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The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Sara Nevis: Identifying life’s purpose through photojournalism
Sacramento Bee Visual Journalist and Alumni Express Photo Editor Sara Nevis Photo credit: Neezy Jeffery / [email protected]

One day, you are helping your good friend benefit their own life, and the next moment you know exactly what you are meant to do in your life.

That’s what happened with Sara Nevis, who discovered the art of photography at a time when she was searching for her unique identity in this world. Nevis is now a staff photographer for the Sacramento Bee. She got her start in photojournalism as an editor for the Express news publication at City College.

When your life’s mission, passion, identity all comes together in an instant, one’s existence can change in the most amazing way. But that would come later in Nevis’s life.

“I had a really tumultuous childhood,” Nevis said.

From the ages of 5 to 8, Nevis endured being around multiple family members’ excessive drug use and seeing their actions lead them down a path of destruction and ultimately imprisonment. At 8, her life turned upside down. That was when her mother was sent to prison for robbing a bank just to be able to put food on the table. Her identity was about to be disrupted.

“It was not normal,” she said. “It was not healthy, I grew up with criminals, addicts and felons. So I didn’t have a normal childhood.”

For the span of three years, awaiting her mother’s release from incarceration, Nevis had to suffer through the physical abuse and torment from her drug-addicted aunt that she was forced to live with.

“I didn’t deal with a lot of that stuff until I got older; until I was in the mindset to want to go to therapy and all that to unpack it,” Nevis said.

Nevis was also tasked with taking care of her aunt’s child; being a light for her newborn cousin because no one else would.

When her mother was back in her life after three years, her mother went to college for construction training and Nevis found an outlet to express herself and define her identity: basketball.

From the moment she stepped onto the court, Nevis built up her basketball IQ and dominated the sport throughout high school. When her high school basketball career came to a close, Nevis decided to enlist in the United States Air Force to further her identity and play basketball on a higher level.

“Which was a mistake,” Nevis said, “because [my basketball coach’s] way of not showing favoritism was not playing me, so my stats were horrible.”

So she switched gears and became an air traffic controller instead. But at age 21, Nevis was medically diagnosed with synovial sarcoma of the knee; a rare cancer that affects soft tissue around your joints. Leading Nevis to undergo surgery and two rounds of radiation to shrink the cancer to regain functionality in her knee again.

Every step she took was met with excruciating pain that forced Nevis to hang up her jersey and retire from the military and basketball identities.

But within the fog of pain, she wanted to be the light for someone again.

After finding out her sister was going to be unable to care for her unborn child, Nevis did not hesitate to welcome the child with an open heart. But it would take four months of Nevis’s nonstop persistence, determination and perseverance to gain guardianship of her child, Joaquina, through the adoption, caiming her instinctual identity: mother.

Now, moving back to Sacramento from a military base in Maryland with her daughter after her divorce, Nevis decided to go to City College and took a photography class.

Nevis laughs with glee holding her photography equipment in the City College Express newsroom. Photo credit: Neezy Jeffery / [email protected]

“It saved my mental health,” Nevis said. “Being able to go out, be active and do what I love to do.”

She began with one class at first and then she decided to join the Express — the City College student-run news site.

Randy Allen, City College’s head of journalism and faculty co-adviser of the Express said Nevis’s first semester was rough, but Nevis was ready to meet the challenge.

“We had a kind of a tricky semester,” Allen said. “A photo editor left about halfway through the semester. I asked Sara if she would pick up those duties as well and she was happy to do that. She was just really enthusiastic right from the go.”

It was with the Express that Nevis was able to reconnect with her love for sports.

“She felt like it was her responsibility to be at every single football game, every single basketball game, every single softball game,” Allen said. “She really took to it; kind of jumped in with both feet.”

Sacramento State Hornet copyeditor and former editor-in-chief for the Express Casey Rafter said, “I’ve always been jealous of her tenacity. She has taken advantage of her time and made the best of every single moment.”

Nevis talks to her former professors Paul Estabrook and Randy Allen in the City College Express newsroom on Tuesday, March 21, 2023. Photo credit: Neezy Jeffery / [email protected]

In 2021, Nevis’s hard work, studying, training and devotion to her photography paid off to the point that her talent was undeniable. With her photojournalism work, covering sports and Black Lives Matter activism, she earned over 18 awards in a span with the National Press Photographers Association, Associated Collegiate Press/College Media Association, and Journalism Association of Community Colleges.

“She’s one of those people that when she decides to do something, she’s just all out. She’s just not going to slow down at all and that’s sort of been my experience in watching her,” Allen said.

With earning associate degrees in photography and journalism, a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Sacramento State, and going from intern to staff photographer for the Sacramento Bee, it unquestionably solidified Nevis’s true identity: visual storyteller.

“I like social justice, dealing with communities of color. I like telling stories that aren’t always told and that we don’t always have a stage to tell,” Nevis said.

“She’s out there just constantly working and busting ass,” Rafter said. “It’s breathtaking… 

It’s very inspiring to have somebody like that in my life even if I don’t really keep up with her.”

Nevis holds her 5-month-old newborn daughter. Photo credit: Neezy Jeffery / [email protected]

With her daughters Joaquina, 9, and 5-month-old newborn by her side, Nevis sees how her visual storytelling can take her in the future.

“I would love to get stationed overseas in Europe as a photojournalist with AP [Associated Press]; that would be dope,” she said. “That would be the dream.”

A coo from her newborn daughter echoes her sentiment while lying in her mother’s arms.

“See, she agrees.”

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About the Contributor
Neezy Jeffery
Neezy Jeffery, Multimedia Editor
As a visual multimedia editor and photographer, Neezy works to utilize digital design paired with the Express’ articles, photos and videos to bring awareness to topics happening on campus and in the community that matter to City College students. 
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