Chasing the Diaspora: Day 3

Photo by Hillery Smith Shay- James Perkins in front of the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama. Sept 2000

Use your resources.

As a photographer for the Associated Press, I was asked to go on a sensitive assignment. The first Black Mayor of Selma, Alabama was due to be sworn in and the Associated Press had been denied access to him any time before the swearing-in due to death. The National photo editor at that time looked at the resources on her staff to see who would have the best chance of making contact with the Mayor-Elect by just showing up on his doorstep. She called on me. I was one of only two African-American female photographers at the AP at this time and regionally I was the closest. Some might say this is wrong or her choice to use the benefits of my ability to seem less threatening in this situation was exploitative, but I do not agree. I was the best tool for the clearly racially charged situation at hand.

I arrived in Selma unannounced on a Friday evening. Checked into my hotel put on some comfortable clothes, grabbed one camera body and went to the home of James Perkins. I knocked on the door his wife answered. I explained both who I was and the long shot I was taking. She smiled and invited me in for coffee. While Mr. Perkins was not home, his wife made a quick assessment of the sincere soul on her porch and I was allowed to stay and document the family for the entire weekend access not granted to any other news outlet. I have no doubt that my being Black, and understanding the sensitive nature of this historical city electing its first Black mayor, made this situation successful.

By using our resources, we made our target comfortable. We sent in someone who could gain acceptance quickly and produce results. This is a great approach for multicultural marketing. Use your resources.

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