StoryCorps: A Story Of Friendship Behind An Iconic Ferguson Photo Jamell Spann and Elizabeth Vega protested in Ferguson, Mo., after the shooting death of Michael Brown. A comforting response in a moment of rawness, immortalized in an iconic photo, led to friendship.
NPR logo

'What You Did Changed Me': Ferguson Protesters Found Friendship Amid Unrest

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/749079291/749659153" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'What You Did Changed Me': Ferguson Protesters Found Friendship Amid Unrest

'What You Did Changed Me': Ferguson Protesters Found Friendship Amid Unrest

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/749079291/749659153" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps. Five years ago, demonstrators made their way to the Ferguson, Mo., police department to protest the shooting of a black teenager named Michael Brown. A local photographer captured a moment when the lives of two strangers became entwined. The photo shows a young African American man. His face is twisted in anguish, tears running down his cheeks. Next to him, an older Latina reaches up to comfort him, resting her hand on his shoulder. The picture would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Those two strangers - Jamell Spann, now 26, and Elizabeth Vega, 52 - came to StoryCorps to remember that pivotal moment and the friendship that grew from it.

ELIZABETH VEGA: We're on the sidewalk, and the police were advancing on us in full riot gear. And I remember tears streaming down your face, fists clenched as you were naming off all the people that had been beaten by the police that you knew. It was a raw, real moment, and I just put my hand on your chest. I don't know why I did that, but that just felt like the right and human thing to do. What did you think when you saw the photo?

JAMELL SPANN: I said I ain't like it because I feel like what everybody perceived was this vulnerable black guy. And where I come from, that shouldn't be taken as vulnerable. That was warrior spirit to have love and righteous anger that is in your body and your soul awakened in you. And that feeling has lasted for five years.

For a lot of black men that grew up in St. Louis, we watched each other die a lot. I didn't know Mike Brown, but I knew how it felt to, like, watch somebody die, you know what I'm saying?

There is no one person that I feel like anyone can talk to to truly understand what happened in those initial nights and how it feels as people who still live here in this city.

VEGA: I don't know if you know this, but you changed my life that day.

SPANN: I'd definitely say our relationship and what you did changed me - that calling that we couldn't explain that drove us to each other. I didn't want to feel like I needed help.

VEGA: And now...

SPANN: I appreciate it because I see that it's - like, without it, a family or a village isn't sustainable. There needs to be more than just swords and shields. You need blankets and hugs, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF SNAKE OIL'S "BLACK BAND OF WATER")

MARTIN: Jamell Spann and Elizabeth Vega - they met in the days after the death of Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Mo. Their interview will be archived, along with hundreds of thousands of others at the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF SNAKE OIL'S "BLACK BAND OF WATER")

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.