In Vonecia’s Shoes: Seeing the Beauty in Every Step and *Snap*

Portrait of Vonecia, taken by Liz Cuadrado

Name: Vonecia Carswell

Hometown: Tampa, Florida

Where do you live? New York City

What does it mean to have a voice? – To have a voice means to be able to openly express your values, beliefs, and personal experiences with others in shared spaces. It sometimes means adding additional or new insight into conversations that may or may not be comfortable but is necessary for the greater good. 

How did you find your voice? I found my voice by spending a lot of time with myself, distancing myself from situations that made me feel constricted, and gravitating toward activities that catered to my strengths and allowed me to naturally express myself. I am still working on my amplifying my voice. I think we all should.

What event or series of events led to you finding your voice?

My family and my childhood experiences drive my voice. I grew up in Tampa, FL, as the oldest of five siblings in a very tight-knit household that valued faith, respect, hospitality, and creative expression. Growing up in this environment impacted my voice because those values helped me to easily form relationships and be an approachable person. I experienced a lot of changes in my environment during my childhood — I often moved back and forth between my parents due to their divorce when I was a toddler. My family also had some challenging financial times of which I wasn’t aware of until I got older. Despite this, the quality of life I received from my parents and the love and respect they had for each other was, and still is, great. My parents are the perfect example of making the best of every moment. Through them I learned one of the most powerful lessons: be optimistic even when things don’t go as planned. Whatever opportunities I didn’t get to experience as a child, I make it my goal to expose myself to such to unlock more of life and pass it along to others. I’m glad to have inherited that mindset as it helped me push through difficult situations and cherish every moment.

Tell me about when you finally found your voice.

From Vonecia’s project, “Gaps Allure,” which brought together women with gap teeth and celebrated their beauty

While I never really considered myself to be a vocal person, I began expressing my voice around my pre-teen years through videography. My grandparents always had camera equipment around and filmed us while we were growing up. I naturally took a liking to doing the same. Though I’m generally reserved in public settings, operating a camera gave me a boost of confidence. I loved using photography as my voice to share the stories of joy around me, and I continue to do so today to uplift others. 

When sharing your voice, it can be very lonely at times and you can find yourself involved in uncomfortable situations. My childhood experiences help me to be more aware of how I frame things, whether through my words or through my photography. Especially having younger siblings, I know that words linger and it’s easy to have your messages misinterpreted because everyone’s perception is different.

It was particularly thrilling to share my love for photography through one of my recent projects, “Gaps Allure”, which I brought together women with gap teeth. The project shed light on how our differences are not that different and helped foster a greater sense of community among women who have features that aren’t always accepted as beautiful. I received heartwarming responses from viewers who struggled with accepting their gap and from those who had previously closed their gap, all expressing their appreciation.

Behind the scenes of Vonecia’s “Yes, I’m the Photographer” documentary

Define “voice” and why it is important?

Voice is important because it is liberating for that person and others. It allows us to live more fulfilling lives and shine a path for others to fully live out theirs.

What advice do you have for someone trying to find their voice?

Don’t focus so much on finding your voice. Let your voice find you. Your voice will naturally culminate through genuine experiences. Just focus on being your authentic self, surrounding yourself with others who have similar interests and dwelling in spaces that you find comfort in, and your voice will follow.

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During these unprecedented times, we want to address how challenging and impactful this will be in shaping our present lives and future stories. Our blog was built on sharing incredible voices within our community locally and globally that show us – we are not alone. This time shows us how truly connected we are.

By staying at home and doing our best not to spread this virus, we understand how important it is to walk in other people’s shoes. We want to encourage everyone to continue to show kindness to each other. Our ability to be empathetic and compassionate is in great need as we are collectively contributing to safeguard each other. Even though we must be physically separate, we hope that we can continue to connect through our voices and shared experience.

Stay strong, stay healthy, continue to live your incredible lives and lift your voices!

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