The Getty Initiative: How a Passion for Arm Wrestling Sparked a Remarkable Photography Program for Local Youth

Getty Initiative Class of 2024

Teacher Oyinda Adebo with 2024 Getty Initiative class members Shayna and Shayla Bholan, Robert Moore, Emily St. Rose, Kevin Reyes, Judith Reilly, Dennis McCook and Martine MacDonald, Director of C.A.S.T. (Community and Schools Together).

Young Folks, Photography, and…Arm Wrestling?

…So…I discovered this amazing program that connects young folks who would like to explore photography with mentors, equipment and business experience. I wanted to know a lot more. My first question, though, looking at the materials, was this:
What does Arm Wrestling have to do with it?!?

Apparently, a lot! Like many wonderful things, there’s a story. This one starts with arm-wrestling. An arm-wrestling enthusiast, actually, named Gerren Nixon, who became a fan of the sport after watching the movie “Over the Top” featuring Sylvester Stallone. As an events promoter, Gerren now uses his skills to advance his own “Urban Arm Wrestling League,” a local organization that holds exhibitions events and competitions all over Long Island.

The Getty Initiative: Oyinda Adebo, Martine MacDonald, Gerren Nixon, Al Bello and Kim Jerideau on the day they delivered the photo equipment to the Tri-CYA
From Left: Oyinda Adebo, Martine MacDonald, Gerren Nixon, Al Bello and Kim Jerideau. This was the day they first delivered the photo equipment to the Tri-CYA. Image provided by Gerren Nixon.

He Figured It Was Probably a Scam

As a photographer, I can see the appeal of arm wrestling: All sorts of dynamic tension that doesn’t really move much. It ought to make for fine portraiture. Still, when Al Bello, once the “Chief Sports Photographer in North America” and now a “Special Sports Correspondent” for Getty Images first reached out, Nixon ignored him.

“I figured it was a scam.” He shrugs his shoulders, “So I deleted it. A few times.”

Bello was persistent, tho, and eventually Gerren responded. He was delighted to find out that this was actually totally legit. Someone from Getty Images really wanted to photograph his arm-wrestling league!

Al Bello put together a beautiful project capturing Gerren’s journey. That photojournal won multiple awards, including being chosen for the prestigious 2021 NY Press Photographers Association Year in Pictures Gallery. In the process, the two built a deep relationship. One day, Al asked Gerren for a favor.

“He was given $20,000 worth of equipment, and was asking ME what to do with it!” Gerren’s eyes grow wide at the memory, “I knew EXACTLY what to do.”

See, Gerren isn’t just passionate about building community through Arm Wrestling. Another major thing for him is working to enrich young people. This was a golden opportunity and, this time, he didn’t hesitate.

“The Getty Initiative” was born.

The Getty Initiative event at The Heckscher Museum
An exhibition and reception for Getty Initiative students at The Heckscher Museum.

The Getty Initiative

Basically, The Getty Initiative connects young people with the opportunity to learn photography from one of the best in the business. They started in Wyandanch, where Gerren grew up. Canon donated equipment. The Suffolk County Police Department paid for camera bags. They made sure it didn’t cost the local school anything. You can find a great story and video on this by Dandan Zou in the 6/4/22 issue of Newsday.*

Then, a few years ago, Gerren connected with Kim Jerideau and the deep community of Huntington Station. He soon started working with young folks there. 

This year’s class came from Huntington, Walt Whitman and Harborfields High Schools. The students, Lylah Andretta, Shayla Bholan, Shayna Bholan, Dennis McCook, Robert Moore, Judith Reilly, Kevin Reyes, and Emily St. Rose met weekly at the Tri CYA in Huntington Station. There, they learned photography and basic editing from both Al Bello of Getty Images and a community-based photographer named Wilfredo Garcia. Oyinda Adebo, lovingly knows as “Ms. O”, served as the group’s teacher, advisor and coach. Project C.A.S.T (Community and Schools Together) was also involved. 

They took trips to the Heckscher Museum and Park, the Vanderbilt, local businesses in the Big H shopping center, and the Next Chapter book store to hone their skills. They were also invited to photograph Town of Huntington events, including Unity Day, and became the official photographers for Tri CYA events. Last week, they were honored to be named the official photographers of the Suffolk County Juneteenth event. 

The Initiative is about entrepreneurship, almost as much as it is about art. As part of the program, students created their own   photography business, which they named “Behind the Lens.” At Tri CYA’s Youth Entrepreneur Bazaar, they set up a studio and did  same-day prints. 

The work is beautiful. The experience is incredible.

The Getty Initiative: Awards
Judith Reilly and Dennis McCook look on as Oyinda Adebo announces their award

Celebrating the Beyond the Lens Photo Gallery

Last Friday, I got to see the class’s final project, the “Beyond the Lens Photo Gallery,” which featured a curated selection of students’ original works on view at the Heckscher Museum. The students presented before an audience and then had a meet and greet with the community. All involved had clearly had an unforgettable, deeply positive experience. 

Two students, Dennis McCook and Judith Reilly, went so far above and beyond that they were given the honor of getting to keep the $2000 each worth of camera equipment they’ve been using. Another two camera kits were gifted to the Tri-CYA so the other students may also keep developing their skills. In all, $8,000 worth of equipment was left with the Town of Huntington courtesy of The Getty Initiative.

Last Saturday, the students got to make a special presentation and celebrate the completion of season two of this outstanding program at the Huntington Juneteenth event in Manor Field.

I am delighted to announce that they’ll be coming to the Firefly soon. Stay tuned. <3

GET INVOLVED! To donate, learn more, or otherwise get involved with The Getty Initiative photography program, please contact Gerren Nixon via Facebook or Instagram @its_gpmanagement.

The Getty Initiative: Photo of class member speaking
Program participant Kevin Reyes, speaking on how, in addition to practical skills, the program impressed upon him the value of appreciating life's precious moments.

* Please mind Newsday’s paywall and support local journalism. You can also find this article at your local library