At a public park in the Bronx, Toumani straddles a Djembe drum bigger than he is. His head is tilted upward, and his eyes are closed; the pose makes him look like Ray Charles as he thumps out a beat. Joei giggles as she uses chopsticks to hold the spoon with which she eats her brunch in Queens. James lies flopped on the carpet of a Brooklyn science exhibit; his palms are up and his expression is matter-of-fact as his mother stands over him waiting.
They’re three photographs in a series that photographer Danny Goldfield is slowly creating. He has taken 132 so far, and he has 62 to go.
Goldfield is photographing children who live in New York City and come from each of the 194 countries on Earth. He says the project is his opportunity to help repair the world.
It seems like a stretch — an opportunity to help repair the world?
You can see some of the photos he’s taken so far online at NYChildren.org. The slideshow of photographs grabbed my attention. Some of the photographs have a journalistic feel to them. Others are portraits. All of images show a simple candidness in the children that creates a thread of unity among them.
What’s more compelling than the photographs, though, is Goldfield’s vision of the final product.
“My dream is that there would be an event in a museum, and that all the families who participated could be invited and could meet each other and celebrate,” Goldfield said in a GOOD magazine video documenting the project. “The mission is to gather and nurture an inclusive community of children, create opportunities for them to meet, learn about each other, and form friendships.”
The ethos of the project draws on the classic liberal notion that as different people experience each other on a substantial level, their differences will melt away, leaving the world a more peaceful and integrated place. It’s a notion my experience leads me to believe. And I believe that giving children the opportunity to interact with other children from different backgrounds is an invaluable gift, and one that few people get.
Two years ago, I spent part of the summer in a rural village in Tanzania called Kiomba Mvua — which translates to “praying for rain.” The youngest child in the village was about a year old. She and some of the other very young children had never seen a white person — visitors were rare and television would have required electricity. I remember being taken aback when my eagerness to play was met by resounding timidity. I didn’t get it at first. But I noticed that the kids, especially the infant, were far less comfortable with white volunteers than those with dark skin. It took days of goofy antics to convince them that I was a safe friend.
But timidity and discomfort around the unfamiliar isn’t limited to children in remote villages in Africa; it is common to all of us. We constantly rely on our experience to figure out how to interact with the world around us. When we encounter something that falls outside of our experience set, we feel discomfort.
By that logic, giving children the chance to create positive experiences with other families from different backgrounds primes them for a more comfortable interactions with people in the future.
The NYChildren project feels almost too idealistic to make an impact. But the simplicity of the very concrete objective of photographing one New York City child from each of the world’s countries brings it down to earth, and the images communicate the project’s potent message to anyone who finds joy and hope in happy, healthy children.
Bradford L. Yankiver, publisher of The Tartan, welcomes all responsible questions and comments, which may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.