Is It Worth It

As I lay in a hotel room, secluded from the world around me I begin to question is this all worth it?

When I first started this journey to find the truth I never thought I would end up where I am today. I set out to film in a town that I didn’t know and more importantly they didn’t know me. I kept to myself. I didn’t exist and I was fine with that. The more I began to film the more I began to question the events that were happening around me. The more I dug into these unanswered questions the more I started to uncover a city that was secretly filled with hate but publicly encouraged it. If my city had so much hate in it, were there other cities that felt the same way, or was this just a one off situation? Before I started filming I would have said that there was no way that racism was this big in our country. It was just individuals who had a certain set of beliefs that were engrained in them by generations before them, but it surely couldn’t be everyone. I wanted everyone to see what I was seeing. Maybe then it could be changed if it was just a few individuals.

As I began seeing things with brand new eyes I paid closer attention to what was happening in cities around me and cities across the country. I thought there is no way, this can’t be happening. I began to travel to nearby cities and documenting more. Only to find this wasn’t one off situations or individuals. This was a far greater problem.

Racism was something I read about in school. I had to think back to my own life and my own experience and did this word, this belief, this way of life, have an impact on me. The more I thought about my childhood and growing up in white suburbia I realized these beliefs had always been around me, closer than I thought they had.

I realized that as I was documenting different groups of protestors I stayed very quiet and very guarded. I closed off emotions and feelings towards these groups as a whole. I moved slowly within the groups of people with grace. It’s funny hearing people describe the way I move when I film. The more time I spent with them though, I would find a smile would creep up out of nowhere. I would witness something beautiful between people. As I began documenting people’s stories, there was this sadness that filled every inch of my heart. It wasn’t only sadness from the stories I was told, but sadness that the outside world would never hear these stories. The world would never see the love they had for one another, the compassion, the welcoming nature to an outsider. The world would not see the laughter, joy, the smiles, the tears, the frustration…the beauty. This is what the world needed to see.

The more I tried to film this side of humanity the more the hate came. The funny thing is that the hate wasn’t only directed at the protestor, it was directed at me. The more I tried to make sure people saw the truth about what was happening the more accusations that I was biased and showing a one sided narrative would get thrown at me. More denial and hate, that what I filmed wasn’t the truth, even though I can’t edit a live video. The more I tried to correct people and show the truth, the more the attacks would come. Hundreds of people would join together to lead smear campaigns against me, give out personal information about where I lived, make every attempt to discredit anything I said and also everything I filmed. Those who were closest to me lead these attacks. I’m at a point where I’ve had to leave my day job, leave my second home since this all started. I have no address now. I don’t exist. I’m a ghost that appears when that camera gets turned on. And the hate just keeps coming, stronger and stronger every day.

Every time I go out whether to film or even just to observe for a story later, I end up finding something beautiful in each situation. I’ve been fortunate to see a lot of beauty that most will never see because they refuse to see it. Back to where I started though, is this worth it? I’m sacrificing so much to the point I’ve lost everything, to the point I may not be able to see my son who I haven’t seen in months. Material things I can get back, but him….I can’t go to any store to replace. I lay here and the question just keeps playing in my head. This isn’t even my fight. Remember, they didn’t know me, and I didn’t know them.

I have an hour to get to an event, it’s time to get up and get ready. But my routine is not like yours. It’s very different. I put on my thermal pants and cargo pants. I put on a thermal shirt, my company long sleeve shirt and my company hoodie that is labeled “PRESS”. I grab my hip bag and make sure all necessary cords are in there, body cams, snacks, pens etc. I wrap it around my leg so it’s snug. Next I grab my bullet proof vest. I clip it on and make sure it fits snug around me. Let me tell you, wearing this thing not only for events but also anytime I leave the house is really uncomfortable to wear all day long. I make sure the molle bag attached has my portable battery chargers and main cords ready to go. I attach my body cam. Next is my backpack that is filled with first aid supplies, water, more snacks, my helmet and a rain jacket. Throw on my face shield and hat. This has become my new normal. I look in the mirror and I’m not quite sure who is looking back at me. I’m no longer me. I take a deep breath. Bury my emotions. I pray that today will be peaceful, that no one will get hurt, and more importantly that I come back to this hotel room tonight. For me, I’m never confident that I will come back. For me the realistic possibility of death is one I consistently have to be ok with. I exit the room and make my way to the elevator. Once I reach the first floor the elevator doors open and I step out into the lobby. The hotel clerks smile because they know I’m headed out to film another part of history and elevate voices that share their same skin color. I’m now viewed as an Ally by this side and an Enemy to the other side that I was once part of.

As I make my way to the vestibule I see a young boy who I’ve seen around the hotel before. Today my interaction with him would be different. He has never seen me look the way I look today. I walk passed him and say “Hey Buddy”. He says “hey” back. As I walk through the first set of doors, he stops me. “Can I ask you a question?” he asks. I reply back to him “Of Course”. He asks me “do you write the kind of stories where you put a fake dollar on the ground and watch how people react?” A tear filled my eyes and I smiled back at him. For a moment I wondered where this tear and smile came from. I left all that back in the hotel room. I didn’t know what to say to him or how to say it once I knew. How would I talk to my son, I thought if he had asked this question? I knelt down and said “I wish I wrote those kind of stories, they would be more fun than the ones I do write”. He asked “so what kind do you write?” I hesitated for a moment and with both eyes filled with tears I asked him “if he knew about what happened in Kenosha and knew about why people were marching down the streets everywhere in the country”. He said “yes, I’ve seen it”. I asked him if he “knew what it meant?” He said “I think it’s because there are some people who don’t like me because I’m black”. I felt a tear slowly run down my cheek. He asked “if I was sad”. I said “yes buddy, I am”. “The type of stories I write are about people who have my skin color that don’t like people who have your skin color. I write stories about that so that everyone knows that’s not ok. The same as you and I are friends is the same way that grown ups should be treating each other. They need to stop being mean to each other. I investigate police departments and some of the bad police officers and make sure everyone knows that those police are bad so that our good police officers can be safer. I do it so that you can be safe if you need to go to the police for help. I film people marching down the streets that are upset with people being mean to them so that everyone can hear their voice in hopes that they will never need to scream and yell again. I write stories like this because I want you and my son to live in a world where you are friends and live in a place where you don’t have to be scared. Those are the type of stories I write buddy”.

As I stood up, he looked at me and said “Thank You” and then he hugged me. I watched as he ran to catch up with his family. I took a deep breath and swallowed all those emotions back down because I had a job to do. Going out with emotions will get me killed. As I pull away, I become that person I saw in the mirror. I’m no longer me. I’m a ghost that floats in the shadows. No one will ever know me. But the question, “Is This Worth It” has been answered through a young boys “Thank You”.