School came easy to Khalif Rivers. It was not especially challenging.
In 8th grade, a teacher recommended the A Better Chance program. Like many youngsters, Khalif had not thought much about his future. But he trusted her, and the opportunity to be one of the people of color chosen to attend a top school sounded alluring.
He did not want to leave his native Philadelphia. But when he visited the Westport affiliate he liked the scholars at Glendarcy House, and the local program.
He was accepted by A Better Chance of Westport. Arriving here in 2004 was scary, and a culture shock.
“I was a young Black kid trying to figure out where I fit in,” Khalif recalls. “I was homesick. I had to learn how to really study. I felt like I was under a microscope. I struggled.”
Over the course of 4 years, he succeeded. With the help of his “brothers” in the house — and many others in the community — Khalif had an “overall great” experience.
He graduated in 2008. He had been looking for a larger college, not too far away, but somewhere he would have “autonomy.” When ABC’s Harold Kamins drove him to West Virginia University, he knew he’d found his next home.
Khalif majored in sports psychology. He planned on earning a master’s in counseling. But despite scholarships, he’d had to borrow a lot of money. Not wanting to go further in debt, he returned to Philadelphia.
He got a great job as a field service engineer, installing tempered glass. It was physically demanding work, in all kinds of weather. It paid well, and Khalif traveled far.
But he hated it. He had no time for friends, relationships — or photography.
That was a passion he’d discovered at Staples. Khalif had taken Digital Darkroom to fill an elective. But he loved it, and moved on to Photography with Janet Garstka, then Digital Photography.
He was an excellent photographer. Whenever he had free time — anywhere in Westport, at athletic events, wherever — he brought his camera.
Now, back home — and older — Khalif looked around. “Philadelphia is beautiful,” he says.”But so many buildings wee being torn down. I realized I had to photograph them.”
At first he used his cell phone. He would hop on a bus, get off somewhere, and start taking pictures. “I was doing it for myself,” he recalls. “I just wanted to capture the city in all its glory.”
He saved up for a good Nikon. He taught himself to use it through YouTube videos. As he posted those photos — many of them sharp, strong, black and white — to his Instagram account, followers encouraged him to do more.
In the spring of 2017 Khalif started a side business, selling his images.
It was successful. Khalif began thinking of doing photography full time. But he was making good money at his day job. “It was a big unknown, to walk away,” he says.
When COVID-19 struck, Khalif was laid off. He spent a month reflecting. He’d put so much time and energy into his service engineering work. He’d never get that back.
He could get a similar job. But, he says, the industry is filled with divorced, unhappy people.
“I realized I couldn’t do it. It’s over,” he says.
Khalif wondered: “What if I put the same effort into my photography? I could be more than a weekend warrior. I could take it so much further.”
He’s not sure if he would have quit his full time job. But he’s glad things worked out as they have. Since April, he has committed himself fully to his photography.
Right now he’s looking through the 15,000 images he shot during his travels. He’s moving into portrait photography too. He’s learning how to market himself — “just another challenge,” he calls it.
“This is still a work in progress,” Khalif says. “Every day I learn another aspect of running a business.
“But there’s no going back. I’m going to make this happen.”
(Click here for Khalif Rivers’ website. Hat tip: Katie Augustyn.)