I had a rather remarkable weekend, connected to the Black Lives Matter movement and a rally in our hometown, Ada, Oklahoma.
It really kicked off late Friday morning when got a report that some camo-wearing redneck-looking men were hanging out downtown, which fit the social media rhetoric about agitators and radicals bussing in protesters. I talked to them and even tried to bond with them. They interrupted my first sentence with “And you are?” despite my press pass in plain view, then declined to identify themselves, though they did say off the record that they were there to “guard” a local business. If they were armed, it was concealed.
My conclusion was that they were not from Ada, and were there as a provocation by racists. But there wasn’t really a story there. Sure, you and I know who these guys are, but what could I say? Men in a variety of clothing similar to hunting or military attire stand on a public sidewalk? Within a couple of hours, they were gone.
After talking to the camo guys and deciding they weren’t really a story, I walked next door to Gunrunners, our favorite gun store, to see if Darrel Teel, the owner, had anything to say about the situation. The guy behind the counter said, “Darrel passed away last night suddenly.”
I’d known Darrel for 15 years, and Abby had known him for 50 or more years. We liked him, and he knew his guns. Shocked and sorry to hear about this.
I went home and got lunch for Abby and me, and got a few other things done, expecting to work late.
I had some vague ideas about how our Black Lives Matter march would play out, and felt like I was prepared. In addition to my wide angle and telephoto zooms and my phone, I mounted an extra phone (from my office) on the hot shoe of my wide angle camera for video, which worked pretty well.
A lot of journalists have been caught up in violence connected to these recent events, and my wife and a couple of coworkers were nervous about my presence, but I could already feel in the air that it was going to be a positive, peaceful, and meaningful event.
The march started at the “whittling tree,” but as I explained this to my coworkers, they all seemed dumbfounded. Am I the “old man” who remembers stuff from back in the day? You can see the whittling tree in the early parts of the video.
How I felt once it got going really took me by surprise.
It was very hot and humid out. I wore shorts and my “The Ada News” shirt with “PRESS” on the back. As I worked, I would stop and make photos and video, then, because the march was moving at a fair pace, I would run a block and a half to catch up and get in front of it, and do the whole thing all over again. Despite the heat and being loaded with gear, including wearing a Rona mask, I was very pleased with how easy it was, and how quickly my heart rate went back to normal. I’m about to turn 57, so this is significant.
Longtime friend Christine Pappas asked on social media afterwards, “Can I nominate Richard R. Barron for a Pulitzer for this photo?”…
It’s a lovely and flattering sentiment, but the truth is that thousands of journalists like me are making great images of this bellwether moment in history just like I am, and I am honored and humbled to be a small part of it.
Thus the surprising part: at one point during the march, with thousands of human voices, many my friends, crying out in unison for justice, I felt like I was going to break down and cry. I had to take several long, keep breaths just to keep myself in the game. I was just so proud of Ada.
It was also a moment of self-doubt: am I getting to old, too emotional, too vulnerable to do the job of news photographer?
In the end, I found the experience to be one of the most moving and significant I have ever covered.