'Just the beginning': A photographer's dispatch from the heart of America's galvanized civil rights movement

Steven John Irby is co-owner & director of Street Dreams Magazine. His recent photography of protests in New York City has been featured in the New YorkerGQVanity FairNew York Magazine, and more.

I can’t help but to think about all of the times my parents would tell me about the movement in the ’70s.

How it affected their everyday lives. What they used to shout in the street and what they fought for. 

6.1.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)
6.1.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)

Fast forward to present day: I’m fighting for what my parents and their parents fought for over generations. 

6.1.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)
6.1.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)

At 33 years old, born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, I feel it’s my moral obligation to tell the truth from my perspective for my people and the future to come.

6.7.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)
6.7.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)

These moments will go down in time, the days the earth shifted. 

6.1.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)
6.1.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)

As soon as the sun went down, the energy definitely changed. I remember being so close to the police taking photos of everything that day, and a piece of celery came flying and hit me right on my lower leg. I realized that I was too close to the police and stepped back. Steven John Irby, notes of protest

6.3.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)
6.3.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)

Then the police started to mobilize with the batons fully extended to push into the crowd.

6.1.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)
6.1.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)

You have angry people with signs, protestors trying to push people away from the police, police smirking and holding down their side of the street.

6.1.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)
6.1.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)

The energy during the days of the protest is something that I have personally never experienced in my 33 years on this earth.

6.1.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)
6.1.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)

It’s a full spectrum of emotions that you are constantly trying to download in real time. And as a black man documenting and marching, it’s heavy.

6.1.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)
6.1.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)

But there is a sense of reassurance that comes over you, seeing that your feelings are in unison with the largest civil rights movement the world has ever seen.

5.31.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)
5.31.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)

Being able to tell my truth through images is something I value more the deeper I fall in love with my craft.

6.7.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)
6.7.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)

And it does help to be able to tell my mom and my sister what’s really going on in the streets. Steven John Irby, notes of protest

 6.1.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)
6.1.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)

I can project our history, our pain, our pride, our anger, and our love in so many deeper ways with art and photography.

6.1.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)
6.1.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)

Because this isn’t a two-week tussle. This is a lifetime battle to face these inhumane ethics head-on.

6.10.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)
6.10.20. (Steve Irby/Street Dreams Magazine)

This is just the beginning. 

Steven John Irby is co-owner & director of Street Dreams Magazine, which features photo journals, art editorials, a radio show, and various retrospectives. Irby gave a TED talk in March, discussing his life and learnings, and teaches photography on Skillshare and Creativelive. Both Irby and Stream Dreams can be found on Instagram.

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