Despite living half a world away, Cameron Peagler continues to make his presence felt on Wright State University’s Dayton Campus.
Photographs by Peagler, a Wright State nursing graduate and former Gilman scholar, are featured in “Black Gold,” an exhibition on display through Oct. 18 in the Multicultural and Identity Lounge, 019 Student Union.
Visitors can view Peagler’s work Monday through Thursday from 830 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wright State’s Asian and Native American Center will host a closing reception on Wednesday, Oct. 18, from 5 to 7 p.m.
The exhibition includes portraits and interviews of 30 Black creators and entrepreneurs throughout Japan.
Peagler hopes “Black Gold” will help to increase the number of Black students who study abroad while also celebrating Black community members in Japan whose success stories oftentimes go untold.
“My goal is to inspire Black youth to study abroad and raise the current abysmal rate of 5.5% and strengthen relationships with Black and Japanese communities in Japan,” he said. “Through photography and interviews, I worked with 30 participants spread throughout Japan and created physical galleries in Yamaguchi, Yokohama and Tokyo. Now we have exhibitions planned all around America, but the first show will be at Wright State.”
Born and raised in Dayton, Peagler said he did not get a “fair shake in life,” but credits the influence and guidance of his mother, grandfathers and mentors as the motivating factors that led him to become the first member of his family to attend college. He chose to attend Wright State because a number of people he knew had attended the university and it featured an excellent nursing program.
“I’m really fortunate I was able to make it into the nursing program because they helped me grow so much as a young professional,” he said. “There were several instructors who noticed several deficits I had as a student and, instead of kicking me out of the program, gave me the uniquely tailored support I needed to graduate with my degree in 2014.”
Realizing he was not taking full advantage of his college experience and wishing to satiate a desire to travel to Japan, Peagler was the first Wright State student to receive a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.
“Cameron initially participated as a study abroad student on our faculty-led Ambassador Program to Japan, which is part of an institutional exchange program at Wright State,” said Michelle Streeter Ferrari, director of the University Center for International Education. “In many ways, he is one of my favorite success stories for study abroad. He had a hard life growing up yet has always persevered.”
Peagler’s time in Japan was liberating and helped open up new horizons.
“As corny as it may sound, studying abroad helped break me out of my mental ‘box’ and showed me a world outside of Dayton I never could have imagined,” he said. “And with that escape came a change in my perspective, which helped me become more culturally sensitive and open with my thinking.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, Peagler worked at Grandview Medical Center’s surgery center, where he was nominated for the prestigious Daisy Award and eventually held a committee leadership position in the hospital.
His interest in international affairs persisted, and he balanced his medical career with that of serving as an ambassador for the Gilman organization while also serving as a host family for the Wright State International Education program for several years.
Seeking additional challenges, he transferred to Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, where in addition to serving as an ambassador, host and working as a nurse, he began training five days a week with a bevy of professional coaches to become an Olympic fencer. Unfortunately, an injury derailed any hope he had for Olympic aspirations and that endeavor was shelved.
While attending a workshop, Peagler met a diplomat-in-residence who taught him to channel his interest in international affairs into a career.
“I knew that to fully tap into my abilities and make change on a global scale becoming a foreign service officer would be necessary,” he said.
To build on his set of experiences, Peagler left nursing to teach English in Japan.
A resident of Japan for nearly the past five years, Peagler cultivated his interest in photography and wished to ultimately highlight communities of color through his works. While he was initially turned down for a grant to fund his project, through dogged determination, he has seen it through to fruition.
The project has gained support from the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Tokyo Embassy, the National Association for Black Engagement with Asia, and many more organizations and individuals.
“Starting as only a fleeting dream, ‘Black Gold’ has become a movement that has grown beyond my expectations,” he said.
Framed and delivered to Wright State by family members, it took some logistical gymnastics to arrange the photographs in the Multicultural and Identity Lounge, said Nicolyn Woodcock, Ph.D., assistant director of the Asian and Native American Center. But despite the stressful installation, it came together quite nicely, she added.
“I think this exhibit illustrates how the understanding of self as Black individuals is changed by a change in location,” said Woodcock. “How they came together in Japan to form a community and found a home and a sense of belonging.”
Woodcock’s goal for the exhibition mirrors that of Peagler’s.
“I really hope this helps inspire Black students at Wright State to travel, study abroad and take chances,” she said. “We want to grow the numbers of students traveling abroad and create opportunities for the best education possible and hopefully break down barriers for the underrepresented community.”
Peagler is uncertain if he will remain in Japan or return to the United States once his teaching contract expires.
But he encouraged students who look like him to take advantage of study abroad opportunities at Wright State.
“Just do it,” he said. “A lot of us have various personal reservations about the uncertainties of going to another country. But when you are able to overcome the uncertainty, it makes you stronger. And once you’re abroad, you’ll learn something about yourself that you wouldn’t have been able to imagine.”