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Rayy Graham Class of 2023

Rayy Graham ’23

Interview by Matt Walker ‘04

MW: “So anyway, why don’t you tell me about yourself? Tell me what your name is, where you’re from…”


RG: “I’m Rayy. Rayy Graham. I’m a Third Year, Class of 23. I’m from Brooklyn, New York. I came here initially because it’s college. Where I’m from college isn’t the main goal. It’s a goal but it isn’t the main goal. The main goal is to make a bunch of money, get out of whatever situation you’re in, and feed your family. But that became more and more difficult to do in the environment that I was in.” 


“So okay, let’s see, what college is like? I came out here and I learned to mow a lawn, let’s say that. I’m from New York where we have concrete. They’re a little bit of trees. But it’s a lot of bricks and not a lot of nature. And out here it’s so much nature and greenery. So I had my first job, I think I was working in the dish-pits, and then facilities because I just had to get a lay of the land. I just wanted to see. I just wanted to work. It comes with the territory with me. I’m from New York. So working just comes naturally. When I got out here, finding jobs was more accessible than I thought it was. It was more well, how can I say it? It was more social. It didn’t feel like work. I just felt I can work this day or that day. It felt like a conversation. And it made that vibe much easier. If there was no pressure, and sending the email or sending a text like “Hey, I can’t make it today” or “Hey, can I come early this day or that day?” I felt that I was more and more comfortable working in that space. I don’t even know how else to say this…” 


“There’s a small, small group of Black folks on campus. So naturally we found each other and find each other and that’s where we can start making stuff happen. Whether it be hosting a whole bunch of cooking events, or just straight up having conversations, painting together, making art together, a whole bunch of different stuff. It’s not just one or two people’s voices. It’s the majority. It’s like “Hey, this is us right now. What do we want to do?” 


“There’s so little of us. So it feels kind of like a family because we all grew up with similar values. And, I don’t know how else to explain it, but we grew up under a familiar light, under a specific light, and we all, it may not be the exact same light, but we all have a similar understanding of that light shining on us. And we come out here, it’s almost the same for us, because we’re in the same environment. So it’s like “Oh, this… Remember what we’re used to? Is it going on here?” And we all go “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what you’re talking about.” There’s like a sense of camaraderie without having to establish anything like “Hey, are we friends?” There’s no fluff amongst us. I don’t know how else to explain that.”


MW: “It seems very clear. It’s beautiful. Absolutely. I love that idea of the light and finding people by going out on a limb and coming to a strange place like this or that’s what I’m sort of hearing in some of the parts. Thanks for sharing that. It’s very beautiful. You know, I just have some basic questions. But please speak on whatever you like. Fill in the blanks that I post, whatever. I’m curious what you were interested in when you were in high school and middle school and how that brought you here, and how that’s been fortified or changed, and things of that nature?”


RG: “In my early years… I’ve always been obsessed with ripping stuff apart and seeing what I can make out of the parts. Art, expression, whatever it may be, making stuff. Coming together and making stuff. I read a book cover to cover, and I read this entire book. I know what it is. I wouldn’t think to give this book to someone else. I’d think “Let me rip out every single page and build something out of the pages” because I know I read page 87. So I know what’s on page 87. So I would know what it represents. Not fold up something, make some origami craziness out of it, but I fully ripped open a book. You’re not supposed to do that or stuff like that.” 


“But that type of behavior followed me throughout high school. I was doodling in the margins of my notebook. It was always like “Art”. I’m still on the side of the highschool I graduated from. I’m on the front-side and the corner. So it’s on both sides of my school because I befriended all my art teachers and I’m like “I need to do bigger things! I need to put up my unique brushstroke onto the world or onto this and onto that.” And New York is just too much competition. Everyone wants to do the same thing. Everyone wants to be the best at it. So if you are in the graffiti field, the underground, whatever it may be, there were big names, big artists. Stepping into this new lane and there are already the people that you feel like “Oh my God, these people around me inspire me.” They’re inspired by tiers and tiers of other people. But this guy’s art is in Manhattan and up in museums. The main goal is get shifted because you do want your art to go up in museums and stuff. But at the same time you just want it to be recognized by people or a specific type of people. So it gets real, real tricky. I’m pretty okay at art, but what do I do with it for now? I joined a bunch of other programs. I learned how to sew. I learned how to make things, not just like popsicle sticks and this and that. But how to take it into machinery and plumbing and weird stuff like that. So it went from being an art expression kind of thing to “Okay, let me see how many art related skills and art related trades and techniques I can pick up.” I picked up as many as I could before I graduated high school. Then I came here.”


“But the space between graduating and here I created a video game, because there was a specific perspective that where I’m from had. And we have a perspective of how we are. And we understand that this is how we are. But the media and the outside forces would feed other perspectives, into our little environment. And it slowly changed what we thought of ourselves and what people thought of us. So there’s a problem there. We know how to fix this problem. Only we can fix this problem.” 


“So I decided to make a video game. I got a bunch of people from different environments, taught them the skills that I learned so that even if they didn’t care about it, or they didn’t know what it was to have a new skill and you can use it however you see fit. But you do have that new skill and you’re a productive member of society because you’re fighting against like… we fighting the big fight, you know, and that is what made me want to do it bigger and bigger and bigger. Because if I know I I can walk into this school, nervous and scared, and by the time I walk out I end up on it, on top of it. Why not replicate that? You know? In college if I walk into this school, nervous and scared but I do have some accomplishments and accolades under my belt, how can I show the people that they can do this too. Or, you have the talent inside of you and you can put it on top of the school or you can put it anywhere you want. And that’s what gave me that passion behind creating stuff and making stuff and that’s what really made me leave New York: to go find stuff.” 


“Take for instance a flower pot. If you have a plant in a tiny, little flower pot, it could only grow but so big. You have to take it out and stick it in either a bigger pot or into the earth. And I was just ready for a bigger pot. I came down here and there are other pots out here. It’s really cool. It’s really intriguing.”


MW: “That’s awesome. Thank you for speaking on that. It’s just amazing! I’m really curious about this video game. I’m also curious, of course, what’s your Major and what Co-Ops you’ve done?”


RG: “The Video Game is “Fireflies of Brownsville.”


MW: “What’s that?”


RG: “Fireflies because…” 


MW: “..of Brownsville?”


RG: “Browns-ville. Brownsville, Brooklyn.”


MW: “Okay. Right on.”


RG: “So, again with the perspectives, you are put in the shoes of a journalist, a young photojournalist and you have to take pictures of all the different parts of your environment. It seems like an easy task, but when you start getting into the nitty gritty of it, you know that “Oh, I can’t walk over there because there are issues between my building and this building so I can’t go up that street. So I have to find a new way to do that. And I can go over here but the people over there just don’t like me because whatever may be.” And this introduces people to new issues that seem real cut and dry. Like “Oh, let’s just go over there and take a bunch of pictures.” But those obstacles and those lines kind of get blurred because you can’t. You know you can and you have the ability to do it. But there are things stopping you from accomplishing a very simple task. And you can explain that to people 77 different ways but until you put them in those shoes they can’t understand. That’s what the game is about – being aware of what’s actually going on where I’m from. Because I can show you what’s going on over there and over there, but I wouldn’t really know because I’m not from over there. I can only show you from my perspective or from our perspective. Like that.”


MW: “Nice.”


RG: “You said Co-Ops?”


MW: “Yeah, what’s your Major and what Co-Ops have you done?”


RG: “My major is Psychology with New Media. And with the game, that’s a part of New Media because it’s a VR based game and it’s a documentary, so there are elements to it. It’s not just any old video game or any old documentary. It’s like they met in the middle and had a little child and this is like my baby. Psychology with New Media is the same thing with perspective – showing people that specific perspective that you won’t be able to understand through conversation or videos or this or that. You have to walk in those shoes and you’ll have your own understanding of what just went down. But once you walk in those shoes, you have something to talk about to somebody. The next player or previous player will have something to speak on. And that’s teaching us psychology with the new media. The new media being VR.” 


“I’m creating a humongous sculpture that three people have to touch in order for anything to even work. If I’m showing you something with the new media, not just like a movie or a film or a painting or art installation pieces, it’s just new media. There are new technologies coming out every day so that’s why I chose to jump on that.” 


“And for the Co-Ops I’ve already done, I think I went back to New York to work, I worked out here, and I worked on our virtual Black History Museum. I liked that. It was fun because Dr. Kevin McGruder started slowly feeding me information like “Hey, do you know about this and this? There was Gegner Barbershop. There were riots and protests, and a whole bunch of history in the place that we are in. And I’m like, “Wow, this is the same exact thing I did at home.” Back home I learned the history and had to show people and teach the history. And then it’s the same thing but except there is a smaller number and more space. I don’t know how to… It’s the same but different.” 


“But I wanted to work on that, because there was something there. Working with people who look like me in a place that I’m unfamiliar with. Like that. That was with Dr. Kevin McGruder. And my next upcoming Co Op I’m going to go to Hawaii. I’m going to go work at a farm and get a newer perspective on life because I’ve never been to Hawaii. I’ve never worked on a farm. I’ve never pet a cow. There are a lot of things that I didn’t do. I could never say I would never touch a cow. I can’t say that if I’ve never been there. So now if I’m putting myself out there and saying “oh wow! cows are about this big, they stink…” or I’ll have an opinion because I’ve been there. Like that.”


”That’s why I take my Psychology with New Media. I have to walk in that light. I can’t just say I’m doing these things and not actually be behind it. Because I’ve never mowed the lawn. I’ve never had an opinion about mowing the law. And to have actually done that and I got out here and had to learn how to even use the machine… Meanwhile, there are people who already know about that and already know what’s going on but they have never seen an actual drug deal go down. You know? So they’re two completely different perspectives on life and I would never know. I can’t know all the perspectives based on what people tell me. I’d have to walk that line.” 

“Some things you see by accident, and that becomes who you are, but some things you wish to see. I’ve seen the stars out here. In New York it’s difficult to see the sky and the stars and stuff like that. But out here, I’m amazed. I am not amazed but I’m blown away every time I can pull out constellations because that’s not something I’m used to. It’s not a perspective that I’m used to seeing. I just like it. I like the feeling of it and like showing people that, if that makes sense?”


MW: “Absolutely. I can’t help but wonder what you were talking about in terms of the work you were doing with Dr. McGruder, and how it was the same but different. I’m wondering in what ways it was similar or what ways it was different?”


RG: “It was similar to the work I did before because I got to chip away at a problem that’s bigger than myself but also that affects me, because I am a black person in Yellow Springs the same way I’m a black person from Brownsville, New York. If you Google Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York, that’ll come with a whole bunch of articles, people died, and a whole bunch of stuff. But if you’re from there, then you know that’s not even how it is. That’s just a small portion of it that people get to see. It’s the same way with Yellow Springs. We are already a small portion of Yellow Springs that people barely get to see but there’s a rich history there. And it’s the same way, how I had to showcase those things and the powerful, positive aspects of it. I get to do the same thing over here and say “Hey, we had this go down, this go down, this go down in the past, and these are the things that we’ve done, and are doing.” Stuff like that.”


“I’ve also worked with the 365 project, which is hard to explain, but they are a group of people who are trying to educate Yellow Springs about Black people, 365 days a year. It’s really similar. They have really similar values, but it’s in a completely different area. There’s nothing to fight out here. Out there, we had to fight against the media, and fight against the people in our own community, and keep fighting, fighting, fighting. But out here, it’s just more of an educational endeavor. We’re letting you know what went down. It doesn’t feel like a fight. It feels like a conversation. We can have conversations on it. That’s why, again, I chose to not be in that space. Because it’ll always put you in a fighting kind of mood. It’s similar because I get to fight for something bigger than myself. And it’s different because one is an actual fight, and one is just like “Hey, did y’all know that this went down and this one down? One is: we aren’t villains and we have to defend ourselves. I feel like there’s no need to defend here. I can just say, “Hey, here’s the things that are going on.” This is more of a conversation.”


MW: “Yeah. Yeah. I’ve totally gotcha. Thanks for clearing that up. I’m really happy to hear about that. Is there anything that you want to talk about? Is there anything that you want to speak on or that you thought about or even right now that just came up for you?”


RG: “I worked a bunch of different jobs here: facilities, now I’m the Event Coordinator on campus, with Coco, making sure any event that wants or needs to, gets down. I mean, I send them a form or I’ll throw the event or I’ll oversee it. What else? We did a bunch of work work. For example, making sure everybody has what they need. They aren’t “jobs”, but there is a duty, if that makes sense? It isn’t on any paperwork. You don’t get paid for it. But there is kind of a duty there. I don’t know how to really explain it. Being on this campus you have to, in order to protect your sanity, some things do have to be said. You say “Hey, this is the treatment of the past. This is the current treatment. This is how we can start having those conversations about specific topics on campus. Because there are Black people here. I don’t know how to explain it.

It’s the same way with perspective. People can have theories and thoughts on how to coexist with people who don’t look like you. But when those people are in front of you, then you can’t keep theorizing the same. Now we can do, because we are here. We’re having these conversations versus just having a theoretical conversation about something blah, blah, blah. That’s nice and all. But we physically are here. Treat us the same way how you theorize on how we should be treated, how we shouldn’t, we’re here. So please act on your words versus just continuing to say words. So now we can pull those cards and pull those bluffs. We’re here, we’re Black, and we’re here to stay. And in the work I’ve done, it’s only further pushing that. For example, the Blacks in Yellow Springs, The Herndon Gallery hosting events and asking Black students for their voices and saying “Hey, what do you need? How can we help you?” and having stuff like that around, further pushes what I’m doing and what other people are doing like, “Hey, We are. We exist over here.” You know?”


MW: “Yes! I definitely feel what you’re saying here, Rayy. Thank you. Are you gonna participate in the exhibition that Casselli is putting up this weekend – The Black History Museum?”


RG: “I want to but we don’t have a VR set. If there was a VR set, I could showcase a small demo, show what I’ve worked on…” 


MW: “What a shame.” 


RG: “Yeah, but I mean, all good things come to those who wait. So, hopefully, later on down the line, someone else picks up where I left off with the Black History Museum and adds on to it, builds it up, and changes the way it looks. But, the fact that I started it and it does exist. I did it. It’s not a complete victory. But there’s something started in that way that someone can pick it up and keep it going. I’m picking up where Kevin left off and I can keep it going. Like that.”


MW: “Awesome. That’s amazing. I mean, I just hope that you, you know, remeber the College when you’re super successful. I could talk with you for hours, it’s so hard not to, but can we wrap this up? Is there anything that you would like to add?”


RG: “It’s Black History month. So if you see a Black person, smile at them. Say something nice. And hopefully that energy will not be just one month. It’ll be real. It’ll be an actual thing. When you see Black people, don’t freeze up or be like “Oh, I have so many things running through my mind.” You just treat them like a person. Say, “Hey, it’s Black History month. I see you.” Any type of gesture will count. But if you’re still thinking about it and thinking about it, you aren’t moving forward. You’re thinking about it. Stuff like that. That’s what I’d like people to know or people to hear. Smile at a Black person today.”

Rayy Graham class of 2023

Rayy Graham ’23