Saint Leo Shares Its Stories In Dear World Project

September 23, 2016

“If you had one story to share with the world, what would you say?”

That is the premise behind the powerful Dear World interactive portrait project that came to Saint Leo University on Wednesday, September 21, and Thursday, September 22. Faculty and staff were invited to join students in the photography project “that unites people through pictures in their distinct message-on-skin style.”

Joe -Thompson

Started in New Orleans in 2009 following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Dear World began as a “love letter” to that city. In the spring of 2016, Dear World hit the 50,000 portraits mark, said Katie Greenman, storyteller, photographer, facilitator for the project.

Saint Leo University had 315 participants. “Your project was really unique,” Greenman said. “It was a huge turnout.”

Participants wrote a message in black marker on their arms, hands, faces, or other body parts to tell their individual, unique story. “The words you wrote on your skin are a window into your story,” Greenman told those assembled for the Dear World Showcase on Thursday evening.

Tiffany -Fettig

The goal for the project was to find understanding and common ground among the Saint Leo community members.

“My prayer for everyone tonight is that you are inspired to be yourself,” said Joshua Bartholomew, student government president.

There were commonalities among the messages at Saint Leo, Greenman said. “You are not alone. A lot of stories related to other stories.”

Five participants were selected to tell their stories Thursday evening at the Dear World Showcase held in the Student Community Center boardrooms. “They were chosen not because their stories were the best, but because they are reflective of others’ stories,” Greenman said.

Dean -Everton

Tessy K. Jacques kicked off the speakers with some “slam poetry” as she recited “Midnight Rituals.” Selected to share their stories were: Joseph D. Thompson III, a junior from New Jersey; Edson O’Neale, director of Student Activities; Jamilah Ray, a senior from Orlando; Tiffany Fettig, campus minister and Saint Leo Class of 2016; and Dean D. Everton, a sophomore from Brandon, FL.

The speakers were applauded for their bravery in telling their stories of experiencing racism, bullying, lack of self-worth and self-respect, death of friends, depression, and anxiety during their lives. Their stories resonated with the crowd gathered in the boardrooms. Each shared how they overcame or are working on moving toward recovery. Tears and laughter greeted them.

Greenman challenged everyone who felt the power of those five people sharing their stories, to share theirs and continue the conversation. “Feel the respect and know your worth,” she said. “And know that your community has your back.”

In two weeks, participants will receive emails with their portraits. Some photos are posted on Facebook at

The event was sponsored by the Student Government Union; Campus Activities Board; Student Activities; Multicultural and International Services Office; Residence Life; and Counseling Services.