Photographer Don Baker speaks to students at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts (Photo by Christina Sturdivant)

Native Washingtonian, Don Baker came from very humble beginnings. He graduated from Anacostia High School in Southeast and lost both his parents by age 19. By 21, Baker and his brother garnered a passion for photography and decided to pursue it professionally, “We always wanted to make our parents proud,” he told a classroom of students at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts on Sept. 25.

Baker is one of 59 Blacks from the District who participated in the 6th Annual Back to School with the HistoryMakers program. The program is designed to put Black Leaders (HistoryMakers) in direct contact with young people all across the nation.

Based in Chicago, The HistoryMakers is a nonprofit that houses the nation’s largest African American video oral history archive. This year, the annual program put HistoryMakers in contact with more than 25,000 students in 200 schools across the nation to inspire them with life’s stories and encourage thoughtfulness and intellectual curiosity.

“Sometimes when we live in isolated ways and in silos,” Duke instructor Nekisha Durrett told the AFRO, “we think that everyone’s doing what we’re doing, but it’s important to see that people from their very same communities are doing really aspirational things that they want to do.”

In his presentation, Baker walked students through over four decades of photos – some he developed in dark rooms, others he manipulated with computer software. After just 4 years as professionals, Baker and his brother were the only photographers asked to shoot the Jackson Five while performing on stage. “People knew that we were being photographers and not being star struck,” said Baker, who showed images of the group as well as Michael Jackson during his solo career.

As a native Washingtonian, Marta Reid Stewart, Duke’s department chair of museum studies was pleased with the students’ interactions. “I think it encourages them to live their dreams when they see someone else living theirs – especially since he’s from Anacostia,” she said. “I went to Anacostia and I had an art teacher who encouraged all of us.”

As students continue to meet professionals, Stewart hopes that they not only learn from them, but build with them. “When we send kids out to different functions, they meet people who really want to give them a hand and help them come along,” said Stewart. “So it’s really a great time to be in this field.”

Dr. Jayfus T. Doswell spoke with students at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in hopes of motivating them to pursue their dreams after graduating high school.

Doswell was brought in by Josh Headley, the department head of history at Polytechnic, as part of his efforts to excite students’ thoughts about their futures.

“There are people out there that these students need to hear their voices,” Headley said. “They need to go outside in an area where it is a safe environment, where it is okay to be smart, where they’re not going to be ridiculed for trying to achieve. They can see people from their own community, from their own backgrounds who have made it.”

Doswell, an entrepreneur from Baltimore, Maryland, spoke to students about how he accomplished his success. He also encouraged the teenagers to work towards becoming entrepreneurs.

“There were many problems that I saw in health care in the way that health was administered traditionally and then how trauma care, specifically, was administered in a hospital environment,” Doswell said. “That’s why I created Juxtopia, to improve human performance with innovated interventions that can improve health care more effectively and more efficiently.”