Pictures with purpose: How these sixth-graders hope to shatter stigmas of their neighborhood

Light Catchers Society is shifting views on San Antonio’s Eastside

The subject of guns and safety remains polarizing and there is no easy solution.

Studies show, half of Americans believe gun ownership reduces safety, while the other half believe it increases it.

Often times neighborhoods bear the brunt of gun violence and stigma.

On San Antonio’s Eastside, Francisco Cortes is teaching his students how to shatter those views.

“They live here and they represent here, and nobody knows it like they do,” he said. “I think a lot of people in the city don’t really have an idea of what’s going on the Eastside, period. You hear it a lot through watching the news, and unfortunately that’s going to be negative.”

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Cortes, a teacher at Booker T. Washington Elementary School, advises a group of students known as the Light Catchers Society. Their goal is to document the world and honor their community, one photo at a time.

According to Cortes, the group shares community stories, develop their voices through photography, poetry and advocacy. The students collaborate with city leaders, nonprofit, and local artists.

Every year, a group of new sixth-grade students pick up a camera and learn how to tell a story through their own lens. The Light Catchers discuss what issues are happening in their neighborhood and document the problems and sometimes solutions.

Last year, the group addressed the issue of gun violence.

“The students decided to document that and not in the sense of how dramatic and violent it actually is, but the effects of it besides the obvious. How it affects people’s mental health, how do they feel about it,” said Cortes. “At the same time, what they were able to do was identify people, mostly in the neighborhood that were affected in some way or work in a program to counter gun violence. It’s more than just taking pictures. The students are learning about those topics and really researching them and learning how to advocate for their neighborhood.”

Portraits are displayed at an exhibit and shared with the community. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg attended the event last year, and the group offered him an action plan to reduce gun violence. Some of what they suggested include documenting gun sales, data tracking and more classes on on responsible gun ownership.

Cortes believes when kids care about issues, they will learn to take action as they get older.

“People always really want numbers, how successful is this program. Give me numbers, numbers, numbers, but it’s really hard to quantify the change that is made,” he said. “The idea is to plant that seed so that one day, maybe they can create some type of change, whether it be through the photo or something else they do later on in life, but at the same time make them aware of these issues so they don’t fall into this pattern.”

Sasha Harris has a passion for her neighborhood. She joined the Light Catchers and hopes to share her views with the community, and beyond.

“I like it because we’re able to be outside and be in the fresh air, and able to talk to people and tell their history or culture on San Antonio’s Eastside,” she said.

This article is part of “Solutionaries,” our continuing commitment to solutions journalism, highlighting the creative people in communities working to make the world a better place, one solution at a time. Find out what you can do to help at

About the Authors:

Steven Cavazos is a traffic anchor and general assignments reporter on weekday mornings at KSAT 12. He is also part of the Solutionaries team. He has deep South Texas roots: born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley, graduated from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and worked in Harlingen and Corpus Christi before coming to KSAT 12 in 2019.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.