Growing up a white, middle class kid in a rural Arkansas town, I was exposed to the “N-word” on a daily basis. I grew up watching events like the Rodney King beating and the O. J. Simpson trial and listening to adults verbally assault the black people on television and in our community.There were black students at my school, but you did not dare associate with them for fear of the consequences. I was a senior in high school before I had a black friend.
Fast-forward a few years and a few pounds to another rural town. This time it is located in central Louisiana.
Shooting for the Lagniappe (the yearbook) at Louisiana Tech, I found myself uneasy and photographing what I was afraid might be my own death.
I had traveled in the middle of the night to Jena. I arrived before 5 a.m. to find a ghost town. It was much like a town before a hurricane – quiet and empty.
Moments after my arrival the buses began to roll into town. Long before daylight, people were making their voices heard underneath the live oaks at the LaSalle Parish Courthouse.
The only light on them was from the many television networks set up across the street. When the sun awoke, so did the people. Their numbers grew exponentially and I found myself increasingly in awe of what I was witnessing.
People by the thousands were here to make a statement with peace. They were not cowards by hanging things from trees, but heroes and upstanding people who were trying to make a difference for not only six kids but also for an entire race.
I met many great people from all over this country that hung onto one thing: hope. When I left Jena that evening, I had my photographs and I had met many amazing people.
However, Mychal Bell still sat in jail. I learned that racism will not go away in just one September afternoon, but persistence is key. If another rally is needed, I encourage you to go and help not only the Jena Six but the human race as a whole.
Never have I been more impressed by a group of people, no matter their color. The fact that 50,000 people can organize themselves to show not only Jena, but also the whole world, that racism is still alive and justice must be granted is a testament to the power of people and the human spirit.
To the Grambling students who made the trip to Jena to stand up for the ones whose voices cannot be heard – take pride in your actions. You not only made history, but you won the heart and the mind of a white, middle class kid from rural Arkansas.