This is a story about a young Jamaican immigrant struggling to make it on his own. It’s a story about a community that has rallied around one child because they believe in him, and a story about this community’s attempt to fill a void left by a mother who cannot, or will not, serve as his guide.
Oshane Kirlew is a 17 year-old Jamaican-born teen living in Montclair, New Jersey, an upper middle class suburb located 12 miles west of New York City. In 2010, Oshane left his mother’s home, rejecting a woman he feels has disappointed him, and began to live with a friend’s family nearly one mile from his mother. Around the same time, several families in town rallied together raising enough money to send Oshane to an expensive but prestigious private school. This was an opportunity of a lifetime that will potentially help him become the first child in his family to go to college.
His relationship with his mother, however, has grown increasingly tense, and the rift that was forged many years ago has only widened. He continues to be angered by what he perceives as her lack of interest in his life, his schooling, and activities – and can’t help but compare her to the other, more engaged parents he sees around him.
“I’ve always had a mature way of dealing with situations and picking myself back up,” Oshane says. “It’s really been like that my whole life. I really haven’t had my mom there to really do that. Or my dad. You know, so if I don’t do it, it’s kind of like, who will? So I think having that brings the drive, and brings the ambition.”
I plan to spend at least one year documenting his life, photographing his search for identity through his complicated relationship with his mother, his adopted family, and his exploits in rap, lacrosse and high school social life.
“My mom and my stepfather, they’re really more worried about the American Dream, having the house, rather than having a close family in the house . . .The house that I now live in now with Laurie, Phil, Blythe, Lillie and Max…it’s not just a house. It’s really a home. And that’s really important.”
“When I say ‘broken pieces,’ I mean emotionally and physically,” he said. “My dad living in Jamaica, my sisters living in Jamaica, my brothers living in New York. Then my mom living [apart from me] on Greenwood Street and then me living at Max’s house. So my family’s just kind of everywhere. And I’m kind of just in the middle. I’mnot really attached to any of those pieces.”