents. “I feel like anyone growing up in Decatur can really explore oneself to the fullest extent. In terms of starting a foundation for a lifetime of growth, Decatur is a really good place to start. It is just so accepting, incredibly nurturing, and loving.”
John has much to be proud of from his years at Decatur High. He has won a national award for a website illustration and a multimedia story. The journalism website at school he helped overhaul, and the corresponding magazine, Carpe Diem, won a Pacemaker Award, which is considered to be the “Pulitzer Prize” of student journalism. John will be attending Guilford College in the fall and plans to major in Psychology and minor in Fine Art. “Right now, I’m interested in art therapy. I’m not dead-set on that, but the one thing I do know, is that I want to help people. I’m very excited to embark on this next chapter. I think about what’s going to be next and what’s been, and I realize that I’m not done with Decatur. I’m not severing attachments, I’m just moving on. I’ll be back.”
Robert Leonard’s home sits on one of the most beautiful pieces of property in Decatur. When he purchased the house in 1978 the neighborhood was in distress. “The house was in very bad shape. Everyone who came in and looked at it said I was nuts to buy this place. The backyard was so overgrown with privet that I didn’t even know there was a stream back there, a four-car shed, and a small little barn.“ Over the years, Robert has slowly worked to fix up his modest house and rehabilitate the two-acre property.
Robert has always been connected to the land and the great outdoors. In his younger years, he spent a lot of time in the woods in Colorado hunting and fishing. He also lived for some time on his Uncle’s farm where they raised pigs and chickens, and grew crops. “When I got this house I looked at it and I had all this property and decided I could do this, and slowly this is what I have done.” Today, his backyard is a little slice of paradise with a gurgling creek, and native trees and plants. Robert also has a community chicken coop, beehives, and a vegetable garden that he shares with his neighbor.
Robert’s generosity extends throughout Decatur. “I care about my community. That’s why I work with Habitat for Humanity during the Martin Luther King weekend. It’s nice to work on people’s houses. They are very appreciative.”
Meh Sod Paw was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. Her parents and four siblings had fled persecution from their home country of Burma. For eleven years, Meh Sod lived in the refugee camp until her family was relocated to the United States in 2007. “It was hard coming to a new country. When I came here, I did not know much English. All I knew was the alphabet and numbers. Making friends and the academic work was hard. “ Luckily, Meh Sod was accepted into the Global Village Project (GVP), where she received intensive English instruction during her middle school years. Meh Sod transitioned into her local high school in Clarkston where she thrived academically and became involved in various clubs and activities. “I joined Toastmasters where I learned how to speak and write. I also joined a women’s leadership program, Beta Club, and I played volleyball for two years.”
Initially, Meh Sod’s family resettled in Stone Mountain, but that was problematic. “There weren’t a lot of refugee families there. It was scary. I don’t know why, but some people threw rocks at our doors and our windows broke. When we moved to Clarkston we made friends. There were still a lot of problems in Clarkston, but it was a place where we connected with other families and were able to share our culture with friends and people from other countries.”
Upon graduating from High School, Meh Sod was awarded a prestigious Millennium Gates Scholarship. It pays for her tuition and expenses at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, where she is finishing her first year. “Being here is like a new world. We have people from many other countries. I’ve made new friends from Turkey, Nepal, and also some from here. I have a great support system and I can always go to my the professors when I need help.” Meh Sod is considering becoming a teacher. “ When I was living in Thailand, it was one of my dreams to become a teacher. I had teachers who were very inspiring, and I was told that education was very important.”