In the story “Housing authority director reflects on his time in Cairo," published in The Southern this past Sunday, the outgoing Alexander County Housing Authority Interim Director Tom Upchurch said that he is walking away with a deeper understand of, and appreciation for, the state’s southernmost county.
“I have met wonderful people down there," Upchurch said. "It’s just surreal for me to walk away from this because I look at these folks and I’ve gotten to know them and care about them.”
Having worked as a photojournalist alongside reporter Molly Parker covering the Alexander Housing Authority in Cairo, I share Upchurch’s perspective. There are people in Cairo who have been warm and welcoming and have allowed me, an outsider in every way, to come into their lives and photograph them.
One such subject is Shayla Brooker, along with her sons Jaydon, 8, and Angelo, 7. Parker and I showed up at the Alexander Counting Housing complex in Cairo looking for someone to interview and photograph who would let us show readers what it is like for the residents there.
We were fortunate to meet Brooker, who was in between errands in her busy day. She agreed for us to come back and talk to her when she returned from another errand, at the same time two of her three children would arrive home from school. We didn’t get to meet her daughter, Latrece, 10, because Latrece had dance practice after school.
We arrived at Brooker’s apartment just before her sons got home, and she showed us some of the deferred maintenance and problems in the apartment; reports indicate that the apartment complex has deteriorated beyond repair, and residents complain of crime, infestation and slow responses to maintenance requests. Despite the disrepair of the apartment, it was apparent that Brooker worked hard at housekeeping to keep a neat and clean living space.
What was uplifting was when her sons came home. They did not know we would be there, so their actions were natural. They both came in excited to tell their mother about their school day and to show her their homework. The boys were a bit shy to us, but were animated and lively when they took their attention away from us and they were just interacting with their mother.
Shayla Brooker sent her sons upstairs to change out of their school clothes, and so she could finish the interview with Parker. Minutes later, the boys came back downstairs, notebooks in hand, asking for assistance with their homework. Brooker informed us that the boys inherited their love for school and education from her as she emphasized the importance of it to them. It was a delight to spend time with this family.
The above photo is one of the first photos I took as the boys came in and were interacting with their mother. They were so enthusiastic about showing their mother their work right away that they ignored us and acted naturally.