Green, at Sammy's Patio, Revere, April, 1, 2015. Ann Wang/The Stand

American Orphans

Ann Wang

Boston, Massachusetts. March-April, 2015

“I just don’t ever lose focus on the mission at hand/It’s all part of the plan.”

These are lyrics from “Part of the Plan” by American Orphans, a music group led by singer Green and rapper Raw Black and based in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood.

Raw Black, 21, has one month left on his probation and is hoping that music can bring him away from his troubled past. Green, who grew up in foster families, has always been passionate about singing, but wasn’t able to perform for the past four years due to contract conflicts.

The pair formed American Orphans two years ago, choosing the name because of their shared history of being abandoned by their families or the system.

This photo project documents their daily lives as a team and as roommates. It also feature the struggles of their path to break in to the music industry, while balancing tension among relationships within family and friends.

Q&A With Ann Wang

How did you meet Raw Black and Green?
I was looking for single dads, and was somehow introduced to a probation program in Roxbury. That’s where I met Raw Black. He is always very honest to me about his past, but music is his main focus now. I knew they were just staring and offered to do photos for them whenever they need it. I was hoping to do a documentary photo essay while doing commercial shoots for them.

How much time did you spend with them?
I think I met them in mid March and hang out with them every week or every other week until June.

Was it hard to get them to open up?
I was introduced to the band, Raw Black’s family members and the singer/song writer Green. I let them know up front that I wanted to document their road to the music industry and that I’d be hanging at their house a lot and will always be shooting photos. They all agreed and thought it was worth documenting the process. So I had no problem gaining access and everyone was willing to participate.

You’re from very different cultures – you grew up in Taiwan and New Zealand and studied in Shanghai – was it hard to bridge those differences?
We became pretty close friends, but at the same time, they never shied away to let me know that  I live in a different world than them. Coming for a private university, they assured me that I will never understand the struggle they have to face growing up in inner cities with high crime rates such as Roxbury. And I made them understand that this is the exact reason why I’m following them around, I want to understand their culture.

Did your experience with American Orphan lead you to think about other projects you’d like to do?
There are definitely a lot of stories to do in inner cities like Roxbury and Dorchester. Communities are struggling in terms of education, health and safety. There are already a lot of photo essays about gang violence, but I think what happens after the gang violence is where the stories are. While hanging out with AO, I met their friend who is still trying to recover from six gunshot wounds, a 20-year-old ex-gang member who is trying to find a stable job to welcome his first born child by his teenage girlfriend.