Photojournalist JJ McQueen reflects on the past year of challenges
It’s been a full year since the world shutdown. A year that many would consider to be one of the worst in American history. The challenges of COVID-19 have proven to be so intense that we can’t do an internet search without there being mention of the impact of it. When we look back on how the world has trudged forward, the thought that we made through it should bring you/us to a pause. COVID-19 has prompted questions that don’t provide simple answers. How did we make it? Who did we consult to make? What did they say? The need for answers has helped us reconnect with the community in ways that many never anticipated. On the educational front schools had to pivot to digital platforms with virtually twenty-four-hour access for struggling students. Grassroots organizations made their way back to the street corners to supplement where mainstream groups no longer had access. Philanthropic organizations now have a renewed laser sharp focus on what areas need them most.
There has also been increased global visibility brought to issues that many have ignored for decades. Most notably police reform, immigration reform, and systemic racism. These things have exposed how deep the measuring stick for justice goes, and or doesn’t run for some ethnic groups. The Preamble of the United States Constitution clearly speaks to this, it even closes with the ordination of the ideals that we’re supposed to abide by as it relates to covering those that inhabit U.S. soil. The promise is written in a very unapologetic fashion. The words are delivered with what one would propose that they’re intended to cover all citizens or those considered sons and daughters of U.S. soil.
While capturing the lives and moments of those in need during the toughest stretch of the COVID-19 season, I was challenged with photographing the depths of who “We the People” was truly meant for. There were moments when I saw children from different ethnic backgrounds carrying cartons of food home for multiple generational households. Those moments were hard stops on a ride of a full year of being forced to see the reality of how many of our social-economic systems were being exposed in real-time. Not to mention that we’d begin to see the power of imagery not seen since the open casket photos of Emmett Till in the 1950’s.
For the first time in history we, America, was faced with the ugly realities of who we could be and become when we/it decided not to include all of we the people. There was a bright side to all of this, men and women from all generations and diverse cultural backgrounds were forced to trust one another in an organic way. For the first time in my career I captured photos of people from the suburbs receiving assistance in communities of blight. I witnessed relationships being forged by circumstance. For the first time outside of sports, I was able to capture who and what we the people looked like. Although the legal context of the Preamble was written for a more specific fit for the nation, its elementary form the words refers to the body of people who inhabit the nation.
We all understand that our world is made up of countless differences, but there’s one constant that remains. The world is made up of people in its most general form of the word.