Author: Aishani Mehra
Sometimes in life, you meet people with a light in them. This light can brighten your day after just one conversation and inspire you to achieve your most courageous dreams. Recently I had the privilege of speaking with Michael Ward, a true light who spoke with me about the many beautiful layers of their identity.
Growing up in Washington, Michael was diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma, a rare type of cancer, at ten years old. They told me that the biggest takeaway from their battle was to “live every day like it’s the last day but [then] really do so.”
With that said, they also emphasized the power of kindness in everyday scenarios. They said, “When you encounter people make sure you leave a good impression because... our impressions on people last forever… Even how you talk to people… [can] help them feel listened to and heard.” They told me and all of RANI’s readers that whether it is a hello or a smile, leaving a positive impact is very important because you never know when you’re going to be gone. Although they thought their answer was cliche, it was an answer I will remember forever.
Michael’s journey with being both Black and Filipino has taught them how to overcome the hardships of their own identity. They said that “[it] definitely can be a struggle growing up, because you really don’t know who you are. And you’re constantly in this battle of like, ‘Which side do I belong [to]?’” They ultimately found peace when they realized that “[they] represent both parts equally.” For readers who may be facing the hardships of biracial identities, Michael shared that “there’s no such thing as being more Black or more Asian... at the end of the day, you really just got to represent who you are.”
As a non-binary person, they shared that they’ve struggled with the pressure in having to identify as either heavily masculine or feminine, but ended up discovering a balance. They said, “it’s really just finding peace with yourself and not trying to fit the social norms.” They tell anyone who is struggling to be who they want to be, and that there are people who support you.
Passion for photography is a reflection of Michael’s identity through their emotions. By taking photos and creating art mixed with dark, colorful, and neutral tones, they reflect how they are feeling during that time. To them, photography is “like showing on the screen how you’re feeling without needing to say how you feel.” One of their favorite shoots was casual — they worked with a friend while talking about life. They said “like storytelling,” adding that the photos they took also told a story. “A double whammy of creating explosions,” they concluded.
Spontaneous. Vibrant. Relatable. Adventurous. Words that Michael uses to describe their photography style. Picking up a camera to capture their friends’ smiles led them to pursue photography as a career. When asked why they chose photography, they said that “at the core of it… [it’s] seeing people feel great… it’s just this warmth of making someone’s day better and creating memories with people that they can take with them wherever they go.”
Michael shares that learning and pursuing photography has taught them how to become a more patient person and capture moments at the right time. And not over saturating their photos, of course. For any aspiring photographers, they advised to “just [start off] with taking pictures… it doesn’t matter the quality, it just starts with the action. This skill and talent will come eventually. But you just have to start with having an open mind.”
The concept of identity is vast and fluid. From a 24-minute interview with Michael, I was able to look at the world in a different light. A world filled with excitement and a drive to tackle challenges head on. I learned to appreciate and learn from my identity as well. We at RANI encourage our readers to do the same and explore the layers that make up who you are.