The Power of the Bracelet

On August 9th I volunteered at the Medical Mission Detroit.

Another discovery through photography. Another item to research. I volunteered, as a photographer, but really had no idea what  I was going to witness.

The alarm sounds at 4:30 am. It’s always cool here in Detroit, even in the summer. Quick breakfast, got ready, packed my gear, and headed out.

What was I doing? Where was I going? What would I see and what would it leave me?

A couple of weeks before a co-worker posted a flyer at work that displayed the date, the name and what the event was all about. Vision, dental and general healthcare would be provided for free, for three consecutive days, at Detroit’s COBO Center. The same place that I’ve visited every January, in the freezing Detroit weather, to view the new car models. The COBO Center, the house of the Detroit Auto Show.

I knew the place was used for other events being a convention center, but how could it be setup to offer free healthcare? To who? How would equipment be brought in? How? How would it work?

5:15 I was there. Still pretty dark, but the sun was on the rise. I walked outside, collected my thoughts, cleared it of preconceptions and reminded myself of why I was there.

The co-worker that had put the flyers up had put me in touch with one of the organizers when I asked if I could volunteer with photography. Raymond his name is. I explained that healthcare was a subject of deep interest to me, and I wanted to take pictures to help the cause. Show the event’s success and use them to gain traction towards futures events.

As kind as he is he accepted my offering.

I was in. I had access to photographing the Medical Mission of Detroit.

5:30. The sun was giving off that beautiful light.

A few people were lined up outside. Wait. A few people? How could that be? The stats speak pretty clearly. Some 30 million people are without healthcare coverage in the US, and I’m sure that there are many that reside in Detroit. And only a few people were outside queuing up to come in?

I strolled around, waiting to meet Raymond. I checked in, continued to collect my thoughts.

I checked in, got my volunteer pass, and had my cameras out. I was the photographer there.

6:00. I meet Raymond. We exchange a few words and get down to business. I help with the boxes, the shirts, the clipboards, the name tags.

I walk around a little more, and wanted to see if the line outside grew, I went back to the entrance. It had grown, but I was hoping to see a line at least as long as the one that tourists form around the Vatican. No. There must have been less than 50 people.

The doors open, the journalists are there, they are interviewing people. Others are signing petitions.

It then unfolds. Everything perfectly organized. There was a waiting area, then patients watched a health-guide video on iPads, then a staging area, then a general health services area, and then the dentists, eye doctors, and other doctors in the back.

Raymond Waller, and his association Assertive Community Touch, ACT, held the staging area. They would ask general questions to make the patient feel welcome, feel comfortable.

They gave them the bracelet. The admittance bracelet.

That paper bracelet, the one that to many of us means getting into fun spots, night clubs, events, and VIP areas, meant getting a routine check. It meant being cared for. That bracelet had power. No matter the race, the religion, or sexual preferences.

It meant you could get your damn teeth checked!

Still shocked by the few hundred people that had shown up, I didn’t have time to take photographs for the event and also question how all of this could be. So I documented it as I saw it, knowing that I would read on it later.

This was a religious based Free clinic. I would have hoped these types of services existed, but never knew to what extent. Free clinics. For who?

So a large portion of the population is insured (about 80%), another chunk is not – and this, right or wrong, is in line with a person’s freedom to chose, although I don’t agree – then there are the social programs, like Medicare and Medicaid, and then the Free Clinics. The poorer than poor. The individuals who need a bracelet to get in.

Medicaid is the national health coverage program for individuals that are lower than 138% of the Federal Poverty Line, which is now at about $12,000 per individual, $16,000 for two, and +$4,000 for every additional individual.

Medicare is a similar program for the elderly. They both started in 1965 by president Lyndon Johnson who’s vision of “Great Society” was to have a social commitment to improving individuals’ healthcare needs.

Maybe it’ll take another 50 years to accept Obamacare?

Because I mean, there are a lot of free clinics. Just googling it gives countless results. And this document states that “during 2012-2014 the nation’s 1200 Free Clinics saw a 40% increase in patient demand, despite the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act” (source).

I continued to gather my thoughts. I walked around. I smiled at the doctors and volunteers. I asked permission to the patients. Most of the time.

I want to be cognizant of people’s privacy. But it takes that courage to tell these stories. It’s not Fine Art, or Landscape nor is it Wildlife. I knew that all patients had signed the waiver acknowledging that there would be photography and video. I knew I was legally in the right. And with some time to absorb the day I knew that I was in the right, morally as well.

But still, see that bracelet in the lower right? Ya, this man needed it as well.

And of course, 2Pac’s Brenda’s Got a Baby is playing in the background for this. How fitting.

11:00. I thanked Raymond and his wife, his family, and all of their church friends. I packed up my gear, although I used my Fujifilm X-100F most of the time, and told them I would send them the photos as well as the event communication manager.

At 11:30 I was headed to the office. I was thinking that just seven hours earlier I was waking up getting ready to go do something that I knew was important, but I didn’t know the ins and outs.

I didn’t know what type of light would be there. I didn’t know how the event was organized. I didn’t know who the individuals were and I certainly did not know how they would react to a volunteer, not the press, take pictures to document the world around.

I jumped. I leaped.

In photography we often read “shoot what you love”. I wrote about this in Bill’s Love Story. And this is the Part II. Shoot what you love, always, and dare to do so. Photography is the medium that you chose to share your story. Do it.

As they say in Italy, “luck kisses the brave”.

Until next time,

Does Size Matter?


Update (September 19, 2017)

Photo credits published