The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

This Photographer Could End Bullying Armed With Just Her Instagram

By Ariel Cheung | June 11, 2015 8:25am

LAKEVIEW — While acts of enchantment are often left to Disney princesses, nine Chicago girls are hoping to better the world around them following a photo shoot fit for Cinderella & Co.

On Tuesday, the group of friends met at an impressive mural on the side of a shuttered bar at the corner of Ashland Avenue and Wolfram Street, decked out in their best (one girl said she tried on 10 outfits before settling on white-flowered dress). Emma, 11, wore fantastic gumball-patterned leggings and yellow rain boots.

Girls from the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School pose during a photo shoot for the Michigan-based Random Acts of Enchantment project on Tuesday. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]

They posed for photographer Marla Michele Must, attempting to be serious but often bursting into fits of giggles. They begged to know when their photos would be posted on Instagram — the ultimate status symbol. Soon, Must promised.

Detroit-based Must launched the Random Acts of Enchantment project about six months ago, hoping to inspire teens and tweens to help out family, friends and strangers. So far, she's met with a dozen groups in the Midwest, but the students from Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School are her first Chicago "enchanted ambassadors."

Ariel Cheung says the girls have taken Must's message to heart:

"They are always so excited leading up to their shoot. I tell the girls to express themselves individually and also shine together. I'm trying to foster inclusiveness, so I encourage the kids to reach out to new friends and people," Must said.

She hopes to expand the project to all 50 states to help prevent bullying and spread "the ripple effect of kindness."

Marla Michele Must (l.) angles her camera during a photo shoot in West Lakeview as part of her Random Acts of Enchantment project. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]

"I think our kids are in desperate need of learning the meaning of empathy, so getting them to think creatively about ways they can be kind to others in school is really what this is all about," Must said.

The key to Must's project is the tie-in to social media. She's amassed more than 1,400 followers on Instagram, where she posts group photos and, once her subjects post about their random acts, solo photos. The girls also receive enlarged photos of the group shots.

"The social media is driving it — that's the reinforcement. These kids live to see themselves on social media, and it's spreading through kids connected to other schools," Must said.

Emma first heard of the project through friends from Cheyboygan, Michigan's Camp Walden, who tagged her on one of Must's Instagram posts. Her mother, Carol Henriques, helped reach out to Must, and soon, Emma was rounding up friends to participate.

"First, I picked some of my closest friends, then people I'm also really close with that I don't hang out with a lot, and we formed a group I really like. I think everybody enjoyed it," Emma said.

As for the required enchanting, random acts of kindness were nothing new to the incoming seventh-graders, who spent the past year at Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, 3751 N. Broadway, working on food justice projects, Emma said.

"All these girls, they're pretty good together. They really care about each other. They've been on the phone all day with their Detroit friends asking what to expect," said Emma's mother, Carol Henriques.

Girls from the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School pose during a photo shoot for the Michigan-based Random Acts of Enchantment project on Tuesday. [Provided/Marla Michele Must]

Students share their stories on Instagram with the hashtag #EnchantedPhotographyMichigan and also post on Must's website. Random acts range from partnering with new students so they don't feel left out to making blankets for a children's hospital.

The day after the girls' photo shoot in West Lakeview, Must posted a preview of their photo shoot on the Instagram page, which Emma almost instantly reposted.

Alongside hearts and kissing emojis, the girls reminisced, laughed over their expressions and began sharing their random acts, one "ripple of kindness" at a time.

Incoming seventh-grade student Emma (c.) arranged a photo shoot for the Random Acts of Enchantment project with eight of her closest friends on Tuesday. [Provided/Marla Michele Must]

For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: