I want Ross Oscar Knight to come home to Pensacola.
But I understand why he might not particularly want to.
Knight is an awesomely gifted photographer -- a visual anthropologist really -- whose work in destination, wedding and fine art photography has drawn praise and accolades from all corners.
His search for a way to link art with ethical behavior and community responsibility led him to travel the globe, lecture at Emory University in Atlanta and organize this year’s Knight Photo Walk, set for Nov. 9 in Washington, D.C.
Now based in Atlanta, Knight left corporate America in 2007, where he was an engineer by training working with marketing and small business development. When he was a student in the International Baccalaureate program at Pensacola High School he wanted to be a photographer, but “people told me there was no money in that, and I listened.”
He quit listening, went to follow his passion and now is combining arts and service in exciting ways. For proof, visit www.rossoscarknight.com
So when he began to peck around for places to have his first hometown showing, he went with First City Arts Center. The center, which grew from the Belmont Arts Center, suits his interest in promoting the links between arts and community and was a major coup for First City where his work spent much of October on exhibit.
He wanted to exhibit for a month or so, says First City executive director Meredith Doyen, and First City was able to offer that when other, larger venues wouldn’t.
When I asked him if there was anything that would make him come back to Pensacola to do more than visit, he was polite, but the answer was no.
To be sure he was pleased to see the progress being made in downtown Pensacola, along Palafox Street, the waterfront and elsewhere.
Atlanta is his home now, and the city’s rich and deep multicultural diversity is a powerful draw keeping him there.
When Knight visits his dad, who still has a house at H and Gadsden streets, and they roam the city, his father remembers the parts of town where not so many years ago, he wouldn’t have been welcomed.
Parts of town where he might of have been eyed carefully just for walking the sidewalk or taking a drive.
That climate still exists for some members of the community who feel like the eyes of law enforcement look upon them differently than they do others.
Business owners Jay and Nash Patel went to Escambia County Commissioners this week to air their concerns that they were mistreated by Escambia Sheriff’s deputies called to investigate a burglary.
The Patels say they believe the color of their skin played a role in the way deputies treated them. Sheriff David Morgan says his deputies acted appropriately given that they were met with hostility by the Patels when they arrived on the scene.
Alone, such an incident might be attributable to tempers being hot and patience being thin.
But complaints about the use of force and race have intersected before in this community. Too often in fact for the 21st century.
Roy Middleton believes his race was a factor in the way deputies responded to the July 27 incident at his home.
Middleton was shot by deputies while rummaging for a cigarette in his mother’s car at night. A neighbor thought someone was trying to steal the car and called 911. Deputies say Middleton didn’t respond quickly enough to their instructions, that they couldn’t see what he hand in his hands and one deputy unloaded his clip at the 60-year-old Middleton, hitting him twice in the leg.
Race wasn’t a factor, but class most likely was at the Warrington home of Cristina Moses and Travis Nicholas this summer, when deputies entered their home without a warrant searching for a suspect and shot the couple's two dogs, killing one.
Whether police want to admit it or not, lots of folks feel like they are being judged by the color of their skin, rather than the content of their character. It must be addressed through sensitivity training and use-of-force training, as a grand jury that reviewed the Middleton incident suggested.
Even more folks cannot believe this is a conversation we are still having in 2013. Especially Millennials and Gen-Xers, whose sense of social equality, multiculturalism and tolerance is high and whose patience with those who don’t exhibit the same is low.
If we don’t acknowledge and address this, we shouldn’t be surprised when young professionals of color like Ross Knight don’t do more than visit their old hometown.