Do pictures say more than words? The Dear World Campaign has built up quite the collection of stories, 125,000 to be exact, from refugees to celebrities and everyone in between. Annually the campaign travels to 50 different campuses to spread their cause and emphasize the importance of a judgment-free community, according to their website. Using black ink on their skin, words or phrases are utilized to signify a person's true identity.
“This campaign first started in New Orleans, and they were just taking pictures of this party or some kind of event,” said Abdillahi Dirie, MSU student body president. “Someone came up and wrote ‘Cancer Free’ on themselves and wanted a picture taken. They agreed and realized people can share stories via photo, it doesn’t have to be just talking verbally.”
Dear World came to MSU on Wednesday, Feb. 26 in the Plaster Student Union. The night prior to the event was a private photoshoot, gathering at least 100 faculty, staff and student leaders. Those in attendance learned more about the campaign and promptly received their portraits to promote the free event on social media.
“It’s called the VIP photoshoot,” Dirie said. “It helps encourage others when they see what the event looks like.”
According to Dirie, he was attending a Student Body President Conference when he first discovered the campaign. The University of Iowa was talking about the Dear World campaign being held on their campus and its substantive impact.
“This is pretty cool because one of the things we want to accomplish is to bring students together and help them feel more welcome at Missouri State,” Dirie said.
After contacting Dear World, Dirie was informed of the initial processes, and he started a committee to publicize the event.
“I’m in the Student Government Association with the student body president,” said Cameron Jordan, one of the committee members. “He brought the event here and asked Avionne and I to co-chair it, so I guess we were just in the right place at the right time.”
Jordan and his co-chair, Avionne Jones, reserved the space in the PSU, worked to increase publicity and made sure the photographers were well-equipped.
“I had high expectations from the start,” Jordan said. “We set our goal at around 200 people and 100 at the VIP event. For us to have close to 130 people in the first couple of hours has exploded that.”
Throughout the event, students allowed themselves to become more vulnerable through telling their stories, shedding their insecurities or fighting for a worthy cause.
“We’ve gotten so many inspiring stories from people sharing that their parents are back in Mexico or South America and they are still here and they’re fighting for them to come back to America,” Dirie said. “We’ve gotten people using the picture to come out to their family. I’ve been going through the hashtag ‘Dear Missouri State’ on social media and I did shed a couple tears.”
Dirie took a photo to honor his hardworking mother and all the sacrifices she made to help him reach the level of success he has today.
“I made a heart shape with my hands and had the words, ‘thank you’ and then ‘hooyo’ which is Somali for ‘mom,’” Dirie said. “She left her family to move to a country where she didn’t speak the language and was a minority to ensure that I would have the best education.”
Dirie and Jordan believe everyone has a story worth sharing, regardless of preconceived doubt.
“You can look at other people posting things and connect with them a bit more, it humbles people, humanizes them,” Jordan said. “If you see a lot of student leaders you look up to, posting about struggles they’ve gone through, it can be very beneficial to prove that you are not alone. Everyone has a story worth sharing they just don’t know it yet.”
In regards to the future of the campaign at MSU, Jordan acknowledges that the event was costly but was a priority.
“We are gonna evaluate how the event went and see, but it really depends on whoever gets elected next year,” Jordan said. “They might decide to connect students in a different way and that’s ok too.”
As for now, the potential for a follow-up event is in the works.
“In the next couple of weeks, students who did this today might be able to go on stage and actually talk about their stories instead of just doing pictures,” Jordan said. “We want to move this forward. It starts today, but doesn’t necessarily end today.”