A sweet story of two friends, one with piebaldism who is bullied at school and excluded. The friends decide to run away and always promise to protect each other.
Samuel is nearly 6 years old and already in life has had a lot to contend with at this tender age. Samuel has Piebaldism, which he refers to as his birthmark. Other family members have this rare condition including his mother and grandmother. This inspiring young man is being raised in an impoverished Brazilian favela and wants to highlight his warlock and bring attention to the skin condition so that people are more aware and in turn stop the bullying and comments he gets on a daily basis.
This rising star has already beat all odds and has already featured on catwalks, in editorials, magazine features and been interviewed for TV shows nationwide but he now wants to make the world stand up and take note!
Q & A with Samuel & Family
How has having Piebaldism affected you in your daily life?
Samuel: People and other kids look at me all the time when I am on the street and they ask me why I have stains on my body. I just walk away…
What is your message to other children who have Piebaldism (a “birthmark”)?
My mom and my grandma and my cousins all have the same birthmark and I love it. We are special and we all look alike. It’s part of our family.
What is your message to others that might be getting bullied?
Samuel: Bullying is bad. I don’t like it when it happens. I leave.
Why would you like to be a model?
Samuel: I love posing for pictures, and I like dancing and making faces. (laughs) I just went to Sao Paulo for a fashion show (Bazaar Kids’ Fashion Day) with many kids from abroad, and I walked the runway! I am a supermodel! (grins)
Who inspires you? (Who do you want to be when you grow up?)
I want to be like Shaun Ross. He is very cool. He models and he dances very well.
What are your hopes and dreams? Samuel: I want to be an actor to make movies and I want to buy a car for my parents, and maybe a house.
If you could have three wishes, what would they be? Samuel: 1- I would like to be an actor and make movies! 2- I would like to be small, a baby! I don’t want to grow up! (laughs) 3- I want to be invisible so that people do not bother me about my different skin.
What are your hobbies? Samuel: like going to the beach, and playing with the sand and the waves in the water, but I get burnt easily and I can’t go very much. My mom doesn’t let me go.
What is your favourite sport? Samuel: I love capoeira (Brazilian dance/martial arts form) because my mom is an instructor and she teaches me everything. I am very good. I love dressing in capoeira clothes and practising with my sister and my friends.
What is your favourite movie? Samuel: My favourite movie is Descendants. I like the protagonist because she is very beautiful, and she is mean (laughs). I want to be like her!
I also like the Lion King. He is cute and when he grows up he saves all the animals, and he is also different, like me.
What is your favourite subject at school? Samuel: I like colouring and sketching, and I also like writing. I can write my name and many other things!
What is your favourite single? My favourite single is “Baby Shark”. I like dancing and singing to it all day long!
A Little ’Wonder of the Universe’, by Julio Sanchez-Velo
If you ever visit the favela known as ‘Vale das Pedrinhas’, in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, you will probably at some point come across or hear about an energetic, vivacious and articulate little boy named Samuel. If you look closely, you will notice him running around shirtless on the street, playing with his friends and his frisky little mutt, Bobby. What will strike you most about him at first is his unique and odd appearance: dark-complected kid with big, milky white patches of skin all over his body, and a little afro with a white strand of hair running through the middle of his head, like a ‘crest’. And if he happens to be wearing the red cape he once got as a birthday gift on that day, with his costume-like appearance, he will probably remind you of an energized little superhero pretending to take off in the air to go and save the world.
Favela neighbourhoods in Salvador are colourful, impoverished, very densely populated districts plagued with unemployment, crime, police brutality and severe infrastructure challenges, and which present very few life opportunities to its mainly Afro-descendant inhabitants. This is indeed the kind of environment where Samuel was born into. Needless to say, if we think that life for most people in the favela is a struggle when you are a little Afro-Brazilian five-year-old boy with a rare genetic skin ‘disorder’ called piebaldism, the challenges are indeed twofold.
Piebaldism consists of a severe, persistent and stable depigmentation of the hair and skin of the body, already from the moment of birth. Individuals usually present a white strand of hair that continues along the forehead in the shape of a triangular ‘stain’ and in some cases severe depigmentation in the face, torso and limbs, that creates forms of irregular spots throughout the whole body, similar to another better-known skin condition called vitiligo. Because of their out-of-the-ordinary appearance, in previous centuries entire families of “piebalds ” in the western world were ‘exhibited’ inside cages in all sort of circuses and Freak Shows as the “Real Monsters of Mankind“, especially if they were African or of African descent, as this condition looks much more striking on darker skin. There were signs for the public advertising to see the “Tiger Man”, the “Leopard Man”, or the “Zebra Woman” for a fee, and because of the cruelty-ridden living conditions they had to endure, most of them lived short miserable lives.
Human curiosity towards what is considered an oddity is still running rampant in modern times. Samuel goes to the local beach on any given occasion with his family these days, and strangers, spotting him in the distance, do make a point of coming closer to get a better look.
“Poor thing, what’s wrong with him?”
“Why is he stained”?
“Is it contagious”?
“What happened to him? Did he get burn? Was it an accident?”
Those are the type of questions strangers usually ask in Samuel’s presence, and it gets really tiring for both himself and the family to cope with it. He typically looks at them with his big brown eyes for a second or two, listening, and then he stares down without even saying a word. At that point, he runs for the seashore and stays there playing with the sand and the waves for hours on end. And if some other unknown kids move close to him again and ask him about his ‘stains’, he quickly changes the subject or just moves away. Somehow, at the tender age of five, he has already developed his own defence mechanisms and he utilizes them as best he can.
But as the saying goes: “what doesn’t kill you, will make you stronger”. Samuel is very lucky to have a very loving and supportive family and a tight, strong, protective, community surrounding him. He’s well known and well-loved by everyone in his neighbourhood and at school, and he leads a normal, happy kid life. His mom and his maternal grandmother both have the same condition and they all look alike, so for him being a ‘piebald’ is just what you are. He knows he gets recognition everywhere he goes and he actually does like it, if it is the positive kind. He does love being the centre of attention after all; it’s just in his personality. He is very artistic and likes dancing freestyle while listening to his favourite songs both in English and in Portuguese. At school, he also loves drawing and writing or so he says although all he knows how to write so far is his name, and as far as drawing, flowers seem one of his only objects of choice. Being raised within a capoeira family, his mom is an instructor herself, he enjoys practising this martial, dance form in the company of his little friends as well, but truly, what he enjoys the most in life is going to the beach. He complains his family doesn’t take him often enough, but what he probably doesn’t understand is that because of his sensitive skin, he can only stay out in the sun for a few minutes at a time, and always under thick layers of sun protection, so staying on the beach all day is really out of the question for him.
In good time, life has been changing for people with visible skin conditions like Samuel especially for vitiligo and piebaldism ‘sufferers’. Thanks to the arduous work towards awareness and education being done by popular skin condition advocates from the modelling world and the entertainment industry, the public’s general vision has slowly started to shift in the last decade. Whereas in the past everyone tried to blend into the crowd in order to develop a sense of belonging, now, in the times of technological advances and social media platforms where we get to expose our lives publicly to anyone who cares to watch, everyone wishes to stand out in the crowd, to be different, quirky, and leave their own special mark in the world. Beauty these days has started to encompass everything that causes surprise; the mysterious, the unusual, the exotic, the unique…
Samuel is barely five, but because of this general shift in the world’s perceptions, just after a few months on social media, he has already acquired a huge following and a faithful fan base online. He has recently been discovered and signed by one of the most renowned Kids’ Model Agencies in Europe and has already done a few professional jobs. There are people from all corners of the world sending messages, interested in working with him, and the attention he generates on social media platforms only seems to grow day by day. He already has magazine articles published about his short ‘interesting’ life even an interview! and now, when Samuel leaves his community in Brazil to go and walk down the runway for Kids’ Fashion Week on any European capital these days, all of a sudden everyone thinks he is true and oddly beautiful and unique. He still gets the stares, don’t get me wrong as curiosity is part of human nature, but they are not so much the uncomfortable kind anymore. His supporters send hundreds of positive messages on social media every week and some even call him “Living Art” and a “Wonder of the Universe”.
And the end of the day, this little ‘pie boy’ doesn’t really need a red cape to soar in the air after all, because he has already taken off. He has himself, his family his community and his rare skin condition to help him promote awareness and educate the public to try to create a more diverse, inclusive and safe environment for everyone on this earth, a place where every single human being can reach their full unhindered potential in life, free of the threats of discrimination, bullying and racism.
The time has finally come to bring out and share this little wonder with the world. Please enjoy, and let’s be kind to one another.
Wuthering Cliffs featuring Samuel Silva Credits:
Photography: Matheus L8 @matheusl8
Styling: Fredsonn Silva Agudá @fredsonnsilvaaguda
Producer & Fashion writer: Julio Sánchez Velo @chezvelo
Models: Samuel Silva @shamuelmodel & Rihanna Purificaçao
Clothing: Suits, bow-ties and dresses Moka Collection @mokacollection & black streetwear/urban style clothing by Xian Mini @xian.mini.
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Wuthering Cliffs Photography by Matheus L8 @matheusl8 – All rights reserved.
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