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I recently posted on my personal Tumblr feed the portrait included in this post of a pastor who had travelled to Ferguson to protest. It garnered a fair amount of likes and reblogs from other Tumblr followers but for perhaps reasons I did not intend when sharing. Not that those who reblogged or favorited the post are inconsiderate, but it is in vogue now to define oneself by way of association and those associations can be easily shared via social media. In short, I don’t know how many people took into consideration the power of the portrait before showing their allegiance to a general protest of racial discrimination. That is likely not because people are less than thoughtful (or at least capable of being thoughtful) but perhaps the nature of fast paced social media and as well, my collusion of that by only briefly sharing what I found to be compelling about the photograph.

With that in mind, I wanted to share a bit more about what it is I believe to be strong about the photograph and as well, promote by consideration of the photograph and others like it, a sense of empathy. At the root of all the reblogging and favoriting of social media posts is I believe, although perhaps a bit too casual, an attempt to be if not empathetic, then to align oneself with what one considers to be right. But whereas liking a post is one thing, expressing one’s empathy towards another human being by action is another. And taking action is what Reverend Renita Lamkin did when she decided to put on a bandana just the same as her fellow protestors.

I decided to reach out to Reverend Lamkin and ask if she would be willing to share a bit about her time in Ferguson. Reverend Lamkin is from St. Louis and she had actually not seen the portrait before I sent it to her nor had she read the piece in which it was originally included (here). Google her name and you might find that not only did she protest by way of wearing a bandana and posing for a portrait but she also attempted to mediate between the police officers of Ferguson and the protestors. Her attempt to bring dialogue to the protest resulted in her being shot by a rubber bullet.

Reverend Lamkin was gracious enough to exchange a few emails with me and we spoke specifically about the photograph as it was my intent to discuss specifically the power of the photograph. As I mentioned, she had not seen it and so this was the first time she had the opportunity to give it any consideration. She said, “when I saw the picture I felt a bit emotional” because as she put it, the men in the photograph, to her left ShawnyB and her right, RonRon “let me be a part of their crew.” I asked her about why she wore the bandana, why she posed for the photograph.

“The masks [were] to protest the hidden identity of the officer who shot Brown and the hidden identity of the police on the lines—their badges do not have numbers. The other reason they wore the bandanas was to protect themselves if they were spontaneously gassed–which had become a realistic fear. I joined their protest because several adults [of a local clergy group who had sponsored a march and rally] were yelling at them and demanding that they remove their bandanas. No one asked them why they were wearing them–these same people are the ones who say that the youth have to be listened to. They were being told how disrespectful they were and how they were creating an uncomfortable atmosphere for others (although they had already been out for two days in their bandanas without incident).

I masked up to stand in solidarity with their right to protest in the way
that meant something to them.
I masked up to validate their intelligence, depth and passion.
I masked up to tell them that not all clergy were the same.
I masked up to protest against the stereotypes and presumptions that divide us from within.”

When Reverend Lamkin decided to pose for the photograph, and although it might have been a quick decision to do so, it was an act of protest. The photograph itself, is an act of protest. It evoked a response even if only a slightly superficial one on social media. But more importantly it brings into question our ideas of who is and who is not threatening. The photograph evokes a response because it addresses our differences and hopefully we act to reconcile that which cannot be changed but can, as evidenced by Reverend Lamkin, be respected.