From mental health to housing (and much more), South Heights photography exhibition is a powerful exploration of our community

The South Heights PhotoVoice Initiative friends and family preview, held prior to the opening on Friday, June 7. Courtesy photo

When the South Heights PhotoVoice Initiative exhibition premieres Friday, June 7, the images it will display will raise deeply important questions and conversation surrounding everything from mental health and housing to education and employment—and much more.

The show—which features 20 large-scale photographs from residents of Muskegon Heights’ South Heights neighborhood—will be held Friday, June 7 from 5-7pm and Saturday, June 8 from 10am to 1pm at the Louis A. McMurray Conference Center (2624 Sixth St.) in Muskegon Heights. It is free and open to the public.

It’s a show that not only celebrates artistic talent, but places the power of storytelling into the hands of residents. The culmination of months of South Heights residents documenting their lives, the photography exhibition brings to light issues that the artists hope will take center stage when it comes to policy and discussions impacting the future of our area.

“The Muskegon area is growing, and these Muskegon Heights residents intend to grow with it and help make all of Muskegon County an inviting place to live, work and play,” said Marquis Childers, Jr., a Muskegon Heights resident and community organizer who helped facilitate the PhotoVoice project. “These individuals are doing the work it takes to organize, engage in critical dialogue, and reach out to the larger community to include their ideas.”

Conducted in partnership with PhotoVoice, a United Kingdom-based nonprofit that promotes using photography for positive social change, the exhibition is sponsored by Access Health, United Way of the Lakeshore, and the Coalition for Community Development. It tackles complex issues—race and racism, prejudice, the inequities community members can face when it comes to accessing education, housing, healthcare, and more—but it does so in a way that says: this is our reality. And it’s a reality that encompasses the sweeping spectrum of human existence—depression and joy and love and tears and falling apart and rebuilding lives.

The photography exhibit’s friends and family preview. Courtesy photo

It says: we haven’t broken. We have faced things people should never have to face, but we’ve done it and we’ve risen. It says: this is our community, one that has been maligned but which is filled with mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, friends and colleagues who give their all, every single day, to empowering their neighborhood, city, and world.

It says: this is our reality, and it is one that systems and people in power have perpetuated, allowed to exist, and turned a blind eye to. This reality can, and must, change—but, for it to change, there needs to be an understanding of the issues individuals face in their everyday lives, why those issues exist, and what can be done to address them in a meaningful way that results in a far stronger community.

The Community Health Innovation Region (CHIR), a state initiative seeking to improve health outcomes for Michiganders, too is partnering with the South Heights photography exhibition.

“We are looking forward to the exhibition and the conversation it provides,” said Muskegon CHIR Chair Jane Clingman Scott.

As part of this partnership with CHIR, Childers noted the photography project has a commitment from area agencies and organizations to be responsive to resident’s voices.

“We look forward to connecting with them and sharing the stories and ideas at the premiere exhibition, throughout the summer, and this fall at a community-wide summit,” Childers said.

Anyone interested in getting involved with future events and discussions regarding PhotoVoice or the community-wide summit can sign up at the exhibition or send an email to

Story by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. You can connect with Anna by emailing or on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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