Experiencing Leroy is like bumping into the Fresh Prince of Bellair in Braam’s uber cool streets. He sits opposite me, late and with an air of goofiness. You would assume his young but he is not. Leroy lives quite deep in his own head and heart. So I ask him the same question a lot of people who grew up near Cape Town or Johannesburg. Why Bloemfontein?
He took a gap year in 2013 to upgrade his marks.
“I took a two-year stint! Finding myself I guess.”
And what did you find? I ask.
“I thought I found something but I got here [Bloemfontein] and I was like, nah. But I know what type of person I am. What I like, what I’m looking for, where I’m going. I got to fall in love with photography and with myself which is a long process. A very long process.”
He sits proudly and waits for the next question.
How does one know themselves?
“You find what’s good for you. What you like, what you don’t like, what doesn’t make you happy,” says Leroy. He adds the importance of surrounding yourself with people you identify with.
I go into more depth about him falling in love with photography. The first image that caught my eye from his work is off Professor Nicky Morgan, acting Vice-Chancellor of the UFS 2016/2017. The image was taken during a march organised to submit a memorandum to Professor Morgan against issues of race (chiefly). The flaw, however, was that a number of LGBT+ students and feminists were fed-up of being ignored. The focus on race put the issues they faced at the University of the Free State last priority. In revolt, they stood in protest against the main march where the memorandum would be submitted. During the clash between the two parties, Professor Morgan was snapped laughing. On numerous accounts, I remember him cracking jokes about students attending demonstrations. However, this time, Leroy managed to snap him at this moment.
He tells me that it all happened during his gap year. “I didn’t want to get a job. I was bored and I was looking for something to do and we happened to have a small camera in the house,” he shares.
What type of camera was it, if you remember?
“It was a Cannon, it looked like a smartphone,” he answers nonchalantly.
I laugh remembering my first few months at student media. I too used a similar digital camera.
A muk-ń-druk? I asked, the name fashioned for the small digital camera.
“When we had family functions I’d just go there with it and I’d take pictures with it.”
Although it started off as a hobby, he grew quite passionate about photography. He convinced his mother to save up some money and buy him a DSLR to continue with his new passion.
I ask him about his mother and he is extremely proud of her.
“Oh! My mother!” he cheers excitedly. He tells me about her love of reading and education.
“She hustles, she works, she’s an introvert. Well not really…she thinks a lot of people are stupid. Mostly because of their political beliefs,” says Leroy.
Immediately I imagine Leroy’s mother similar to her son. An awkward, funny, odd person, someone with the personality of a jack-in-the-box, and ab unexpected wisdom.
He explains that his mother finds it hard to argue with people who are susceptible to their own gullibility and the struggle to have a fulfilling conversation with peers who cannot make up their own minds or have their own opinion.
Do you think that it is a reflection of where we are as the youth? Do you think that it is difficult to engage in conversation with others because you are in a different state of mind?
“Yes,” Leroy answers, “but to a certain extent, it does hinder us as the youth. It’s good to interact with people from different backgrounds.”
We talk more about his mother’s passions and her love for reading. When I ask him what he is currently reading he gives me a list of books that he has recently read.
I don’t know if it’s this old-school mentality that when someone asks what you read, they assume it’s a book. Is reading culture not changing the way we use literature or open and build our minds?
“It is, it’s changing a lot, technology in literature is helping a lot. There are a lot of types of reads. They all have a different perspective. What you might not find in a magazine, you might find in a blog, what you might not find in a blog, you might find in a book. It’s good that we are dancing.”
He also shares show blogs can become stories, to a great extent, novels.
“Most of them are a story or a person reflecting on their life,” says Leroy.
Is there a place for literature in the distant future? Will something replace the way we interact with our literature?
“Yes, the whole thing of smelling a book, opening it, reading it finding a quiet place to read it; it’s going to die out soon, and that’s a sad thing.”
The conversation dives deeper into his view of literature and empowerment. I ask him about how he feels there is pressure on him and talks about the importance of being savvy. He shares his views on why it is important to be corporate,especiallyy as a young black.
“We need to, when you look at all these corporations and all these structures they are white. The lower down the hierarchy you go, the more you start to see people of colour. And that’s sad. Even though we say, yeah there’s black CEOs, there are probably less than five in the country as we speak. One thing that does make sense is that most of these corporations have black names. But when you see the owner it’s like,” he groans, “they are whites.”
Why do you feel like it’s a problem?
“I feel like it’s a problem because…I’ll use an example of advertising. In advertsing you’ll find that most people are of colour but when you look at the ads they don’t speak about me as a black person. It’s usually a white person selling me a product and it’s not sold properly because it doesn’t speak to me or it’s not a representation of my everyday life or everyday struggles as a person of colour in this country. If a white person who owns an advertising company makes an ad directly towards me and I do not feel the connection with the brand then it is a waste.”
Leroy’s thoughts on such experiences is larger than just portrayal but the need for transformation and change.