Mary Beth Brosnihan The Dear World project uses the combination of the written word and photography to send messages of empowerment.
Mary Beth Brosnihan
The Dear World project uses the combination of the written word and photography to send messages of empowerment.

Slowly bringing her arm forward and flexing it in a form reminiscent of Rosie the Riveter, Nicole Cimbak (NHS ’12) poses before a simple black screen in Sellinger Lounge. Written in Sharpie across her bicep are the words, “We Can Do It.”

“Take a step back. Now without moving your head, put your eyes on me. Just a little more, perfect,” Robert Fogarty says to her, snapping the first official Dear World photograph at Georgetown University.

Dear World, a project founded by social entrepreneur and photographer Robert Fogarty earlier this month, captures originality, creativity and inspiration through the black ink participants scrawl on their fingers, palms and arms. Dear World is an expansion of Dear New Orleans, which was founded last year as a socially conscious venture in which individuals wrote love letters addressed to a grief stricken city on their bodies. Icons such as Super Bowl winning quarterback Drew Brees and Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon posed for Fogarty’s original project.

When an earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, Dear New Orleans became an avenue through which to voice solidarity with the victims.

“That was the moment I knew that Dear World had legs,” Fogarty said.

It was not until March that Fogarty felt prepared to transform the project into a global initiative. The invitation to deliver the keynote address at the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference served as the springboard he needed for an international endeavor.

“We have written messages to the world in 17 languages. I want that number next year to be 100,” Fogarty said.

This ambitious goal brought Dear World to Georgetown, the second stop on a university tour that began at Harvard and will also include Duke University and Tulane University. Fogarty agreed to do the Georgetown photo shoot in Sellinger for free, while the Georgetown University Student Association funded the advertising and room reservation costs.

Cimbak was one of several Georgetown students who chose to write inspirational messages on their arms or hands and pose for Fogarty. She heard about the Dear World photo shoot on Facebook and was inspired by the social and humanitarian roots of the project. Cimbak’s message was primarily a statement of strength and solidarity for Haitians struggling to recover from the devastating quake, but she felt that her photograph could also act as message to the Georgetown community.

“I wanted to send a message to people that you are stronger than you think you are and can get through a lot more than you realize,” Cimbak said.

“Dear World Live at Georgetown” was organized by Mary Willis (COL ’13) and Lily Cowles (NHS ’13) and led by GUSA senator Tyler Sax (COL ’13), who participated in Dear New Orleans. The trio advertised the event and ran its Facebook page.

“When people see these pictures, they are immediately drawn to [them],” Sax said.

Brigid Power (COL ’12) became familiar with Dear World through Facebook and decided to participate. Inscribed on her arms were words of Theodore Roosevelt, “Do what you can with what you have, where you are.”

Power stressed the universality of her message.

“Everybody struggles, but it’s about recognizing that everyone is doing their best,” she said.

Power’s photo will be one of many presented during a showcase event Thursday night at 8 p.m. in the Intercultural Center Auditorium. Fogarty will talk about the roots, growth and expectations for the future of Dear World, and the presentation will conclude with a slide show of the photographs taken Monday.

“I gear myself up to know that … someone is going to come up and show something completely amazing and original,” Fogarty said.

In addition to posing for photographs, students were asked to make a one-dollar donation to a local charity and complete the sentence, “This year I will …”, in a testament to the forward thinking infused in the portraits taken and Dear World itself.

“We took this idea and started in this amazing city and now I want photographers all over the world doing this,” Fogarty said. “That is the big mission.”

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