People with a Purpose focuses on a 14-student class at the Charles R. Drew Transition Center based within the Detroit Public School system. This is a high school dedicated to adults with cognitive and physical impairments, ranging from ages 18-26 years old. Their aim is to teach students how to work within a community - based system and help individuals pursue jobs within the workforce after graduation. Through this experience, I’ve learned that these students simply want their voices heard and to know that they matter just as much as anyone else who doesn’t struggle in the same ways. They are strong individuals who work exceptionally hard everyday to grow, to be independent and to be successful.

The first day I stepped into the classroom to document the students’ experiences through education, I felt welcomed. A young man greeted me immediately and stated with complete confidence,“My name is Ezzeddine - I am handsome, I am smart, and I am wise. Now you say it.” This brought a smile to my face, and I repeated back to him,“You are handsome, you are smart, and you are wise Ezzeddine.” This simple interaction was a beautiful way to start a meaningful project and helped pave the way for this journey with such a special group of individuals. In that moment, I became acutely aware of the fact that these people are no different than anyone else.

People with cognitive and physical disabilities are often defined by their impairments and are left unrecognized for their capabilities to be successful. In this body of work, I document the ways these individuals make positive contributions and differences in their community and society as a whole. This is a group of people who tend to be ignored in our culture, therefore the objective for this project is to reshape and de-stigmatize society’s false perspectives of people with disabilities.

The program is almost indistinguishable to a non-disabilities high school academic schedule. Students switch between classes, which consist of homeroom, wood-shop, maintenance class, sewing class, English, and liberal arts classes. Community is a huge part of these students’ lives, as they spend most of their days together interacting and working as a group. Outside of the classroom, everyone greets one another in the hallways, and the overall school environment is genuinely friendly. Their schedules remain consistent each day because a fixed routine is crucial for the students.

I believe we are all here for a reason, and we all have a purpose on this Earth. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of any differences between each individual. We are all unique in our own way, and we should take pride in that. This is a community that does just that. Through this experience, I’ve built trust with each student and have created lasting friendships. These individuals are beyond their disabilities; they are people with their own purpose. They have voices that matter just as much as anyone else’s, and they all deserve to be heard loud and clear.