Canvas for a Cause - Superheroes of Service

We first met photographer Toussaint, Ulysse when he applied for the CG Pro Prints Ambassador Program. Our relationship quickly evolved to include participation in our Canvas for a Cause Program as Toussaint introduced us to his various service-based efforts that serve his home country of Haiti. 

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Toussaint began working on a children's book, called Superheroes of Service (SHS), that would detail his journey back to Haiti and his dedication to service-based acts. When Toussaint asked us to get involved by promoting the book and his mission to our creative audience, we were excited to jump onboard. We established plans to print the story illustrations on canvas to help Toussaint promote his book at various readings and signings. We also asked Toussaint some questions to help our readers better understand the background and mission of the Superheroes of Service movement and Toussaint's inspiring story that led to this important book. Keep reading to learn more about the evolution of SHS and how you too can get involved with Toussaint's service-based mission.

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1) Tell us about your photography business and how you got started in the photography industry.

My photography business has three components: Photography, Styling/Fashion Consultation, and Service Learning.

In January 1998, the man who would become my brother-in-law introduced me to his Minolta manual camera when he asked me to take a picture of him and my sister. I was fascinated by what I saw through the viewfinder, and that was it for me. Knowing I was leaving Haiti in less than a month, I asked to borrow his camera so I could take it to school. I was a starter on the basketball team and having his camera to capture my last few weeks with my best friends was the greatest gift anyone could have given me. I recall how he used to criticize the way I framed my subjects. Unfortunately, before I left Haiti for the US, I broke his camera. I guess he took my sister as compensation! He is now one of my best friends and brothers-in-law. This was the genesis of my love affair with the camera!

The Styling/Fashion consultation component followed naturally. In Haiti, I attended church often and went to a private Catholic school. Therefore, my attention to the details of my uniform and appearance determined whether I was going to be allowed through the door. It is the same as being in the military here; you have to look clean and presentable. Going to church, I learned very early the art of putting colors together. When I moved to the US, I looked into modeling. I did that for a few years. I remember that my colleagues would always ask me for advice about how to pose in front of the camera. They told me I should be a photographer. This is how the word “StyleOgrapher” was born, a combination of my love for fashion and photography. Today I play the role of fashion consultant for my clients and photograph their headshots, weddings, family portraits, or boudoir with fashion in mind. 

I have also done fashion shows with GQ & Glamour Magazine as fashion consultant and photographer. I've dressed-up celebrities such as VP Joe Biden for the presedential inauguration night, Bravo TV Star & Designer Gretchen Rossi, Bravo TV Top Chef Winner Kevin Sbraga, CEO & President of USTA Lance Lee, and ABC News President Bernie Prazenica, to name a few!  

However, I believe service to be the best component of my photography business. Growing up in Haiti, my grandma always taught me that life has no meaning until we do something for people who can never repay us. The soul reaches another level when the person we are serving has no idea from whom the service came. This book, Superheroes of Service: An Immigrant Story, is a true account of my return home to Haiti to find my Grandma during the 2010 earthquake.

2) Why or how did you start this children’s book project? What inspired you to pursue this opportunity?

I wish there was a reason why I started this book. It took on a life of its own when the earthquake hit my homeland. The only thing left to do was find out whether my Grandma had survived. I remember one story in particular she used to tell about a sickness that happened when I was young. I had contracted a bad fever and the nearest hospital was nearly forty miles away. At three o’clock in the morning, in the rain, my Grandma and her friend took me to the hospital. They just made it before the nurses left for the day at four o’clock. Apparently, I could have died if she had not taken me that day. When the earthquake hit, I knew it was my duty to drop everything and go to find her. This is what initiated the book Superheroes of Service, SHS for short. 

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Coloring book illustrations included as an interactive element of the SHS book

3) What is Superheroes of Service about?

The book is all about giving to others, putting others first, serving others, and expecting absolutely nothing in return. The act of service is not to be confused with helping others. To be a servant, you must become willing to let someone dictate how you or your skills will best serve their needs. The purpose of this book is to share a true story of a group of children who used their skill in jewelry making to raise the funds for me to go to Haiti. It is about their act of selflessness in putting the needs of others before their own with no expectations in return. That, to me, is organic and beautiful; an affirmation of the love and compassion inside the human spirit. It is about the power of one, the power of compassion beyond measure.

4) Why is this message important to you/your business?

This message is important to me because our world and country can use a little bit more kindness and because we all want something to remind us that there is greatness in all of us. The book is my effort to share the power of collaboration and of serving one another with my audience and colleagues. It is important because it is a call to action. It is important to me particularly because I believe too many businessmen are not consciously aware of how their businesses are affecting their families, communities, countries, the world and the universe. We are gifted for a reason, and I am convinced that we fail our world and community when we do not use our talents to create a legacy that is greater than ourselves. Hopefully this book challenges you to consider what legacy your company is aiming for.

5) What are your goals or mission behind this book?

My first goal is to educate and inform, and to share the story of my homeland. Haiti’s story hasn’t been told by many people. The mission is simple: service, service, service! SHS’s mission is to foster a culture of service and civic mindedness, as well as to encourage more generosity via critical creative thinking. We are seeking the services and financial support of  fellow photographers, painters, software designers, make-up artists, salon and spa owners and more to join us in the endeavor of building this new village of Superheroes of Service.

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Full color illustrations in SHS

6) What is the most important lesson for students to take away from this book?

It is not for me to say what lesson may be learned because service speaks to each person differently. I only hope it motivates the readers to think outside of their comfort zones and to give the practice of service a chance.

7) How can photographers get involved with the Superheroes of Service cause?

We do not see SHS as cause, but rather a movement that can become a lifestyle. Doing good for others can be a lifestyle - a movement to inspire others to do good deeds!

What I am asking other photographers to do is to use this book as a tool to share their story with their community and the reason why they do what they do. I would ask them to adopt a local elementary school in their community, purchase a copy for each student, go to that classroom and do a reading with them. Bring your business cards along and some of your images if they are appropriate for children, and host an informal art show. I want each photographer to make the experience their own because I wrote the book to encourage people to follow their dreams and passions. The book is a testimony of doing good, believing in others, serving others, and most importantly, collaborating for the good of all.

This book is literally a labor of love. I know the challenges we face in the art industry and cliché of not collaborating. This book, this movement, is a blueprint of what collaboration looks like. It is a wonderful thing to embrace and create your own masterpiece. I want other artists to take the book and use it any way they can think of to serve their community and promote service-minded business.

Lastly, and the most important thing for me, is that when the earthquake hit Haiti, all reports in the news were saying that the only assistance Haiti needed was from first responders, such as doctors, nurses, military and firefighters, and that these were the only people that would be allowed to land in Haiti. Instead of feeling useless, I asked myself how my photography skills could serve my country. It is important to ask the right questions in your business. I knew that once another major news catastrophe hits, the international cameras will turn off. It was paramount for me to keep mine snapping because a picture is worth a thousand words. Katie, the ten-year-old girl featured in the book, saw two of my images and that was all it took to inspire her to join me. Control the argument and never underestimate the power of your photographs!

9) How did former Governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, get involved in writing the book's foreword?

When the Governor heard from one of my former teachers, Dr. Kirstin Snow, that I wanted to go back to Haiti and use my photography skills to serve my country, he was moved. He knew no one could have done justice to Haiti better than a Haitian. So, he issued me a press pass and dispatched me on behalf of the state to document the aftermath of the earthquake. Upon my return, he was so moved by my photographs that he wanted me to shoot a documentary about Haiti. We are hoping to complete it by next year. We are actually raising money to go on a last trip to Haiti in October of 2017. If you want to join us, feel free to reach out at my email address listed below!

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8) Any additional details?

Yes: the dedication of this book!

This book is dedicated to all the families who lost their lives during the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti. It is dedicated to all those who went and served. It is dedicated to all immigrants currently looking for a home. It is dedicated to those who have been bullied. It is dedicated to all the Haitian founding fathers, the women, and children who stood up and fought during the Haitian Revolution. It is dedicated to those who still struggle to understand the profound, undeniable existence of human rights and the need for social justice. It is dedicated to the African communities who have been denied services because of how they look. It is dedicated to those who put their lives on hold to serve others even when the cameras are off. It is dedicated to the art community, the environment, and those who are searching for spiritual guidance. It is dedicated to the ocean, a clean ocean, and all the brave scientists, the true vanguards of fresh knowledge and innovation. It is dedicated to all the single moms, dads, and grandmas out there. It is dedicated to all the juveniles doing time because of lack of resources and/or funding. It is dedicated to all the teachers working hard without resources. It is dedicated in a special way to the Polish people and army for refusing to assist Napoleon’s efforts to restore slavery during the Haitian Revolution. A significant Polish population can still be found in Fond-des-Blancs, Haiti. To the Polish people, this is your story, this is your book as well and thank you!

Lastly, I wrote this book to encourage anyone who reads it to follow their dreams and passions.


 
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Event Images by Sabrina Wnorowski of OneHope Wine
 
Toussaint officially launched Superheroes of Service on October 21, 2017 during the homecoming of his alma-matter, Messiah College. The next day, Toussaint hosted a book signing at Williams-Sonoma in King of Prussia, PA. Among his many sponsors were MicrosoftWilliams-Sonoma, Sipp, French Chef, and Sylvie's Catering.
 
For Toussaint, the biggest highlight of these launch events was the attendance of his 103 year-old Grandma, Mme. Lenise G. Toussaint, whom he was happily reunited with after the earthquake. In reponse to the event, Toussaint said: "My Grandma, who does not know how to read or write, supported me by signing the books with a simple 'X' as a signature and that speaks so much volume to me."

To learn more about Superheroes of Service and to purchase a copy of the book, click here. Use can also support the SHS campaign by following along on Instagram, @SuperheroesOfService, and promoting the campaign hashtags: #SuperheroesOfService, #AnImmigrantStory. To get in touch for more information, email Toussaint at Superheroes1804@gmail.com.

You can learn more and apply for a donation from Canvas for a Cause by clicking here.