Cecil Whig - - JUMP­START -

“It’s a lit­tle em­bar­rass­ing,” he says when I ask if he’s posted to his Face­book page about the con­test re­sults (he hasn’t, and later he’ll de­cide not to men­tion it un­til this ar­ti­cle is pub­lished). “I mean, it’s still a big deal that I won the fan fa­vorite vot­ing, so that’s prob­a­bly what the post is go­ing to be about.”

We talk in the cof­fee shop for about 30 min­utes be­fore I ask him to show me where he op­er­ated a photography stu­dio for a few months in 2015, be­fore he ran out of money and closed it. Even now, about a year af­ter he left, it still shows up when search­ing North East on Google Maps — 5 E. Wal­lace Av­enue, right be­hind the cof­fee shop.

Dorsett says he thought a stu­dio would boost his print sales. Un­for­tu­nately, it didn’t. Last year, he notes, he didn’t have the type of Face­book fol­low­ing he has now, and the shop, which is si­t­u­ated in­con­ve­niently off Main Street, went largely un­no­ticed.

And how did he, at 18 years old, have the money for it?

There’s more to know about Dorsett.

BE­GIN­NINGS He was born in An­napo­lis in 1996 to Melissa and Wal­ter Dorsett, and he lived with them, as well as a brother and sis­ter, in Bal­ti­more County un­til his par­ents di­vorced in 2002, and his dad left. In 2005, around the time Dorsett’s grand­par­ents gave him his first cam­era, his mother moved him and his sib­lings to Bal­ti­more City to stay with his aunt while work­ers fin­ished con­struc­tion on their North East home. The fam­ily even­tu­ally moved to Ce­cil County in 2007.

In sixth grade at North East Mid­dle School, Dorsett met Kasey Lee, the woman he now plans to marry. The two started dat­ing in eighth grade and have been to­gether ever since.

“From that point on, I don’t know, we just never felt the need to leave each other,” Lee says out­side her Fam­ily photo from front left to right: Moose the dog, Chris Lee, Donna Marie Clark Lee, Wal­ter Dorsett, Kasey Lee, Shane Lee. Aug. 31.

par­ents’ house on Aug. 31, while the evening sun sinks be­yond the trees along Turkey Point Rd. At this mo­ment, Lee is sit­ting in the re­mem­brance gar­den Dorsett has built for her to honor the up­com­ing an­niver­sary of her grand­mother Drema Clark’s death. When she speaks about how Dorsett would, on his own, visit Clark in hospice, her face bright­ens.

“We’ve made it a long way now, es­pe­cially for only be­ing 20,” she says.

Back when they at­tended North East High School, Dorsett and Lee both joined the Fu­ture Busi­ness Lead­ers of Amer­ica, an or­ga­ni­za­tion de­signed to fos­ter busi­ness skills, and Dorsett served for a time as pres­i­dent. He speaks highly of his ex­pe­ri­ence there and con­sid­ers it im­por­tant to what he’s do­ing now, though he’s not the big­gest fan of school and con­sid­ers per­sonal in­de­pen­dence more im­por­tant than ed­u­ca­tion.

As a 15-year-old, Dorsett be­gan cre­at­ing and grow­ing meme-fo­cused In­sta­gram pages — at least one of which he sold for $10,000 to New York-based com­pany The BLU Mar­ket, and which some­times had more than a mil­lion fol­low­ers when he did (a mes­sage to The BLU

Mar­ket to con­firm or deny this has not been re­turned, but Dorsett says he made sev­eral sales). One such sale, he says, was the In­sta­gram page “ifun­nymeme,” which has 1.1 mil­lion fol­low­ers, and that his last post be­fore hand­ing over the reins came on Nov. 7, 2013.

That fi­nal post is a still of Will Fer­rell from the 2003 film “Elf,” with the text “SMIL­ING’S MY FA­VORITE” spanned across the bot­tom. It has roughly 105,000 likes.

Dorsett says he used some of the money from those sales to buy his cur­rent cam­era equip­ment and his car, a new white Fiat. He also used some of it on the rent for his now­closed photography stu­dio.

He and Lee have lived to­gether at her par­ents’ house for al­most two years — just about since fall 2014, when his mom kicked him out of the house. The evic­tion came as the fi­nal straw in a mother-son re­la­tion­ship that’d been stretched thin in re­cent years.

Ac­cord­ing to Dorsett, his mom (now Melissa Cox af­ter re­mar­ry­ing) over­re­acted to him spend­ing nights with Lee. Ac­cord­ing to Cox, he’d grown into an adult un­will­ing to lis­ten to her rules. In a Sept. 5 phone in­ter­view, she says: “When you’re 18, and you don’t fol­low rules, you have to leave.” She adds that they talk oc­ca­sion­ally and that she’s proud of his work ethic and in­de­pen­dence.

For about a year af­ter he was kicked out, Dorsett says, he strug­gled with de­pres­sion and saw a ther­a­pist reg­u­larly. In the wake of these tur­bu­lent months, he im­mersed him­self in photography like he hadn’t be­fore, and while he had no for­mal train­ing out­side of a class early in high school and one at Ce­cil Col­lege in which he felt con­fined, his tal­ent soon be­came self-ev­i­dent.

“I just want peo­ple to know … that they can work to­ward their dreams or their goals, hav­ing worked through so much stuff,” he says. “It is re­ally, re­ally hard to do, though.”

HORI­ZON LINE As much as Dorsett seems to crave ap­proval, per­haps what he en­joys most is do­ing things for oth­ers. He likes to see peo­ple around him happy. At the Lee house­hold in North East, there are sev­eral ex­am­ples of the projects he’s taken on to please oth­ers.

There’s the re­mem­brance gar­den he de­signed and in­stalled to honor Drema Clark, which in­cludes the let­ters “D-R-E-M-A” run­ning ver­ti­cally down a tree. There’s the base­ment, which he painted and turned into a Bal­ti­more Ravens den be­fore foot­ball sea­son last year. There’s even a small, tarp-cov­ered box ex­ten­sion on his win­dow where his young cat Daisy can perch to look out­side. “[Daisy’s] his baby, his baby gets whatever she wants,” Kasey says.

“He does a lot of things out of the kind­ness of his heart, he re­ally does,” says Chris Lee, Kasey’s fa­ther and a su­per­in­ten­dent at the con­tract­ing com­pany KBR, while sit­ting in their liv­ing room on Aug. 31. It’s an open space with a high ceil­ing, rem­i­nis­cent of a one-room wooden cabin, and tonight the evening news sounds from a TV along the far wall. Sev­eral hunt­ing tro­phies adorn the room, namely a mounted deer head and a stuffed bear (Dorsett has hunted with the fam­ily be­fore, though they say he’s not es­pe­cially in­ter­ested and has never shot any­thing). “Just gen­er­ally a good dude,” Chris says.

“It amazes me right now,” says Kasey’s mother Donna Marie Clark Lee of Dorsett’s new­found suc­cess. “I’m just hop­ing one day some­body comes along and says, ‘Wow, you are amaz­ing,’ you know? I want him to get some­where he de­serves to be.”

It’s easy to see why Dorsett feels com­fort­able here, why he con­sid­ers Chris and Donna Lee his parental fig­ures of note. Donna has run a home day­care out of the house for the last two decades and seen some­thing like 50 kids grow up through that time, she says. The Lees also have well over a dozen pets — cats, a dog and a fox that comes around for food, as well as other smaller crea­tures.

Af­ter talk­ing inside for awhile, we all walk to the back­yard to take a fam­ily photo, and I ask Dorsett to po­si­tion ev­ery­one for what he thinks will make the ideal pic­ture. I ex­pect him to use the dusk’s gold col­or­ing to il­lu­mi­nate his and the Lees’ faces; in­stead, he tells ev­ery­one to turn their backs to the sun, so that long shad­ows stretch out from their feet. The ef­fect is an ethe­real one, with sun­light form­ing a yel­low­ish orb in the up­per right-hand cor­ner.

Half a minute passes, and I tell them I have the pho­tos I need. Dorsett, who I no­tice act­ing antsy in a fa­mil­iar way, asks if he can get me any­thing else. He glances at me, then up at the sky, then to his phone. The sun is, af­ter all, set­ting soon, and bet­ter yet, fore­casts show a light­ning storm headed our way tonight. I tell him no.

He walks quickly be­hind the house, and soon I hear the sound of tires ro­tat­ing over the drive­way.

“He sees things that no one else sees,” Kasey says af­ter he’s gone. “Some­times we’ll go out to sun­set, and I’ll say, ‘It’s a sun­set,’ like I see this ev­ery sin­gle day. And he’s like, ‘No, you don’t see the wa­ter, and the trees, and then the clouds over there?’ … I don’t see that like he does.”

But it’s good that some­one does.


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