LFJA Stories: Layfierre Mitchell, Photographer

Alleyway After Rain, Photograph by Layfierre Mitchell

He didn’t really have a childhood.

When he was a young boy, Layfierre remembers his Dad being around some. He popped in and out of his life for a while. His father had multiple run-ins with the law and was in and out of the justice system. Layfierre hardly ever saw him. At one point during his teenage years, his Dad seemed to be totally absent.

Layfierre says he didn’t really have a childhood. He was always watching his nieces and nephews. He knows that is not what his childhood years should have been like. Now he knows that many people who grew up in a single parent home often experience the same situation. As a teenager, he felt like he missed out on a lot.  Now he knows the importance of taking care of his family and being able to help them.

Layfierre didn’t finish high school due to what he calls “a communications problem about the school roster.”  He was in a predominantly white HIgh School, when the principal sent for him.  The principal told him he was not on the roster for that school, so he had to leave. 

Young black men have to be very careful

Lafayierre didn’t try to get into another school or go to college. He just stayed home and “did a lot of nothing.” When he was turning 18, he began having a lot of anxiety. Family experiences were causing him stress, so he focused on calming down. He played a lot of computer games to help him relax and took long walks at night.

 “Young black men have to be very careful if you want to have the same kind of life that others do,” he says. He believes ,“You have to put all your cards on the table if you are ever going to end the game of racial stereotyping. In the words of one of his songs, ‘I didn’t choose this life, but I am rolling with it like a rebound’.”

If your reality is someone else’s imagination, you don’t have any reality of your own.

“Music is a good way to talk about life,” he says.  He also likes writing poetry, but he doesn’t think it is as respected as an art form as Rap or Hip Hop. ”In poetry, you think about the meaning,” he points out, “in RAP you are thinking about if it sounds good.”

Now in his early 20s, Layfierre has earned his G.E.D., learned job skills and become a gifted gardener. An artist at heart, he is focusing on drawing and photography. He says when he is drawing everything slows down. He is super focused. Sometimes, he says, he can express himself better by drawing than capturing an image in a photograph.

At first, his photography was more about capturing an idea so he could remember and be inspired by it. Many of his early photographs were mainly for him, but now he creates more images for others.  Photography is his most positive artwork. He believes without it, he might have ended up being in a dark place. 

Layfierre exhibits his drawings and photographs, and he is making some sales. When asked if he thinks having an incarcerated Dad influences his art, he says people might understand his images better if they know about his background. He likes it best when viewers get their own ideas first. Then, he can explain to them. He is expressing his emotions and state of mind, so he thinks viewers knowing his story may be necessary.

One thing for sure is that he does not want to be defined by who his Dad is.  As a “Junior,” he has the same name as his Dad.  So he “has to think of him” every time he writes his own name. I don’t want to be a statistic,” he insists, “doing what my Dad is doing now.” So he is going to stay out of jail for sure.

Layfierre says some of his friends may think he is weird, but really he is claiming his own personal freedom. “If your reality is someone else’s imagination, you don’t have any reality of your own,” he says. “I mean, who do you think is going to give you the answer?”

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