Denise Stephanie is an 18-year-old photographer from Brooklyn. This spring, she celebrated her graduation from BASIS Independent Brooklyn, a school in Red Hook.
I’ve been reminded of how important family is to me over the last few months. We’re originally from St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean, where everyone knows each other, and a big part of that is hanging out at other people’s houses. So although many of us have lost our ability to travel, a vacation isn’t a true vacation to me if I’m not surrounded by people I share a bond with. I’ve taken up journaling recently to de-stress, and after writing using the “stream of consciousness” technique, I like to write about what I am thankful for, and what’s made me feel good that day. Then I write a prayer, expressing gratitude for what I have and asking for help from others when I know need it. It keeps me grounded and humble, remembering that through turmoil, I still have much to be happy about.
Once a week, we make plans to go somewhere as a family, whether it’s to a new beach or to a park after getting food to-go—there are so many places we don’t take advantage of, living in New York. Sometimes, my cousins or relatives from Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island will join from a distance. The summer is passing by quickly, so when I’m not reading Toni Morrison or watching Schitt’s Creek (again), we’re out driving while blasting what should have been Carnival’s biggest hits this year. These small excursions allow me to forget that we’re in a pandemic.
Celebrations have definitely taken a hit as a result of COVID. My friends and I have found ways around it, though. Ahead of graduation, we banded together and asked our high school to push the ceremony to August, so now we’re doing a very small, in-person one in the next few weeks, but I’ve still paraded in my mom’s car with graduation balloons and a sign for my bestie. In June, we surprised another friend with a birthday picnic in Fort Greene Park, and we’ve watched movies online together, talking and jesting all the way through to the end.
In another first, before this summer I had never been to a major protest, but my family and I went to one called Prayer and Protest in Bed-Stuy, with a church in my grandfather’s neighborhood. We thought that this one would support the cause in a peaceful way, so that my younger brother could participate and I could carry my camera around without worrying too much. I found it all really moving. You see how large these protests are on TV, and you see people on social media posting their opinions and posting their support and sharing speeches online, but there’s nothing like being there in person, with other people who are going through the same thing as you and rallying for the same things. So that kind of in-person connection, which we’ve already been missing because of COVID, we kind of got on a higher level.
I’ll be studying photography at New York University in the fall, and the attempts to create some semblance of a normal experience have given me something to look forward to. We have very detailed systems and rules, so though it may be a bit of a risk, I’m excited that I’ll be able to live on campus.
My fellow ’02 babies and graduating seniors have had it rough this year, but thank God for the internet. Something I’ve been challenging myself to do is enhance my social skills and strengthen my relationships with friends by consistently reaching out. I’ve met some other freshmen from NYU—they’re in a few of the pictures—and have group chats that we’re always talking and FaceTiming in. I am really trying to put myself out there, and already I feel connected to them. I’ve always loved that social aspect in which community is really present—the Caribbean has a very communal culture—and I really feel it with my new friends. I’m very happy about that.