This photo was taken in 1990. It is one of the most famous photos shot by the prolific American photographer Mary Ellen Mark. It is not a photo from a movie set or a manufactured moment created for artistic effect. This is a candid moment captured of 9 year old Amanda Marie Ellison and her cousin swimming in their backyard.
This was a typical afternoon for this elementary student who attended the school for “problem children” in North Carolina where Mark was sent by Life magazine to get a story. She found much more than she expected.
Mark described Ellison saying, “She was so bad she was wonderful, she had a really vulgar mouth, she was brilliant.” Mark added: “I was something of a problem kid. I was emotional, wild, rebellious at school. I’m very touched by kids who don’t have advantages; they are much more interesting than kids who have everything. They have a lot of passion and emotion, such a strong will.” She was so moved by Ellison’s strong will that she made her the focus of her piece. She highlighted, for a moment, this little girl’s story on a national stage.
The rest of Ellison’s story is what you would probably expect. At age 11 she was taken into foster care, lived in group homes for years, became addicted to hardcore drugs at age 16 and ended up incarcerated as an adult. She admits, she is still surrounded by drugs and crazy people to this day.
How is it possible that no one did anything? The truth behind this photo is shocking. It is clear that this little girl is in turmoil. It is clear the trajectory of her life is in a spiral toward disaster. How did no one intervene? Her story was highlighted. National awareness was brought to her situation. The problem was clear. Mary Ellen Mark was moved by this kid that didn’t have advantages but not driven to actually do anything about it. Ellison hoped someone would do something. She said, “When she came along and took those photos, I thought, ‘Well, hey, people will see me and this may get me the attention that I want; it may change things for me,’ ” Ellison says. She thought someone would see the images and come rescue her. “I had thought that that might have been the way out. But it wasn’t.”
Bringing Awareness does not bring change. It does not matter how much we talk about the issues that our youth are facing. Well-meaning, contributing citizens being moved by the plight of disadvantaged kids does nothing if they aren’t moved to action. You can’t go back in time to save this 9 year old but you can do something now to help students just like her…
StudentReach is not just talking about the issues. We are actively reaching into the lives of students just like Ellison and creating opportunities for real change. We are attempting to look past the images our students portray to see the truth in the candid moments they allow us to experience.
We mobilize hundreds of volunteers each year to reach out to the youth of our nation and have a positive impact on their future and ours. Contact us today to find out how you can get involved!