The Miami Herald
Jan. 29, 2006
Lens on life: Students' eloquent photos offer loving look at Little Haiti


Buried in the patois of Creole-accented restaurants and open markets, Little Haiti's beauty often goes unnoticed amid poverty-ridden side streets.

Now the neighborhood's elusive treasures lie emblazoned on the pages of the February issue of National Geographic magazine -- captured by a group of Miami Edison Senior High students.

''If you just stop and take a closer look, you'll see something different from what you hear . . . people talk about poverty in Little Haiti, but to me it's beautiful,'' 12th-grader Bobbie McGruder said.

McGruder and 14 schoolmates were chosen to take part in a National Geographic photo camp, which cast lenses on life in Little Haiti -- the area encompassing 54th to 87th streets between Biscayne Boulevard and Interstate 95. Students were selected based on essays judged by University of Miami professors and Edison teachers.

Their efforts are documented in a photo essay called 33127 Visions of Little Haiti as part of the magazine's ZipUSA series, which spotlights unique American neighborhoods. While the camp has taken place in several other cities, the photos of Little Haiti are the only ones by students ever published in the magazine.

''The pictures were just remarkable; for them to make it in our magazine is an amazing accomplishment,'' said Kurt Mutchler, photo editor at National Geographic.


While the magazine gets hundreds of photographs from around the world, Mutchler said, those from Edison's students were marked by a captivating sense of authenticity. ''It was a vibrant and honest look at the community through their eyes,'' he said.

Scenes of everyday life and of pride, which resonates with people who persevere under dire circumstances, are the shots students say they hold dearest.

The article's cover photo epitomizes that idea.

Two kids -- all smiles -- shoot a basketball into a milk crate, which continued to plummet to the ground with every shot. Instead of quitting, they just kept asking their mother to fix it.

''To me that picture was about happiness, just bliss. . . . They were just happy to be playing, even though they didn't have a basketball hoop,'' said 12th-grader Wideline Jean, who snapped the shot.

Jean and her schoolmates canvassed the neighborhood for four days during spring break. They stopped to chat with those uneasy about their intrusive lenses. At times, a brief conversation turned into a history lesson from lifelong residents.

History teacher Nancy Cardenales, who headed the group, knows the community's treasures because of the many house visits she pays her Edison students.

''I walk through this community all the time, and there is so much beauty here,'' she said.

As in communities rocked by poverty, many residents find resolve in their religious beliefs, an idea depicted in many of the photos.


One such photo features an elderly woman with a heavy wooden crucifix hanging behind her back. The woman carried the large cross for hours despite the sweltering heat. ''It just shows you how important God is to her, knowing the strain that must have put on her neck,'' said McGruder, who took the photo.

To an audience blind to the stereotypes so familiar to them, the students see the story as an invitation of sorts.

''We just wanted to disprove stereotypes. People are happy in Little Haiti. . . . They raise families despite all the bad things you hear,'' 12th-grader Stephanie Novembre said. ``You can come and enjoy our neighborhood.''