PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Race is a sweet and fun 8-year-old boy who goes out of his way to befriend everyone in his Portland metro neighborhood.
“He’s all about helping,” his mom Andrea told KOIN 6 News. “Last week we found him at the neighbor’s helping them garden. He’s a very caring, helpful kid.”
However, when Race was 6, his parents started to notice a difference in his behavior.
“It got to the point where he wouldn’t go to the bathroom by himself,” Andrea said. “We think something happened in the restroom because it’s grades K-4. Because of his height, everyone thinks he’s older.”
It took Race awhile to tell his parents he was being bullied, but when he did, they told him to always let an adult know when someone is picking on him.
Not long after, Andrea was scrolling through her Instagram with Race by her side when he saw some pictures of Batman taken by Portland-based photographer Lance Reis. He instantly got excited and wanted to go to Portland to meet Batman.
Andrea reached out to Lance and Collin Jones, who dresses up as Batman for photo shoots. She told them how Race was having a hard time in school and meeting Batman may lift his spirits.
Agreeing to the photo shoot was an easy decision for Lance and Collin as both of them dealt with bullies when they were Race’s age. Lance also added that he uses his photography to address social issues he’s passionate about — including bullying.
Instead of just taking pictures with Batman, Lance thought it would be more fun to dress Race up as his favorite villain, the Joker — an idea Race and his parents loved.
Due to scheduling conflicts, the photo shoot didn’t happen until the end of May. However, the delay ended up being a blessing in disguise because Race was able to grow his hair out for almost a year and a half to look more like the Joker.
The shoot took place at Montgomery Park. Race arrived with his parents, a hairdresser and a make-up artist.
It was Race’s first photo shoot — and he was a natural.
“I’ve shot with countless people, adults and children alike,” Lance said. “I can honestly say I was blown away by the emotion this kid at the age of 8 was able to convey — more than most adults.”
Race was a bit shy at first, but “lit up” as soon as the camera was in front of him.
“He looks serious,” Lance said of the Joker-themed shoot. “But he was all smiles between each take.”
Race’s mom echoed the same sentiment.
“He was on cloud 9,” she said.
Race’s confidence continued to grow throughout the experience.
“At the end of the shoot, he was a different kid,” Lance said. “He’s still glowing and still talking about it.”
Lance and Collin also shared some advice with Race.
“Batman and I gave him a quick rundown on bullies and how to deal with them,” Lance said. “You just need to understand that it comes from a place of sadness. Something is happening in their life that is making them act out. It’s not personal, it’s them taking out their frustrations in an unhealthy way.”
Andrea told KOIN 6 News that their advice was similar to what she and her husband told Race — but said it was more impactful coming from Batman and Lance.
“They both told him they were bullied, so I think there was that connection,” she said. “They’re incredible people.”
Lance said he knows a photo shoot can’t fix bullying, but he just wanted to do something nice for someone who was having a hard time — and the shoot certainly raised Race’s spirits.
“He seems more confident, happier,” Andrea said. “You can see a sense of gratitude in him.”
When Andrea reached out to Lance over a year and a half ago, she was just looking to cheer up her son. She had no idea the photo shoot would get such a huge response from the community.
“I’ve been reading comments and seeing the positive comments that the shoot is inspiring others and helping them is making it all worth it,” she said. “We never went into this wanting attention, we just wanted to help Race.”
Race loved being in front of the camera — so much so that another shoot with Lance is already in the works to document his upcoming haircut. Race grew out his hair to play the Joker and once it gets a bit longer, he’s going to donate it to a nonprofit that makes wigs for children who can’t afford them.
National Bullying Prevention Center