Darice Jones and Kamika Cooper

Kamika Cooper
digital photography
Inspiration piece


Morning Twilight
By Darice Shatteen-Jones

I woke up at dark thirty (as we call the deep night in some parts of our African diaspora) and thought about shirking my responsibilities and just driving down the 5 from the Bay Area to LA. I could go to Dockweiler beach and have a chat with the Orisha of the ocean, Yemeya. I could connect with my old roommate, the powerful stud rapper, who used to be coupled with the dramatic femme stripper. I could go to Agape spiritual center and get a shot of euphoria, as it can only be delivered by Michael Beckwith, in a hall full of positivity junkies. I could connect with my fellow film director who had a brain so fierce she could just as likely be an astrophysicist as a micro-indie filmmaker. I could hook up with my wild party friend who loved to dance, to sing, and most especially to get it on.

That ridiculous thought was the one that snapped me out of my reverie and made me remember I live in cold ass DC now. It’s Winter and there will be no watching the sunrise over the hills while rolling down the highway eating Trader Joe’s fake jerky and thick yogurt cheese.

No. Here in this paradox of US political poison and historically holistic Black upward mobility activism, I am left to focus on surviving the cold. If you ever want an immersion course in self-care, just move to a place with a windshield factor of -10 on a day where you’re expected to arrive at work by 8am. If you’re like me, a Cali kid, you have to get up at 4am just to start getting ready – to take care of yourself in a way that’s just not required on the ever-sunny West coast. This day would be no different. I needed hours to adjust emotionally to the idea of walking outside when my entire being was telling me to turn the heat all the way up and stay in bed under my mink blanket watching Grey’s Anatomy. I also needed hours to actually bundle up enough so that my face, hands, and feet were not literally frozen on the way to work.

I’m a photographer, recently hired by the DC’s Center for the Study of Social Policy to take 100 photos that could evoke feelings of isolation in the audience. My images will be used by the organization to make a case that class has an impact on how different communities experience isolation. The consultants the center has hired believe that they can use a study of 200 people, 100 from high investment areas of DC and 100 from underserved areas, to prove that while isolation is undesirable for affluent people, it can be lethal for those without resources.

The project is not too much of a stretch for me right now, since living here away from everything I’ve ever known is definitely bringing up feelings of deep aloneness. For the first time in my life, I’m noticing the absence of things rather than seeing everything as abundant. It’s depressing – like really depressing. Or at least it was until this morning. I was still wiping newly formed gunk out of my eyes, riding in the back of my Lyft at 5am when I looked ahead and saw it. A completely empty road that seemed to be vibrating with life despite the fact that there were no people, no animals, and very few plants lining the street. The morning twilight seemed to be winking at me. Street lights seemed to laugh out loud. The road itself seemed to be conspiring with the sky to create each hefty breath. My Lyft driver, Kyle, was clearly startled when I shouted, “Stop!” He jammed on the brakes and turned around to me exhaling an elongated, “Biiiiiiiiiiiitch, what?”

I choked out an awkward laugh while I gazed into his big Yoruba looking eyes and observed his shiny Mahogany skin. He smelled like Nag Champa and shea butter. He looked like hella dudes I knew back in Oakland. My face must have embodied the apology I didn’t utter because Kyle’s expression softened. I grabbed my camera. “I have to get this shot. Wait for me?”

He rolled his eyes, but nodded a yes. As I got out of the car and planted myself in the center of the road, I heard Kyle’s window rolling down. “Really, girl? Really?” he exclaimed as I took about 20 quick pics, squatting down, with my feet firmly planted.

I ran back and hopped in warm, shea-smelling car. I was out of breath from my short but emotion-laden foray into the ridiculously cold and surreally alive empty street. I knew the image would be an acceptable representation of isolation for the Center researchers, but my heart was telling me to keep this particular image for use in my own projects.

There was something about Kyle, the sparkle of the morning, and the celestial street that seemed to inhale my isolation and exhale universal connection back into my near-frozen veins. Since I’d moved to DC, I had never felt less alone.

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