Shawn Lee, Cr.Photog., has an enthusiasm for helping others that’s contagious—so contagious it’s inspired more than $200,000 in corporate donations. Canon has given $120,000 worth of camera gear and 17Hats has contributed $100,000 toward Lee’s new after-school program for Detroit-area youth.
Through Lee’s leadership, the Mount Clemens Secondary Complex students who’ve joined Rock That Giveback gather each Wednesday between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to learn about photography techniques, post-production, and business practices. In addition, Lee partnered with a local mental health clinic whose counsellors engage with the students and equip them with strategies for well-being. He’s also lining up speakers from the creative sector to inspire students to pursue various professional tracks such as automotive design and brand strategy. Photography field trips will allow students to train their lenses on the city, and a final exhibition will give them the opportunity to sell their work, with Miller’s Professional Imaging providing complimentary printing. He hopes this pilot program will be replicated by other photographers in other communities throughout the United States.
Lee’s goal is to reach middle- and high-school aged kids who might otherwise “fall through the cracks of our failing school system, teaching them photography but also engaging them in stuff like mental health [strategies],” he says. “A lot of the kids go to school because that is where they get their meals,” so catered food is included with each session of his program. “We make sure they get what they need.”
Lee plans to continue to mentor these young people far beyond the bounds of the program as they grow and move on toward college or another track. His hope: “to be a part of their lives for a long time.”
Amanda Arnold is a senior editor.