Activist Spotlight: Abbe Dembowitz ’16
We’re very excited to share this conversation with Abbe Dembowitz, Founder of the Turn It Around Project. In Abbe’s words, the mission of the project is to use the medium of photography to “create awareness, establish community, and garner positivity for the best and worst in us all.” The Turn It Around Project, which was initially based at Pace and in New York City, has been featured in the Huffington Post, and recently raised enough money to begin going on tour to share the concept with other colleges and universities. Read our interview with Abbe below, and find out how you can get involved as a volunteer and even join the upcoming tour!
Year of Graduation: 2016
Career Aspirations: I will be attending law school in the fall of 2017 in the hopes of becoming a corporate finance and securities attorney.
One of the wonders of the project is how we connect people of all colors, genders, cultures, and sexual orientations to create a community of people vulnerable enough to speak their truths, while being strong enough to combat them.
Our “Activist Spotlights” feature individuals like you who commit to acts of “everyday activism.” How do you define “activism” and what makes a person an activist?
Put simply, having the heart to care about an issue with the drive to evoke real change.
True or false: We’re all works in progress and we’re born with insecurities. These insecurities fuel the fears that hold us back from exceeding our potential. Can you comment on how that relates to combatting the intersectional oppressions we face in our society?
Definitely true. My interpretation and the way in which Turn It Around functions is centered around the basis that being a work in progress is universal. One of the wonders of the project is how we connect people of all colors, genders, cultures, and sexual orientations to create a community of people vulnerable enough to speak their truths, while being strong enough to combat them. We all live in our own bondage of self. The fear of failing can be crippling, but it is the duty of each of us to fight against it in order to contribute not only to those around us, but to society as a whole. The more projects like ours that embrace universal vulnerability, the higher the chance that intersectional oppressions will dissipate.
You started the Turn It Around Project after attending counseling sessions. It takes a lot of courage to share that because there’s a stigma attached to mental health issues. How do you think we should approach our experiences and understanding of self-care?
I think that it is extremely crucial to remove the stigma from psychotherapy as a whole in our society. The project aims to change the conversation about asking for help, and teaches individuals to help themselves as well. By creating the environment that we do at our events whereby students, faculty, and residents from around specific areas get together to talk through their own insecurities and fears, a sense of community is created. Suddenly, it becomes clear that these thoughts are more the norm than people think.
You could have chosen any other form of art medium for the Turn It Around Project. Why did you choose black and white photography?
I certainly believe black and white to be aesthetically pleasing, but the underlying reason was to further emphasize the need for the gray area that lies between the black and white thinking we so often subject our minds to. The message underlies the thought process that there is the negative thinking, the positive thought, and a wonderful world of gray in between. Additionally, photography seemed like the obvious choice given the extensive outreach that social media provides. Furthermore, the non-discriminatory nature of the project allows the viewer to see everything but color.
What have been some of the memorable reactions to your photography project?
There has been such an outpouring of love and support for the project, but the absolute best part of it for me is hearing people say, “me too.” These two words are more powerful and leave more of an impact than anything I could have anticipated. It’s also so wonderful to receive emails and messages from individuals on a national and global scale that are willing to open up and share their stories. It is beautiful that something that once seemed so small has already begun to create something so big.
I could have told you a few days ago that my plan would be to expand this worldwide and build a network of ambassadors on a global scale, but, amazingly, that has already begun. We are currently attempting to incorporate and become a non-profit organization. I believe it is an important next step that we partner with hospitals and rehabilitation centers to bring light and positivity to those who need it most. No matter what happens, however, the creation of a global community in action is of utmost importance due to the crucial nature of this project.
The more projects like ours that embrace universal vulnerability, the higher the chance that intersectional oppressions will dissipate.
You’re graduating at the end of this semester. What’s your advice to college students who want to become advocates on issues they care about?
I’d say the two most important things are a) be willing to adapt your ideas to better suit your target audience and b) don’t let the small battles stop you – anything is possible with a lot of drive and a great idea.
I began the project with a sharply defined idea. I knew, however, that it would be advantageous for me to consult with professionals, recognizing that there were potential issues that would be unforeseeable to me as a non-expert on the matter. After a series of meetings with such individuals such as the wonderful people in the Counseling Center, The Turn It Around Project was born. If I had let my ego get in the way, however, I would never have been able to run such a successful initiative.
Next, always remember that there will be potential obstacles along the way. It is your obligation to surpass those if you ever want to make a true change.
Interested in getting involved with the Turn It Around Project? Find out how you can volunteer (and even join them on Saturday, April 2nd for their tour at Skidmore College!) by emailing the Turn It Around Team at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow the project on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and visit their website for more information!