As photos around the web show images of nationwide protests in reaction to the events in Ferguson, Missouri, one particular image has received widespread attention.
Earlier this week, freelance photographer Johnny Nguyen captured a photo of 12-year-old Devonte Hart during a Ferguson-related rally in Portland, Oregon.
Hart, an African-American boy, was holding a sign that read “Free Hugs,” and the image Nguyen took shows Hart with tears streaming down his face while in a heartfelt hug with a white police officer.
“It was an interesting juxtaposition that had to be captured. It fired me up,” Nguyen told The Huffington Post on Sunday. “I started shooting and before I knew it, they were hugging it out. I knew I had something special, something powerful.”
Nguyen said the photo has since been shared more than 400,000 times on Facebook and reposted on more than 68,000 Tumblr accounts.
According to The Oregonian, which was the first outlet to publish the photo, the officer pictured in the image is Portland Police Sgt. Bret Barnum, who reportedly saw Hart holding his sign and called him over to engage in a quick conversation about the protest, school and life.
Barnum then asked Hart for a hug — and it was during this moment that Nguyen captured the touching photo that he shared with the world.
“I’ve been told this photo has become an icon of hope in regards to race in America,” Nguyen said.
“Prior to that day, I would scroll through the Internet and see the photos of images out of Ferguson, which all showed some violence and anger — some even to the point of hatred and destruction. This was the first photo I saw that showed something positive. It showed humanity.”
Following the protest, Hart’s parents — Sarah and Jen Hart — wrote a Facebook post that detailed more about their son and the events that led to the moment captured in the photo.
“My son has a heart of a gold, compassion beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, yet struggles with living fearlessly when it comes to the police and people that don’t understand the complexity of racism that is prevalent in our society,” the post read. “It was one of the most emotionally charged experiences I’ve had as a mother.”
As the photo continues to spread across the web, Nguyen said he hopes it will provide some people with a sense of peace along with a message of love and compassion.
“In order to move on and progress toward real change, we need every reason for hope that can be garnered,” he said.
“We all have hurt in our heart but we have to turn that hurt into hope, hope for humanity. We need to find a way to come together and find a common ground and find peace.”
In doing so, Nguyen reflects on one particular quote from civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. that he believes really drives the message home.
“MLK once said: ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.'” Nguyen recited. “I think that’s what my photo has done.”