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Zimmerman verdict causes local musician to go back in time

29th July 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

If you change the human heart the culture will follow.
– Buddha

When it was announced that George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the murder of Trayvon Martin, many people felt a great need to react in some way. There were those who responded with fist-shaking anger during protests around the country, others offered silent prayer, some cried and still others gave a resigned nod that reasonable doubt was not proved or regretfully unprovable. An abundance of the population was simply terribly saddened by the tragic loss of an innocent, 17-year-old Black boy who went to the store and never returned home.

Joseph Crachiola learned of the outcome of the trial on his cell phone. He, like so many who heard the news, desired to do something to display his deep emotional response. Crachiola, a photographer originally from Detroit who in 2009 retired in New Orleans, immediately thought of a photo he had taken back in 1973 for the Macomb Daily. The image, which hangs on his dining room wall, shows a group of young, happy, African-American and white children joyfully playing together. The next morning, he posted the photo on Facebook.

The photograph, as they say, went viral and the original post has thus far received more than a million and a half hits. Articles about the picture, Crachiola and its subjects have appeared in numerous news outlets including The Huf­fington Post and publications from as far away as London’s Daily Mail. He and his subjects have been featured on television and radio shows including the prestigious NPR “Morning Edition.”

It’s not unusual to see children or images of children of various races playing together. So why did Crachiola’s picture—though beautiful—hit so hard and so close to the heart? One could conjecture that it stood as a symbol of innocence in a troubled time.

“The picture has always spoken to me about those questions—the question of when we do lose our innocence and when do we begin making judgments based on race or gender?” Crachiola speculates. “It’s always meant that to me personally. The only thing I can guess, and I’m partly going on what other people have said to me, is the timing. When I posted the photo, it was what was on people’s minds so that it just resonated with so many of them.”

“I think I remember a little bit of it (Crachiola taking the picture),” says Robert Shelly, 46, who is Black and lives just 15 minutes away from Mt. Clemens, Michi­gan, a suburb of Detroit, where the photograph was taken back in 1973. “My sister and I used to play outside all the time. Back then, I was only six years old, I didn’t know anything about any racial profiling. Today, you have a little tension—you’re steppin’ on eggshells now if you say something wrong to somebody.”

Naturally, Shelly understands that how and where one was raised plays an important part in racial attitudes, while he points out the significance of peer pressure.

“It (prejudice) ain’t born in you that’s for sure,” he states adamantly. “It’s your surroundings and how you were brought up and the people you hang with. That becomes a part of it too. Like gangs: Kids are brought up with no father figure or mother figure so the gangs might be your parents. So you go with what they do or what they say.”

Chris Macool, a young, happy white subject of the photo who now lives in Sealy, Texas, des­cribes himself as an “Army brat.” Through his travels he was exposed to people of many races. His sister Kathy, whose smile was also captured by Crachiola’s lens, was born in Tokyo, Japan.

Macool, whose most vivid recollection of the time is playing with the pictured grocery cart, agrees that the reason the photo touched so many people so strongly is be­cause it was posted immediately following the verdict that found Zimmerman not guilty of young Trayvon’s murder. “That’s what people are reacting to,” he says.

Macool explains that he is teaching his seven-year-old boy and 10-year-old girl what he was taught.

“There is no color—everybody is the same color,” Macool declares. “Nobody in my family is prejudiced—nobody. We all have to get along. Yes, you’re going to have some people out there who are going to be crazy but that doesn’t mean you have to be crazy.”

When it comes to what might change a once innocent, accepting child into an person wary of people of races other than their own, both Shelly and Macool, one Black man and one white man, express a similar view.

“It only takes one person to set the trigger on that,” Macool offers. “Somebody might have had somebody that turned on them and hurt them real bad. From there on it’s like, ‘That’s it, no more. I’m not going to like any Hispanic people or I’m not going to like any Black people.’ And that’s wrong too. Just because one is like that, doesn’t mean the rest are like that.”

“That’s a really touching picture,” says Shelly of Crachiola’s 1973 photograph. “And people say to me, ‘Wow, I guess we can get along.’ I tell them ‘Yeah, we all can, but some people don’t wanna act right.’”

Crachiola, who in New Orleans is most recognized as a saxophonist and a guitarist who has played with such artists as the Tremé Brass Band and harmonica man/vocalist J.D. Hill, has enjoyed reuniting with the subjects of his photo.

“It was fun,” he immediately responds. “At first it felt a little strange to hear the adult voices. I’ve been looking at these children’s faces all these years. I felt like I’ve known them forever. They were very upbeat about the whole thing. They were surprised by getting all this attention (including from their hometown newspapers and television stations) about something that they hadn’t thought about in all these years.”

“He did it in a really good way,” says Macool of Crachiola expressing his emotions on the verdict and the senseless death of Trayvon Martin by posting the photo.

“I’m just happy and grateful for all this positive response for something that seemed so simple,” Crachiola says.

This article originally published in the July 29, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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