Deontè Gardner takes a moment as he gets ready for his final headlining show as Cassius Tae in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., before his graduation from Central Michigan University.
Deontè Gardner performs as Cassius Tae at his final show at Wayside Central in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., before he graduates. During Gardner's time at Central Michigan University, he launched his music career which he will continue past graduation. As entertainer, Gardner explains that he was able to "bridge the gap and bring together different groups that never would’ve been together.”
Outside his childhood home in Chicago, Deontè Gardner looks over his shoulder before heading inside. Gardner is the first person on his block to go away for college and to graduate.
Deontè Gardner plays his his sister Jade Gardner, 6, in the basement of his dad's house in Chicago, Ill. During college, Deontè lived four hours away as a result, the time he spends in Chicago with family is treasured.
In his grandmother's home in Chicago, Ill., Deontè Gardner laughs at his cousin following Thanksgiving dinner with his family. Chicago and his family have huge influences on Gardner's music and time he gets to spend with is treasured. Some of his first musical inspirations were his parent's choices in music and set the foundation for his dream of pursuing music.
On his way to class, Deontè Gardner looks over homework on the bus. With his busy schedule, the commute to school becomes time to work on last minute things.
In the middle of a hectic evening before a performance in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., Deontè Gardner takes a moment to compose himself and prioritize the remaining tasks before showtime.
Deontè Gardner performs as Cassius Tae at the Center for Inclusion and Diversity. In his last semester at Central Michigan University, Deontè was performing at least once a week.
Deontè Gardner grins as he thumbs through the money he made from the final show in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., before his graduation. Deontè saw the money in his hands a physical representation of the support his friends and family have offered him as he pursues his dream of being a professional musician.
At the end of a long day Deontè Gardner orders a calzone from Hungry Howie's in Mt. Pleasant. Deontè's days at school are long and he doesn't always get the chance to eat during the day.
Ray Golden, Jr., scrolls through study notes before an exam in Anspach on the campus of Central Michigan University where he is studying political science and non profit law. Golden is the second generation in his family to attend college and the says he carries the weight of the history if the struggle of African-Americans in America. “The more education I have the heavier the burden becomes- the more aware of how far we are behind,” he says. “How are we supposed to get ahead if we’ve only been going to college for one generation?”
Before an early morning practice, Ray Golden, Jr., talks with his teammates on the Central Michigan University football team. As a defensive back, Golden takes his responsibility to his team serious and refers to football as his “job.” Because of the long hours spent with his team, the football team is a second family for Ray.
Ray Golden, Jr., of San Diego laugh at one of his teammate’s jokes as he grabs breakfast before football practice in the Indoor Athletic Complex in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. The defense back man has been playing football since he was 10-years-old and plans on pursuing the sport after college but understands how careful he needs to be in making plans. “I am one decision away from ending back in poverty." Golden says.
Ray Golden, Jr., makes a joke during a meeting of the Central Michigan University NAACP chapter, of which Golden is vice-president.
Ray Golden, Jr., poses as he shows some of his tattoos in his apartment in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., Oct. 25, 2017. Golden has 11 tattoos, of which he is very proud of and hold significance to him. "I look at my tattoos as a vision. I have a vision of what I want my body to be." Golden says.
After a long day at school, Ray Golden, Jr., leaves campus. With days that start with early morning practices and a day full of classes, Ray gets to campus when it's dark and often doesn't leave until after dark.
While meeting with a friend for dinner, Aaron Johnson looks out the window as he thinks about what they are talking about. The summer of 2016 when videos circulated on social media showing the death of Philando Castile was the first time Johnson really starting to grasp the weight of what it means to a man of color in America. “I went into a depression and crying ‘why are things this way?’”
At the end of his day, Aaron Johnson splashes water on his face as he washes up.
Aaron Johnson lifts weights in the Student Activity Center at Central Michigan University, something he does nearly everyday. As a minority student at a predominately white institution, Johnson confesses he doesn't always feel like he can be himself. “Certain contexts... make me feel like my blackness is not ok to express.” Johnson goes on to say, “The intensity of black culture white people tend to be fearful of it and want to pacify it.”
Aaron Johnson of Brighton, Mich., ponders as he drives back to his apartment following class at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. As a musician and rapper, Johnson uses his platform of music to make a difference. “I have a responsibility to speak up on this… (but) there’s a lot of grace that has to be involved,” says Johnson.
Rondall Murray, Jr., gently places his hand on Aaron Johnson’s head as he gives him a haircut in Murray's Mt. Pleasant apartment.
Aaron Johnson grabs a speaker from his apartment as he heads out to practice music for his senior recital. Aaron describes his ability to play percussion as spiritual gift and strives to improve.
Before his senior recital Aaron Johnson takes a deep breath after changing into his recital clothes. His rectal is the culmination of the four years he’s spent in the music program at Central Michigan University studying music.
As friends gather around him, Aaron Johnson plays the piano at the Bovee University Center on the campus of Central Michigan University. Johnson says he's always been musically inclined and that lead him to study percussion at Central Michigan University.
Following his senior recital, Aaron Johnson’s sister Moriah Johnson. Johnson has six siblings and they all are close and supportive of one another.
Aaron Johnson crawls into bed in his apartment in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. The summer of 2016 when Philando Castile was killed at the hands of a police officer was a pivotal season Johnson. "When I saw it on the news...I just kind of woke up to that and I realized that Philando could’ve been me, it could’ve been one of my brothers, it could’ve been my cousin, it could’ve been my dad and realizing that helped me own my blackness more and start to live into that.”
Trenton Carson works late into the night on a poster design. As a graphic design student at Central Michigan University, Carson is always working on projects for school and for his own graphic design business.
Trenton Carson of Detroit grins as he warms up with his fellow members of Trap Door Improv at Central Michigan University. “One thing we all got in common: we like to laugh,” says Carson. As a member of CMU’s Trapdoor Improv group, Carson does just that. It’s his self described “relief and release from school” as he embraces his “goofiness” as he says and bring laughter to audiences.
During a party for his 21st birthday Trenton Carson smiles to himself as he is surrounded by his fraternity brothers.
At the end of a long day, Trenton Carson brushes his teeth in his Mt. Pleasant apartment.
Trenton Carson relaxes in his apartment as light filters in through the blinds. Carson doesn't let micro aggressions bother him because he says, “People who aren’t black don’t see what we go through… because people don’t want to." He goes on to say. “We’re all uncomfortable in this world… only thing that’s different it where we come from.”