by Britt Chester

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I came out of this past weekend with very mixed emotions. One the one hand, there are so many fun events to look forward to this week: The Ultimate Painting competition at the Creative Center where artists will be pitted against each other to see who can make the best painting in 20 minutes; General Ink Tattoo Company is having the grand opening of its storefront in Winston-Salem right down the street from Small Batch Beer Company who just celebrated its one year anniversary; Sponge is playing a concert, so there’s a good chance I’ll get to scream “16 candles down the drain” at the top of my lungs (12-year-old me is so happy); Nightcrawler, the movie with Jake Gyllenhaal as the reporter I always pictured myself as, is out in theaters; There’s always a new restaurant to try, and I always look forward to ordering chicken in a different style than what Chick-Fil-A offers.

The enthusiasm and excitement for all that came to a halt when I was scanning my emails yesterday morning and reading about all the violence in our city from this past weekend.

Armed robbery with attempted kidnapping.

People being killed in our streets. Stabbings in clubs. More armed robbery. More homicides. I’m not naïve to the point where I think we live in cities that are void of crime. I know that’s not the case. I know that if I walk down the street at night I am at risk of becoming the victim of armed robbery, or even worse, homicide.

I spent last Friday night at the International Civil Rights Center & Museum on Elm Street. There was an event there that involved some local musicians – The Healing Blues Project – and self-guided tours of the museum. You could also purchase a glass of wine and mingle in the downstairs portion of the museum.

I’d never visited the museum before.

As a child, my mother would always point out the Woolworth’s signage when we’d take trips to the downtown library – a fond memory from my years of innocence.

This past Friday was cold, but not the blustery kind of biting freeze that will inevitably hit us when this Bombogenesis comes swooping in from the west. After the tour of the museum and the concert I decided to stroll around downtown Greensboro. I thought about what it must’ve been like for four black men to walk into a store and demand service after years of rejection. I don’t know that kind of empowerment. I don’t know that kind of confidence.

What I do know that is that kind of confidence doesn’t come from carrying a gun. That kind of confidence doesn’t come from inflicting pain on others.

To me, that kind of confidence comes from within. It’s a deep understanding of what it means to be a human and what it means to believe so strongly in something that no one anywhere can tell you otherwise.

I wasn’t in downtown Greensboro when the shooting occurred at Lewis and Elm streets. I read about it in the news the following day and YES! Weekly received some photographs from someone who happened to be on the scene when it happened. The photos are scattered throughout this issue, as I’m sure you’ll see, and are equally as heart wrenching as you’d expect.

And you know what’s kind of sick? I love photographs like this. I love looking at them and not having a clue as to how much emotion is captured in that moment. As a photojournalist myself, capturing moments like that are few and far between. It’s being able to step outside of yourself for just the moment it takes your shutter to open and close that you are able to not feel human, if only for that moment. In my experience, it isn’t until I’ve loaded them onto my computer and view them, err, re-experience that moment, that I see exactly what was happening at the time. It’s a disgusting pride, but an honest emotion, albeit after the fact.

I do not strive to not feel human – quite the opposite – but at times it isn’t easy to see that much pain and do nothing. I’ve been in the middle of protests where people were shot by rubber bullets and we were pepper sprayed; I’ve laid in the street with homeless people to learn what it’s like to live like them; I’ve seen dead bodies on riverbanks; I’ve received calls from friends telling me about other friends who died of drug overdoses, died driving while intoxicated, or were found stabbed behind an abandoned house.

It’s sad, but somewhat comforting, that there is one thing we can all connect on, and that is grieving and mourning.

I left the Civil Rights Museum with this idea that so much of that ugliness was behind us. That building has emotional history in it. Although there was a tour guide speaking about the persons and actions, the silence was heavier on the ears. The images were true portraits of our past. The images told stories that many are ashamed to discuss. But photographs, true photographs, do not lie. In my naiveté, I pictured the museum providing this umbrella of peace in Greensboro, but that is just that, naïve.

The pictures you see from Friday night in downtown Greensboro capture emotion that you cannot fake.

They are images that, as a photographer, I strive for, but as a human, I hope to never have to see. But that’s life. !