Who is CIS? by Justin Cook

From Wilkes County to Mecklenburg County to Moore County to Orange County... from Guilford County to New Hanover County to Stokes County to Robeson County... from Lee County to Brunswick County to Clay County... what a year it's been capturing the faces of CIS! Take a moment and see again the familiar faces of our CIS Family. These are the children, young people, mentors and adults whose lives are changed by being part of Communities In Schools. We hope you enjoy this year-end medley featuring familiar and never-before-seen footage from all of our "Overcoming Obstacles: CIS Success Stories" videos. Your support of CIS helps kids all across the state overcome all kinds of obstacles and realize their dreams. Their success means a better future for all of us. We thank you.

For the past year I have been the man behind the camera who has brought this series to life. I have asked a lot of questions this year. Who are you? What are your fears? What gives you joy? What do you want for these kids? What could have made your childhood better? All these were meant to address the larger question: What is CIS? Or better, who is CIS?

This year I have discovered that CIS is the young African-American male who decided that he was tired of seeing his young people swallowed up by the block.

CIS is the young woman who was brought up in plenty, but was heartbroken when she discovered that so many deserving young people may never have the opportunities she enjoyed. She decided to act.

CIS is the country-strong folk who do what they can with what they have. CIS is all of these people and more.

CIS is the answer to the prayers of a young man, who doesn't have a city bus ticket to get home from school because he stays late at school enriching himself with extracurriculars.

CIS is the bread to the girl who sneaks cafeteria food home in her backpack at school so that her family might eat that night.

CIS is the five minutes of counsel for a child that can make their world stop spinning and get them back into orbit.

CIS is that one chance, or opportunity that connects a promising young mind to the right resources or mentor.

CIS is the extra boost of confidence to the young adult who is searching for his or her self-worth.

CIS is all the great ideals that came together and founded this country, working together to overcome the inequality that exists on the road to the America Dream. CIS is different people, with different experiences: neighbors, lovers-of-humanity and fighters working together outside of politics to make a difference through small acts of kindness.

You do it not for glory, or self congratulation. You do it for graduation. Graduation marks a passage for students on their journey to becoming responsible adults, who can make informed decisions. We hope they can fulfill their civic duties and give back to the communities they came from. The hope is that one day there will be no need for CIS.

You are not by any means navel gazers. You are the doers and dreamers and the dream come true for so many.

To a child adrift in poverty or puberty, you make all the difference in the world.

Thanks for giving me the chance to know you. It is a humbling privilege.

Justin Cook is an independent documentary photographer who lives in Durham, NC. He is the multimedia producer behind Communities In Schools of North Carolina’s “Overcoming Obstacles: CIS Success Stories.” His work has been honored by College Photographer of the Year, Pictures of the Year International, Virginia Press Association, Society of Professional Journalists and other organizations. Although Cook’s photojournalism is award-winning, he gauges his success not in trophies but in the relationships he establishes with his subjects. View his work online at www.justincookphoto.com.

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