Talking major speaks out about role models
By T Martin
When trying to find a likely youth to interview for this month’s edition of NorFilly™ Magazine, I considered a youth whose story greatly differed from that of our first interviewee, Julietta Diaz. I wanted a story that sent a positive message without a fairy tale following. I didn’t get the one I staked so much on, but almost every kid I talked to asked me if I was the reporter whose magazine carried the birthday wish for “Becky” in February.
I’ve had similar questions as to whether I’m the photographer for whom “Becky” used to model a few years back. The thinking is much like that for any child whose parent has somewhat of a legacy: you will always be that person’s child to others. “Oh, you’re such-and-such’s son.” Or “You know such-and-such? This is one of their kids.”
Well, I’m Becky’s photographer. To drive the point home, people make it a point never to let me hear them call Becky one of my models. Clearly, in their minds, she is not one of my models, but rather I am Becky’s photographer. And I’m actually pleased that it works that way.
Becky is Rebecca DeJesus. She’s not even Becky anymore. She told me that she’s growing up now and has more sophistication than girl-next-door Becky. She describes her growth as a result of the people that supported her through school and in difficult situations in her personal life.
Rebecca is Miss Popularity. Period. End of discussion. Everybody’s heard of her. Everybody loves her. But according to her, few people know her. She reached local stardom by speaking out about policies of then-Superintendent of schools David Hornbeck. She voiced her opinions and those of others about issues that other kids would be scared even to write about. Her picture graced newspapers and local journals across the City. And she didn’t let the stigma of the name “Olney High School” drag her down as she graduated proudly in 2002 and prepared for college life.
Currently in her second year at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA, Rebecca was home for Spring Break to deliver a photo session she promised to give NorFilly™ during Winter Break. So yeah, she still owes us one more photo session, but we’ll have to wait for that. She lives on campus at Bloomsburg where she majors in Communication Studies. She hasn’t selected a minor yet, but she probably won’t be considering rocket science.
NF: When did you decide to major in communication studies?
RD: I realized that I really wasn’t good at stuff like math or science, but I’ve always had a way with people and communicating them. I found myself giving advice to younger kids, tutoring them and even working with them in daycares and at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.
NF: What do you mean by “have a way with people”?
RD: I am a sociable person. I love to make people smile, even if it means telling dry jokes that no one understands. (Giggles.)
NF: When would you give someone advice?
RD: As I said, I like talking to people… I’m a people-oriented person. I found that I’m good at coming up with solutions to people’s problems; good at dealing with people and their issues.
NF: What do you hope a degree in your field will help you accomplish?
RD: My main goal is always to figure out ways to help people by finding alternatives and by having conversations about their problems. I hope a degree will help me find work that lets me do just that for more people.
NF: How do you intend to achieve your goals in that area?
RD: By working hard in school, learning through personal experiences and those of others, by being dedicated to the cause and by staying open-minded about people’s problems.
Don’t be fooled by all this Rebecca-speak. Becky is still Becky at heart. Charismatic to say the least, Becky has had many tools to win the hearts of North Philadelphians. From kids enrolled at Olney High School to those dancing their way to stardom in local dance groups, teens and young adults everywhere have recognized me as the guy that took pictures for Becky, and you can’t convince them that it works the other way around. Even Becky forgot how she first reached the company whose pictures of her created an instant photo factory on the Internet!
Becky and I went back and forth about this before the interview, but she thought back and remembered how it came about. We also acknowledge that she shot less frequently than other models in the program, but her pictures were stronger and carried greater impact. Her fan club is excited to see “new Becky” every time they hear she’s coming to Philly.
Becky’s love for pictures started at an early age, and it carried her far in boosting her self-esteem and promoting a positive image for young people throughout the City. It goes to show that today’s young people need images more as they tend to read less. When youths ask if I’m the one who took pictures of Becky, I test them with, “The one who was in the paper? The one from Youth United for Change?” They draw a blank every time.
NF: What got you interested in modeling?
RD: Ever since I was little, I was always in the mirror or in front of the camera, thinking I was Little Miss Hotshot. I still have pictures of when I was two years old, in different clothes and stuff.
NF: Do you remember what sparked that interest?
RD: I think it was the confidence my family gave me, always telling me I was beautiful. They would take my picture all the time, too. They said I was really pretty and should be a model… stuff like that.
NF: How long have you been into modeling, and what experiences have you had?
RD: I’ve loved being in pictures since I was two, but I wasn’t into modeling until much later. I started modeling with Martin Picturesque in 2001. I take a lot of pictures, but I’ve only modeled with Martin Picturesque. They helped me a lot.
NF: What led or attracted you to Martin Picturesque?
RD: Well, the fact that it meant free pictures at the time! I liked the ideas of free photos, in our own attire, at comfortable locations. I knew the photographer – you! – so I felt comfortable. Really, just the whole point of pictures, pictures, pictures… I love taking pictures.
Becky’s popularity grew after modeling for Martin Picturesque and eventually accepting the spokesmodel position for its Model Citizens Youth Leadership program. Her already magnetic personality had kids everywhere talking about her pictures in the Model Citizens online gallery. Many girls signing up to participate in the Model Citizens program would list as a reason for wanting to model “because I want to be able to take pictures like Becky.”
I considered that this month. That really impressed me. It impressed me then, and it impressed me when Becky agreed to this interview. It impressed me that the teens didn’t say, “I want to take pictures like Tyra Banks” or “I want take cool pictures like JeLo.” Of all the celebrity-models out there, I rarely heard their names from kids interested in Model Citizens. Many of them cited photos of Becky as their reason for wanting to enter the amateur model scene.
In that sense, Becky’s photos made her far more than a Model Citizens spokesmodel, even at the amateur modeling level. The image she projects beyond the pretty face and curvaceous body that the camera captured is what make her a role model for the youths of North Philadelphia. And that’s what Becky recognizes as a need for teens and young adults today.
NF: What do you see as the biggest problems facing North Philly youths today?
RD: Lack of role models. Some don’t have role models to guide them. They have no one to give them confidence to succeed. There’s no one to give them hope, to tell them it’s OK to dream. And you know what? It starts at home!
NF: How do you think they can be inspired to succeed?
RD: By the right people, people that help kids succeed are those that were unfortunate when they were young; they work the hardest to help kids rise above their circumstances.
NF: What evidence do you see of this? Have you noticed programs or projects that help shape youths in a positive way?
RD: I can answer from personal experience that if it weren’t for some of these programs, I would not be the person I am today – one strong and full of hope.Philadelphia Futures allowed me to explore the true meaning of being a college student and going beyond average to succeed.
Health Tech 2000 allowed me to work with sick children. I gained valuable experience and came to realize how fortunate I am to be healthy. It was an honor and rare privilege to be a mentor to those children.
Youth United for Change taught me to use my voice in public, through the news, to explain how I felt about the poor education Philadelphia’s public schools were displaying.
Model Citizens helped me develop self-confidence and a vision to do justice for inner-city students. For that, I admire the program.
White Williams Scholar showed me that communicating with your peers about school was really healthy. It joins the other programs that helped shape me mentally, physically and socially.
Becky had expressed her desire to organize a program around an idea NorFilly™ proposed to her in conversations leading up to the interview. Though we’re not disclosing details of that proposal just yet, we were curious as to how she would develop such a program with the cooperation and endorsement of our magazine. She responded during her interview with growing enthusiasm for the idea the more she spoke about it. If NorFilly™ hosts this program in the coming months, talk to Becky… she’ll know first.
NF: How would you go about developing programs to promote a positive youth image?
RD: One word: Voice. I love to communicate, and the best way to sell yourself and your goals is to communicate your ideas in person. I would conduct a survey that would allow me to gain insight of others’ opinions about the program and about what they would like to gain by it.
Once I had a clear vision of what kids need today and what they want or think they need, I would tell people about the future benefits of participating. I’d let them know how they can become a better person for themselves and for their children. I would set out to make the program a success by implementing it so that wouldn’t waste time.
NF: How would you gain recognition? What kinds of role models would children have to help promote your vision?
RD: An ideal leader today is not some celebrity or the President; it’s the ones closest to you and the ones who give all their energy and soul to help you become a better and successful person.
NF: Could you name role models that kids can look up to today?
RD: It’s about who gives of themselves to help kids succeed, so I point no fingers; whoever has sacrificed themselves for you is that role model in your life. For me, it was Maya Angelou, a poet. She’s my favorite and her work is very inspirational because she reads between the lines of life.
On finding solutions to the problems that exist for today’s teens, she offers the advice that the media and entertainment industry have to change. She suggests that today’s negative media doesn’t leave room for the good things going on and that there should be more positive programs to let people know what’s out there for them. She also sends a strong message to parents about raising teens in tough times.
NF: What can be done, by anyone, to change things so that youths see opportunity for change?
RD: Change is a difficult word, meaning that change will not happen in a 360-motion. Everything starts in the home, and the only change that is possible right now is the way parents are raising their children. When you try to change someone already set in their ways (teens), you need to do triangulation: show them many ways and angles on why it is important to take advantage of opportunities. You cannot force change, but program that have mentors is the closest way to emulate a parent. Politicians, mentors, and anyone on the verge of change need to think like a positive parent and confidant.
It’s actually fun being “Becky’s photographer” because I got to get second pick of the mall photos she took with her friend during her last stay in Philadelphia!
Becky returned to Bloomsburg on Monday, March 15th, and a part of NorFilly™ Mag went with her. Check back in the coming months for latest news on development of a new program hosted by NorFilly™ and parent company Martin Picturesque. Without looking too closely, you’ll see Becky D at the forefront once again!