Richard Sherman, Melanie Kannokada to judge student photo contest

May 20, 2014, 1:09 a.m.

With just one year of development under its belt, the Stanford student-founded group PCTRS (Photography Competing to Raise Support) has reached new heights with its second annual photo contest. To date, PCTRS has received 53 submissions from competitors and raised $1,650 for charities that benefit women’s health, with about two weeks remaining in the contest.

The online competition encourages college students to submit a photo and collect donations for the image, with the top five fundraisers earning spots as finalists. Among the finalists, a winner will be chosen by two guest celebrity judges — Melanie Kannokada ’06 and Richard Sherman ’10 — and awarded two tickets to the Black Entertainment Television (BET) Awards in Los Angeles. This year, the group’s proceeds will be donated to two local women’s clinics: Lyon-Martin Health Services and the Charlotte Maxwell Complementary Clinic.


Anna Nit-Asare ’14 (right), Farris Blount (background-middle) and Bana Hatzey (left) observe and direct  during the filming of this year’s photo shoot, which has already received 53 submissions and raised $1,650. (Courtesy of Milton Achelpohl)
Anna Nti-Asare ’14 (right), Farris Blount (background-middle) and Bana Hatzey (left) observe and direct
during the filming of this year’s promo video, which has already received 53 submissions and raised $1,650. (Courtesy of Milton Achelpohl)

Inspiration and development

The idea for the fashion-inspired fundraiser came to Anna Nit-Asare ’14 while she was talking to her roommate Quadeera Jackson ’14 about helping out with a photo shoot for a designer. Asare, a former participant in Stanford’s Charity Fashion Show — which disbanded after 2011 —

was inspired by the mission of the event but saw flaws in its business model, believing that some aspects of the show were inefficient for the amount of effort needed to run a charity drive.

“I wondered what would happen if you…took away the venue and flying in designers and all that kind of stuff, and still focused on the people who wanted to be models, designers, photographers,” Nti-Asare said.

Nervous about the viability of her idea, Nti-Asare first approached two close friends who gave her the encouragement and the confidence to pitch the idea to Jan Barker-Alexander, director of the Black Community Services Center (BCSC).

“I remember her saying this very clearly: This project has legs,” Nti-Asare said.

Her confidence boosted, Nti-Asare worked with both Barker-Alexander and Diontrey Thompson, associate director of the BCSC, to figure out the logistics of making the promising idea a reality. Nti-Asare assembled a team of associate directors, Robert Mata ’14 and Farris Blount III ’14, and the three have worked toward establishing PCTRS since.


Expanding beyond Stanford

For Jackson, a runner-up in last year’s PCTRS competition and a competitor again this year, the contest has developed immensely.

“I think one of the biggest indicators of the growth of the competition is the sheer number of competitors,” Jackson said.

This year’s efforts have been successful compared to last year’s contest, which garnered 16 submissions and raised a grand total of $1,850. The PCTRS team attributed the improvement to the decision to open the competition to colleges across the nation as opposed to keeping it within the Stanford community.

“I think the biggest thing for this year was that we decided to go national instead of just staying with California,” Mata said. “So with that, we branched out and asked other black student unions and other women’s organizations at various campuses that we’ve already established connections with and told them about this opportunity.”

However, by opening the submission pool, the PCTRS team faced a daunting hurdle: marketing.

“The biggest thing with starting something is making a name for yourself and how you can legitimize that,” Nti-Asare said. She added that Michael Pickrum ’92 M.S. ’94, BET’s executive vice-president, furthered the contest’s growth by donating to the cause.

Although BET is not an official sponsor, Nti-Asare hopes to one day secure the entertainment network as one in the future.


More than just the money

Each annual photo contest is centered around a theme, and this year’s inspiration is Maya Angelou’s poem “Phenomenal Woman.”

“All three of us wanted to focus on women of color,” Nti-Asare said. “It became very apparent that was really what we were very interested in, in terms of showcasing women who are not usually showcased in the fashion industry, and in the way that a picture can be so inclusive of somebody.”

This theme is not only relevant to the two women’s clinics for which PCTRS is fundraising, but also to the contestants who expressed and shared their personal connection to the theme.

“‘Phenomenal Woman’ is something that my mom read to me as a child, and it really does resonate with the type of person I would like to be and that I am striving to be,” said Kaela Farrise ’14, a contestant.

For D’Shai Hendricks ’14, whose picture features his mother, it was his friendship with Nti-Asare and his personal interpretation of theme — not the contest’s prize — that motivated him to enter the competition.

“Whether I win or not, my two goals are accomplished: to raise the money for Anna and for my mother to know how much I love her,” Hendricks said.

Given PCTRS’s ambitious business goals, many have approached Nti-Asare with questions about what the future of the group looks like, considering that the PCTRS team consists entirely of graduating seniors.

“The beauty of it is that we can do this work wherever we are; we never thought of it as a student organization,” Nti-Asare said. “We don’t plan on giving it to anybody or passing it on to a Stanford student after us, but carrying it with us.”


Contact Chelsey Sveinsson at svein ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.

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