Impact Stories

First-person stories from people impacted by Ford Fund

Detroit Police Detective Teaches City Kids Through Photography

Black and white head shot of Khary Mason Khary Mason

Co-founder of Capturing Belief, a Ford Fund grant winner

Detroit, Michigan

My law enforcement career often places me in a position to witness the tragedies of others. I felt helpless knowing that I could not prevent these events that occurred before I arrived at the scene. I grew tired observing the hostile side of life, especially concerning children whose upbringing in many ways mirrored my own."

Khary Mason is a Detroit Police homicide detective and professional photographer. He is co-founder of Capturing Belief with documentary filmmaker and former Detroit Free Press photographer Romain Blanquart.

Mason drew on his long career in law enforcement to create Capturing Belief, a life-affirming project that teaches Detroit youth the art and expression of photography.

Mason believes that young people can define themselves through their photography, which creates a positive experience, increases self-esteem and can propel them toward fulfilling and productive lives.

As a black man, Mason said he felt called to stop the cycle of inner-city kids living a pre-determined life of crime and imprisonment. He came to understand that too many black youth let the world decide their futures.

Student focusing camera on females hands holding branch of green leaves
Capturing Belief founders and their student photographers

Maybe, just maybe, photography could help these kids see themselves as people with something to offer, rather than a statistic, Mason said.

Capturing Belief is Mason's way telling the children: "You are who you say you are; not who they say you are.

"I realized that I could stop many of these (negative, life-changing) events from happening by changing the way we people of color see ourselves," Mason said. "I wanted to find a way to use photography as a vehicle for children to present themselves to the world without being filtered through the lens of ignorance by others who used the camera as a mechanism to weaponize our identity.

"A good detective must be able to tell a compelling and accurate story. In my long journey as a law enforcement officer, I have used the actions, words and images of the accused to imprison them, in some cases, for the rest of their lives.

"Knowing that words and imagery can have such negative power, I wondered if the opposite could be true. Could words and imagery have the power to protect, heal and liberate. The ability to tell our own story is one thing we should all possess.

"I hold a perspective that has been informed by what happens when society fails its citizens, and I constantly draw upon that knowledge to support and teach the next generation of children who one day will be left in charge of us all," Mason explained.

His commitment to helping children build self-esteem and say "no" to crime has resulted in an incredible photography project that shines a spotlight on current potential while educating the public about the historical importance of several near-downtown Detroit neighborhoods: Hubbard Richard, Corktown and North Corktown.

"To do what is right even in spaces where it is unpopular; to speak for those who cannot advocate for themselves; to share what I have learned in life, especially with the generations that follow ours—those are my goals," Mason said. "Quite simply, I would like to see our children not burdened by the mistakes of their ancestors.

Capturing Belief is a free photography program for Detroit youth that teaches the power of visual storytelling. In 2016, Khary Mason, a Detroit Police detective and professional photographer, and Romain Blanquart, a filmmaker and long-time Detroit Free Press photographer, founded Capturing Belief to steer inner-city youth away from crime toward promising futures. In 2019, they received a grant to advance their goals as part of Ford Fund's commitment to invest in communities surrounding the Michigan Central Station in Detroit.

Romain Blanquart and Khary Mason flank 10 students
Capturing Belief founders and their student photographers