If you could share your story with the world, what would it be? This is what Robert Fogarty set out to uncover in 2009 and what I decided to discover for myself on Feb. 25.

Fogarty began a project called “Love Notes to the City” that shared the stories of those impacted by Hurricane Katrina through photography, which turned into the global mission called “Dear World”. He has taken thousands of pictures of people from all over the world with messages written on their bodies that are their message to the world. Participants have shared their hopes and fears as well as their losses and joys regardless of their religion, race or language. There is a common expression that says pictures are worth a thousand words, so when words and pictures are combined, the results are incredible.

“We explore stories of hope,” Fogarty said. “Stories of struggle. Stories of a brighter day.” The whole point of Dear World, according to Fogarty, is to connect people with each other and show that stories and experiences can be shared, because “to build anything great, you have to go together.”

Dear World and Emory’s Residence Hall Association (RHA) collaborated to bring Dear World Live to Emory’s campus, giving college students the opportunity to share their story. For six hours, photos of students were taken. Dear Emory released these photos on facebook, in totality, on March 15.

Students shared everything from sayings concerning race and religion to single words that packed a punch to inspirational quotes to Harry Potter references.

I wrote, “Don’t judge the cover, read the story” on my hands. This sprung from a simple thought that I had coming in to the event: being kind is simple. Everyone should be treated with kindness and respect, because no one knows what is going on beneath the surface. Though I did not know it at the time, my message to the world ties in closely with the mission of Dear World: to share people’s true stories. Appearances are one thing, but what someone is truly thinking and feeling is another.

After a full day of shooting photos, a presentation took place in Winship Ballroom in the Dobbs University Center, where students who stood out to Dear World volunteers were asked to share the full story behind what they chose to write on their bodies. Most of the participants’ stories were well-received, as the audience applauded loudly following each story. I teared up after hearing accounts of tenacity.

Following the talks, Fogarty presented a slideshow that included most of the pictures taken that day. The messages that people shared in the photos exposed vulnerabilities that I may not have otherwise experienced.

Through this event, a multitude of sentiments were expressed in a way that may not have been possible through casual interaction. The Emory community bonded through this common experience. I even made friends with the people with whom I stood in line while waiting to get my photo taken. The accepting environment and open ears that people offered were truly spectacular. It was amazing that an act as seemingly unimportant as writing on oneself and taking a photo could pave the way for conversation among strangers. Dear World, thank you for allowing me to share my story and for giving me the opportunity to better understand others.

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