Saturday, November 29, 2014

The hug shared 'round the world

On November 25, 2014, several thousand people gathered in Portland, OR, to voice opinions about the Ferguson, MO incident. Among the protesters was young Devonte Hart, seen here with Portland Police Sgt. Bret Barnum.

According to his adoptive parents, Sarah and Jennifer Hart, Devonte has a heart of gold but struggles to live fearlessly around police and people who don't understand the complexity of racism. He trembled and cried until his sweater was wet with tears as he stood alone in front of the police barricade holding a sign that said "free hugs," unsure how police would react. Sgt. Barnum saw him crying and called him over to ask why. After a short chat, Barnum looked at Devonte's sign and said, "Do I get one of those?" That's when freelance photographer Johnny Nguyen caught this picture, which attracted worldwide attention. But who is Devonte Hart?

Devonte was born 12 years ago with drugs pumping through his body. By the time he was four, he had smoked, consumed alcohol, handled guns, been shot at, and suffered severe abuse and neglect. He knew only a few words, including the F-word and the S-word. He was a violent toddler with many disabilities, until Jen and Sarah adopted him and his two siblings seven years ago.

"I felt there was no way we could raise this child," Jen admits, "but something was pulling at my heart." Surrounded by unconditional love, patience and acceptance, Devonte defied all odds and grew into a generous, kind, charismatic young man. "He inspires me every day," says Jen. "He's proven the doctors, psychologists and teachers wrong. People often tell us how lucky he is that we adopted him, but we most certainly are the lucky ones. He's living proof that our past does not dictate our future."

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