Alum Cheriss may went come Howard University’s 2016 homecoming game dressed to admire in a fresh brand-new school sweatshirt. During halftime, the golden Delight dance team from phibìc Carolina A&T State University, Howard’s opponent, take it the field. “It had actually been raining, and also the ground was muddy and wet,” might said. “I laid down on the sideline, and when they come out come perform, i remember clicking, learning I had actually something special. Ns messed up mine clothes, but it to be worth it.” photo BY CHERISS MAY/NDEMAY MEDIA GROUP

Jan. 6 began out like any kind of other day for Washington D.C.-based photographer and also Howard university adjunct professor Cheriss May. ~ above assignment for Getty to cover the ceremonial Electoral College poll count because that president inside the U.S. Capitol, might remembers the morning started quietly — yet security was high.

“I thought that the Capitol was the safest place in this country, and also turned every one of that upside down for me,” stated May, that had likewise been at the Capitol throughout the elevation of the George Floyd protests, when structure security to be at that is peak.

Folkus is one ongoing collection created v Getty photos that attributes Black photographers who put the emphasis on folks prefer us.

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May to be barricaded for hours inside Congressman Jim Clyburn’s office when insurrectionists ran amok. May tried to gain word out to she loved ones but she couldn’t obtain a cellphone signal. “I felt favor my life remained in danger. Ns felt trapped,” she said. May remembers kneeling top top the floor, camera by she side, together unidentified human being tried to rest in. This occurred three times. The final time, the doors opened up to FBI and Capitol police with weapons drawn. 

“My life flashed before my eyes 3 times that day,” might said. “I didn’t understand if i was going to do it out of there. What has actually helped me is the work. It helps me to live with it and also to move forward. This is mine passion and also my purpose. To have actually that provides me strength.”

Long prior to May construed she to be a intuitive storyteller, she dropped in love with the strength of photography to develop connection and foster community. After researching advertising and graphic style at Howard University, May operated in features and sports for several newspapers prior to making the leap to experienced photography in 2010. End the past decade, she has worked as a portrait and also editorial photographer, chronicling scene of contemporary Black life v an artist’s eye and a warrior’s heart. In May’s hands, the camera i do not care a tool to uplift, inspire, and speak truth to power.

These 10 photographs native May’s job archives lug together bright then-President Barack Obama and then-first lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Rep. Man Lewis that Georgia and also actor Chadwick Boseman together survivors that the Tulsa race Massacre, Frederick Douglass’ living descendants, protesters and activists. “I wanted to start with joy and also end v joy,” may said of her collection. “There space so plenty of things in between those moments the is ours life: pain, death, legacy, possibility, and the audacity that hope.” 


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versus the stark, muted backdrop the the sky in Washington’s Lafayette Square Park on Sept. 6, 2020, might noticed a Black male with his face masked by the U.S. Flag, was standing in former of a little group that protesters. He spoke a language may didn’t, but she felt a link to his experience. “When ns looked in ~ him, that seemed favor the flag was suffocating him and he can not breathe,” she said. “I gained down on the floor to take it the photo, because I wanted to present him larger than life, focusing on his mask. Ns instantly thought around Langston Hughes poem, I, Too.” picture BY CHERISS MAY/NDEMAY MEDIA GROUPCould you take it us ago to your childhood and share several of the accuse your family imparted ~ above you as a young black girl growing up in the 1980s?

I was around 8 year old as soon as I obtained my first taste that racism. Mine parents wanted to offer us far better opportunities, so we relocated from Kansas City, Missouri, to a suburb dubbed Lee’s Summit. Us were the just Black household on our street. Ns remember one afternoon in grade school, my brother, that was 4, and also I were coming house on the institution bus. He to be asleep and also one of the kids said, ‘Look at the small monkey sleep.’ Other kids joined in laughing and continued with hateful remarks, and also throwing around the n-word.

When we obtained off the bus, ns told my parental what happened. Lock sat united state down and told us about racism, and also how, ‘You’re walk to suffer this again, yet don’t allow it protect against you native pursuing her dreams. Recognize that you belong there simply as lot as the other kids.’ it’s a conversation common by other Black families. This is exactly how the human being is. It’s no going to it is in kind. That going to it is in hateful even, but don’t let the deter friend from what you need to do. My parental instilled in my brother and also myself the trust to rise above, have a strong sense the self and know that everything we put our minds come we could do.

How walk you build a love because that photography?

My mother was a high school organization teacher. She was likewise the yearbook advisor, for this reason she had actually a camera and let me play v it. Ns remember gift so excited to take it pictures and see just how they looked. Ns would display up at every the family functions v a camera and pose people and also photograph the scene. I would obtain them developed, lug the prints to the next family members function, and spread them the end on the table. Everyone would look with them and also pick castle up, laughing and also pointing. I favored that sort of togetherness that carried out happiness and joy.

My family saw my solid interest in photography and were very supportive and encouraging. Every Christmas, they would upgrade my camera. Ns don’t also know how an excellent my picture were back then — however to them ns was among the best photographers. They would pour right into me and also give me compliments. All that confident feedback and also reinforcement assisted me come think, ‘I have the right to really execute this!’

Could girlfriend speak about how her mentor, Fred Watkins, opened your eye to photojournalism?

I to be taking photos at an occasion and a male photographer pushed me out of the way. Fred come over and lit right into him, ‘Hey, man, don’t do that.’ climate we exchanged numbers and stayed in touch. Fred started mentoring me without me having actually to ask. He would drop nuggets the wisdom all the time: call me protocol and etiquette functioning in politics spaces. Fred to be mentored by photographer and also filmmaker Gordon Parks, who gave him advice that he subsequently passed on to me, like, ‘You belong over there as much as any type of other photographer. Stand your ground. Do what you’re over there to do. Keep on going. Nothing let anybody push you around.’

Early on Fred told me, ‘Always look because that a different perspective.’ the really stuck to me. Things have the right to be really repetitive at push conferences, particularly if you’re extending the same person. Fred helped me think around finding methods to say or present something various within the sameness.

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Fred also shared opportunities. One time, he told me he had actually a expedition coming increase to south Africa to be the photographer for a Black push tour, yet had a conflict and also couldn’t go. That asked me if I wanted to be the photographer. At the time I was working as a graphic designer for a newspaper, and I claimed yes without even checking mine schedule. It’s one of those things I feel in my spirit. I consisted of my mind the if they stated no ns was going come resign. It was a interlocutor decision since I no thinking about how i was walk to salary my receipt — yet they finished up speak yes.


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might remembers sit on the floor in former of a civil Rights and also Civil liberties Subcommittee hearing, taking photos with tears together Tulsa race Massacre survivors Hughes “Uncle Red” valve Ellis, a 100-year-old world War II veteran, and his sister, Viola “Mother” Fletcher, 107, testified may 19 on Capitol Hill. May wasn’t assigned the story, however she had actually to go. “I’ll never forget mom Fletcher said, ‘I still odor smoke,’ ” may said. “Uncle Red saying, ‘I love my country, yet my nation didn’t love me back.’ ” picture BY CHERISS MAY/NDEMAY MEDIA GROUP
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might photographed Tarence Bailey, the five-times great nephew that Frederick Douglass, throughout an Oct. 2 pilgrimage to the Wye house Farm on Maryland’s eastern Shore, where a 6-year-old Douglass to be left through his grandmother come live and also work. “But likewise coming there, walking on that land as a testament to what castle went v for freedom,” she said. “It reminds me of that saying, ‘I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams.’ Frederick Douglass walk what the did therefore his descendants would certainly be free. I knew I had to photograph Mr. Bailey on the land.” photo BY CHERISS MAY/NDEMAY MEDIA GROUP
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might said she knew Chadwick Boseman as Chad, she barefoot, guitar-playing, introspective neighbor at Howard. “We exchanged numbers, however I didn’t continue to be in touch,” she said. They reconnected top top July 25, 2017, when might photographed Boseman in ~ the 108th NAACP Convention in Baltimore. “Chad always seemed to be in deep thought,” may said. “We now recognize he to be sick and also that might have played right into what we were seeing: to save going and also play iconic duties that were superheroes — both actual life superheroes and also fictional like the black color Panther.” photograph BY CHERISS MAY/NDEMAY MEDIA GROUP
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top top June 27, 2020, may photographed protests at black color Lives issue Plaza in Washington complying with the killing of George Floyd. “There to be a lot walk on in different places in ~ the exact same time, and also I to be like, ‘OK, what’s my focus? those the story here?’ ” may said. “When that loud and also chaotic, I find the most an effective stories in the quiet, in-between moments.” may spotted a woman called Shelly. “She stood over there with all of her power, confidence and support, and also this is what she gave me. Ns didn’t direct her. I want human being to be authentically themselves.” picture BY CHERISS MAY/NDEMAY MEDIA GROUP
may noticed Mike D’Angelo, left, standing at the peak of a streetlight v a bullhorn near Black Lives matter Plaza in Washington ~ above June 13, 2020. A guy in the crowd below him asked the purpose of the protest. “The man wasn’t having it. The crowd started to acquire agitated, and also yelled at the man, who ended up leaving. Then another man come up and hugged Mike,” might said. “Afterward ns asked Mike that that was and he said me that didn’t understand him. The made this minute even an ext powerful — no words essential to be spoken. Black males are often seen as aggressive and also this moment showed their sensitivity, support and also love.” picture BY CHERISS MAY/NDEMAY MEDIA GROUP
“I saw Rep. John Lewis (of Georgia) countless times and one thing I always noticed was the in the middle of everything, that was constantly in deep introspection …” said May, who photographed Lewis at the poll Rights advance Act advent on Capitol Hill in Washington ~ above Feb. 26, 2019. “I shot to carry people into what ns see, feel and connect to, that that human being authentically is. I witnessed the quiet strength of an icon who did so lot to stay in good trouble. One point I always admired about him, specifically as an educator myself, is the he had actually a heart for the youth. No matter where that was, the would constantly make his way to phone call them, ‘Keep act what you doing. Ns proud the you.’ ” photo BY CHERISS MAY/NDEMAY MEDIA GROUP
May’s cousin J. Jioni Palmer organized what he called a household protest in his neighborhood on June 2, 2020 after ~ his boy Middleton, 8, and Caldwell, 5, started asking questions following the death of George Floyd. “I i found it Madison White, this teeny small girl, marching through her dad,” may said of the 3-year old. “It was so powerful to check out something so huge come the end of such a tiny body. She created the sign and also she organized it. She wasn’t speak anything, yet spoke therefore loudly. This is what the is about — showing these youngsters the strength in your voices and the strength of protest.” photo BY CHERISS MAY/NDEMAY MEDIA GROUP
“We really had a black president. Ns really didn’t think i would watch that in mine lifetime,” claimed May, who famously captured first lady Michelle Obama casually adjusting the bow tie of her husband, president Barack Obama, prior to China’s chairman Xi and also Madame Peng Liyuan arrived for the official state dinner top top Sept. 25, 2015, at the White residence in Washington. “I look in ~ this and it’s the audacity the hope. There are little nuances Barack and Michelle would execute that were black color culture, points that are a component of the towel of our lives. Once I took that photo, it was like, ‘Wow, we are really here.’ ” photograph BY CHERISS MAY/NDEMAY MEDIA GROUPCan you take it us ago to 2010, when you rotate a layoff at USA Today right into an chance to change careers and also dedicate you yourself to photography?

I come native a household of educators and also entrepreneurs. Ns was increased with the entrepreneurial spirit, so it wasn’t the scary to action out on my own. It to be something unknown, where I didn’t understand if it would occupational out, but I stepped the end on faith and had to try. I had a assistance network that family and friends that were very encouraging. Among my ideal friends called me, ‘This is your time. You can do it.’ having so many people in your corner cheering girlfriend on, you begin to think it yourself.

Can friend speak about how your graphic design studies at Howard University and early job in newspaper graphic design helped to hone her eye and storytelling skills as a photographer?

As a child, i was constantly enamored with patterns, colors, and also fonts. Exactly how they all worked together — it caught my eye. Once I take it pictures, i’m looking at those exact same things. As soon as I gained into photography full time, I would think about the story, but likewise how I would certainly lay it out on the page. I play with an unfavorable space a lot. One of the reasons is ns am thinking about someone reading the picture who deserve to place themselves in that an are to create a link or a conversation with the person in the picture.

Can girlfriend speak about your decision to do Washington, D.C., her home, and also share what makes D.C. Such a vital place for black color arts, culture, and also politics?

Kansas City will constantly be home. That was mine start, but D.C. Is special. It’s the perfect intersection the culture, background and politics. This is the city where everything your attention or society is, girlfriend can discover it. Howard instilled in me a trust to know that ns come indigenous a beautiful legacy and it is my responsibility to do those things that mine ancestors fought and died because that me to do. 

With that an excellent responsibility come a love and also pride to have the ability to open those doors and assist create opportunities for those the come ~ me — and also to be able to enter spaces where traditionally you wouldn’t watch a black woman act the work. I constantly think about in law that ns am creating space for others to come ~ me so that it’s not foreign when they acquire there. 

You no include any kind of photos native January 6 in the collection, yet could you share your endure that day?

It to be something that will be with me forever. Ns will never forget that day. The morning was really quiet. Defense was high. My friends and family were sending out messages saying, ‘Please it is in careful’ and I told them, ‘I’m fine. Ns going to be inside the Capitol. Nothing ever happens here.’ I stated that with such confidence and clarity. 

I was in the balcony overlooking Statuary room where previous Vice chairman Mike Pence and members the the Senate and also staff simply walked with leaving the residence Chamber. I was uploading mine photos once I heard part commotion below. I looked over the balcony to view Capitol Police scurrying about, piling increase bike racks to block the hallway. I believed they were doing that the end of wealth of caution. Then ns saw among the officers draw a gun and closed mine laptop. 

Two the Congressman Clyburn’s staffers lugged me right into his office. Lock pulled the end the furniture come barricade the doors, and also at that suggest it hit me the this was really serious. All the lights were turned off, the TV to be muted and also everyone to be quiet. We could hear castle in Nancy Pelosi’s office, hollering and also cheering. People came to the doors that the office and tried to gain in on three different occasions. I had actually my cameras through me and was stand in straight line that the door. Climate I believed let me relocate to the next in situation something happens and they start shooting through the door. Ns remember acquisition out my phone like, ‘Should ns make a keep in mind for my family in case they discover my phone?’ 

We to be there because that over two hours. Someone yelled at us on the third attempt to open the door yet didn’t identify themselves, so we didn’t understand it was the police. I told lock to put their identifier under the door. I obtained on mine knees through my cameras in mine hands because I to be going to start taking photos as shortly as everyone it was came through the door. Lock breached the door and also came in with their weapons drawn. Castle yelled at united state to placed our hand up, then checked our IDs. After check everyone, lock led united state out through earlier stairways come the tunnels of the Capitol come an office building where us waited because that a couple of hours because that the every clear come leave. That seemed prefer the longest day ever.

The very next day, I had actually an assignment to take it a portrait the Gabby Giffords. It to be so apropos since I was through someone that by all way should not be alive. She is a picture of resilience and what it method to keep moving forward. We talked about what taken place the day before and also she hugged me, rubbed my back, looked at me, and said, ‘Move ahead.’