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A Bridge to Xanders Crossing

Two years ago I took an image that I consider my “most important photograph.” Even though I consider it my most important, it was not the best picture taken with my camera that day. While I consider photography important, I did something more important than take pictures that day. I handed my camera to a boy while we walked on a bridge.

"Xander's Crossing," a 315-foot long prefabricated steel pedestrian bridge, was opened in San Jose on Friday, September 28, 2012. The bridge is named in honor of Alexander Arriaga, a 2-year-old boy who died after being struck by a train in 2005. (bryan farley)

Two years ago, I wrote about Xander’s Crossing. The bridge connects me to a support group for mothers whose children have died. After my father had committed suicide, I chose to help people who were isolated, and somehow I found myself on this bridge two years ago.

"Xander's Crossing," a 315-foot long prefabricated steel pedestrian bridge, was opened in San Jose on Friday, September 28, 2012. The bridge is named in honor of Alexander Arriaga, a 2-year-old boy who died after being struck by a train in 2005. (bryan farley)

I was also a journalism educator. I knew that journalists were taught to keep their distance when covering stories. I also knew that some training conflicted with the goals of journalism. First, journalists who “kept their distance” were most often the same journalists who invaded families’ personal space. Secondly, journalists who “kept their distance” could not tell an accurate story. They did not have the facts. I hoped to be a “bridge” to journalists and those who were grieving.

"Xander's Crossing," a 315-foot long prefabricated steel pedestrian bridge, was opened in San Jose on Friday, September 28, 2012. The bridge is named in honor of Alexander Arriaga, a 2-year-old boy who died after being struck by a train in 2005. (bryan farley)

In journalism, and especially photojournalism, ribbon cutting ceremonies are usually considered poor picture making opportunities. This time, a young boy cut the ribbon where seven years earlier his younger brother died after being hit by a train. Elijah was preparing to walk over the site where he had witnessed his brother die.

 (bryan farley)

As I handed my camera to Elijah, I took a few photos. Then he took about 26 pictures with my camera. These 26 images belong to Elijah. I edited his photos less than I would my own and I only included them after contacting his mother and gaining permission through her. I only cropped one photo (#16 of 26), and I included the whole series.

 (bryan farley)

People seemed to respond differently to him. Perhaps changing the camera’s focus gives us a chance to see what other people felt. I did not ask how the reporters felt, but I am certain that they all cared. Everyone at the event seemed to want the family to heal. The reporters hoped that the ceremony would be a positive memory. The journalists wanted to believe that the bridge would save lives.

Journalists tell stories like this so that other journalists will not need to tell stories like this.

 (bryan farley)

And then there is this photo. This is a picture of Love. Look at how Elijah’s family, friends and larger community are looking at him. I hope he sees how much people care for him. I hope he feels it.

"Xander's Crossing," a 315-foot long prefabricated steel pedestrian bridge, was opened in San Jose on Friday, September 28, 2012. The bridge is named in honor of Alexander Arriaga, a 2-year-old boy who died after being struck by a train in 2005. (bryan farley)

After Elijah returned the camera, I kept taking pictures and the family kept walking. The ceremony was not quite a celebration. It was eventful. Emotional. Two years later, I was finally ready to look at the pictures again. I am glad I looked, because I was ready to see something I missed the first time.

 

A few quick notes, I often hand my camera to children so that they can feel more part of the process. Usually, most of the photos are returned out of focus. Somehow, all of Elijah’s pictures seem to be in focus. (I might add more in a Notes on a Blog post, but this is enough for now. Also, if you want to see my “most important photo” go to image 31 in this slideshow from two years ago.

Girls Inc Alameda County First Annual Taste

 (bryan farley)

On Saturday September 13th, 2014, I photographed the 1st Annual Taste fundraiser for Girls Incorporated of Alameda County. The main event was held in the Rotunda Building in downtown Oakland. Guests gathered at the Girls Inc. main headquarters across the street before dinner and the live auction. (HERE ARE THE PHOTOS)

 (bryan farley)

I asked to photograph the event. I had photographed the 2012 Women of Taste fundraiser, and I was impressed with the organization. Though the 2014 version of “Women of Taste” was different, I still wanted to contribute. I explained some of my personal reasons in my blog post two years ago. Those reasons still exist.

 (bryan farley)

Before the event, one of my friends asked me why I wanted to photograph this year’s fundraiser. I never know how to answer these types of questions. Usually, I answer honestly, but I omit some of the more compelling reasons. Why was a Women’s Studies major? Why was I a rape prevention educator in college? Those are questions with difficult answers. I can ruin the mood of a good party pretty quickly, and the Girls Inc fundraiser was excellent. I really enjoyed being around people who were committed to improving other people’s lives.

 (bryan farley)

On Friday, President Obama announced a new program called, “It’s On Us” to end sexual assault on campus. When I was a college student, it was on us then. Now many of us are parents and we are raising sons and daughters who might attend college or at least watch football on Sundays. It’s still on us.

It is on us to listen for the tune from the distant hill so that we may help others find freedom. The people in downtown Oakland last Saturday were listening.

Back at Mack to Pay it Back

McClymonds High School (Oakland, California) defeated Salesian High 33-22 on Friday September 12, 2014 in Oakland. McClymonds moves to 3-0 on the season. (bryan farley)

Have you heard the expression Pay it Forward? In the right context, it is actually a nice idea. People deposit acts of kindness into a karma bank, and somehow the universe knows when we need a return favor. Sometimes I “Pay it Forward,” but I did not visit McClymonds High School on September 12, 2014 to Pay it Forward. I am a sports fan who loves history. I will never be able to pay back the McClymonds community for their contributions to sports, art, and civil rights.

McClymonds High School (Oakland, California) defeated Salesian High 33-22 on Friday September 12, 2014 in Oakland. McClymonds moves to 3-0 on the season. (bryan farley)

When I arrived at McClymonds High School in Oakland to photograph the game between the McClymonds High Warriors and the Selesian High Pride from Richmond, I found my friend Coach Joe Cokes. Joe was one of the coaches when my daughter ran track. Coach Joe and I visited the locker room and started taking pictures. Here are my photographs.

McClymonds High School (Oakland, California) defeated Salesian High 33-22 on Friday September 12, 2014 in Oakland. McClymonds moves to 3-0 on the season. (bryan farley)

I have been inside McClymonds several times and each time I am intimidated, and not because of the location, but by the history. In the 1950’s, Bill Russell, Frank Robinson, Curt Flood and Vida Pinson attended McClymonds. Vida Pinson is merely a four time all-star and Golden Glove outfielder, while the other three revolutionized their sports. Pinson was a Major League All-Star and he is a distant fourth on this list.

McClymonds High School (Oakland, California) defeated Salesian High 33-22 on Friday September 12, 2014 in Oakland. McClymonds moves to 3-0 on the season. (bryan farley)

Curt Flood changed professional TEAM sports. (He challenged the reserve clause that kept players with one team.) Bill Russell is one of the greatest basketball players of all-time, arguably the greatest winner in all of team sports. He was the first African-American NBA basketball coach and he was a professional commentator. He won two championships as a college player and 11 as a pro. Frank Robinson won MLB Rookie of the Year, MVP in both leagues, the Triple Crown, and he was the first African-American major league manager (in both leagues.)

McClymonds High School (Oakland, California) defeated Salesian High 33-22 on Friday September 12, 2014 in Oakland. McClymonds moves to 3-0 on the season. (bryan farley)

I find the McClymonds students from the 1950’s especially relevant since you may have heard that “Oakland is the New Brooklyn.” No offense to the people of Brooklyn, but I am a lifelong Dodger fan. I know how this story ends. Star athlete changes the world. The team moves and the city loses its identity and cultural heroes.

McClymonds High School (Oakland, California) defeated Salesian High 33-22 on Friday September 12, 2014 in Oakland. McClymonds moves to 3-0 on the season. (bryan farley)

McClymonds and Oakland have not moved. Why have we forgotten our heroes? How do we pay back Mack?