devonte-hart-family photo free hugs sign

If you have been on social media, or seen any talk about American current events you know there have been protests against the outcome in the Ferguson case, with the jury deciding not to prosecute the policeman who killed a black teen. But did you see the iconic photograph taken by a Portland freelancer that symbolizes everything that is still good in this country? The two people who were captured in that moment (see the photo below) have been showered with well-deserved media attention and praise.

Devonte Hart, an African-American boy who survived an urban childhood that no one should have to bear, was rescued (along with his siblings), adopted and raised by a compassionate caucasian couple who helped him turn his life around. The 12-year-old and his  mom on Nov. 25 attended a protest rally in Portland shortly after the verdict was announced. Devonte planned to engage the crowd with favorite pastime, carrying a sign and offering FREE HUGS.

In a Facebook post, Devonte’s parents, Sarah and Jennifer Hart, told the story behind the photo, which is being called “The hug felt ’round the world”.

“We hit the streets (Nov. 25) with the intention of spreading love and kindness, and to remind (ALL) people that they matter in this world. … I noticed Devonte was struggling. Tears. He wouldn’t speak. He was inconsolable. My son has a heart of a gold, compassion beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, yet struggles with living fearlessly when it comes to the police and people that don’t understand the complexity of racism that is prevalent in our society.”

“He trembled holding a Free Hugs sign as he bravely stood alone in front of the police barricade. Tears rushing from his eyes and soaking his sweater, he gazed upon them not knowing how they would react. After a while, one of the officers approached him and extended his hand.”

“There were generic questions about his favorite subject and what he liked to do in the summer, but the one that mattered hit straight to the heart. He asked Devonte why he was crying. His response about his concerns regarding the level of police brutality towards young black kids was met with an unexpected and seemingly authentic (to Devonte), ‘Yes. *sigh* I know. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.'”

The officer, later identified as Sgt. Bret Barnumthen, then pointed to the sign and asked, “Do I get one of those?”

Freelance photographer Johnny Nguyen captured the moving moment, which was published by The Oregonian newspaper.

(READ more of Devonte’s life story, before the photograph, in a New Zealand article from Nov. 10)


Leave a Reply