East Lansing High School Alum Creates Kidsrise Project

Wednesday, March 8, 2017, 2:23 pm
By Casandra Eriksen and Telaina Eriksen

Kidsrise, a photography project created by East Lansing High School alumna Smeeta Mahanti, visited the East Lansing Public Library Tuesday, March 6, and Wednesday, March 7. Kidsrise is a project meant to give voice to children ages ten to 17, the next generation of voters.

“The project is still in its early stages,” Mahanti said. “The goal is to hear kids’ voices. I only ask that they don’t label themselves or others, or write hateful things.”

Mahanti, mother of three, became serious about photography approximately ten years ago. After graduating from ELHS in 1993, she studied education policy at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and then received her Master’s Degree in Education at the University of Texas in Austin. She said she feels the Kidsrise Project is a proactive way for kids to tell their story.

Above: ELHS Junior swimmer Jack Sparrow's sign says, "Everyone deserves a chance to swim fast, regardless of where they are from." The ELHS swim team is comprised of students of many nationalities. Photo credit for both pictures: Casandra Eriksen

On the Kidsrise website she wrote, “Kids are innovative thinkers and intuitive users of technology and social media. They are natural networkers and problem solvers. They are not bound by stale conventions. In this time of manufactured division, they can bring us together. We begin with images, of kids and their thoughts, their concerns and aspirations. Our goal is to photograph kids all over the country… Kidsrise will be a platform for these voices, through local and national activism, coalition building, community organizing, grant writing, and much more. Our aim is to create a generation of voters who are empowered and confident decision-makers.”

Mahanti, who now lives in Berkley, Calif., has photographed 300 pre-voters so far, and hoped to photograph at least 60 East Lansing preteens and teens while she was here. Reporter Casandra Eriksen, who was there for a portion of the event on Wednesday, said Mahanti photographed 20-25 children just in the 45 minutes or so that she was present.

Mahanti said after she photographs each child she asks them, “What’s one thing you can do to accomplish your goal?”

Michigan was the first state outside of California to contact Mahanti about the project, and now she has been contacted by communities in South Carolina, Texas, Hawaii, and New Jersey.

You can follow Kidsrise on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Music.ly. Mahanti said she is encouraging kids to share their passions and concerns on social media, and not “artificial labels and divisions.”


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