Friday, January 11, 2019

The Power of a Picture: Hector by Adrienne Wright

Hector is an ordinary twelve-year-old boy. His weekends are filled with playing soccer, doing chores, watching his favorite movies, and visiting family.

Sometimes Hector runs errands for money for treats and tickets to the movies, and he and his friends spar with each other, using the karate moves they've seen. Sometimes he has to outrun bullies who try to take his money, but mostly he's a happy kid, trying to please his big sister Antoinette.

But when the school is order to teach half of their classes in Afrikaans, the Dutch language of the political leaders of South Africa, some of the students are angry. One chilly day when Hector gets to school, he finds everyone gathering outside in small groups, whispering to each other.

"Why is nobody going to school?" he asks.

Hector and his friends are drawn to the sound of chanting and singing. Everybody is going to Orlando Stadium to protest the new law requiring schools to teach half of their lessons in Afrikaans.

Hector is swept up in the excited activity of the growing crowd.

Hector's big sister Antoinette has heard rumors of the march, and when she hears the noise of the marchers, thousands of them carrying signs and chanting, she fearfully begins to look for her younger brother. In the melee' she spots him, just as tear gas canisters start to explode among the crowd.

"Hector! You shouldn't be here!

We have to get you home! NOW!"

Antoinette tries to make her way toward her little brother, just as the police begin to fire on the marchers. And someone else sees Hector fall, photographer Sam Nzima, who quickly runs toward him.

The police shoot! Sam snaps.

Nothing like this has ever happened in South Africa.

Not to an ordinary boy like Hector.

And Nzima's photo of an ordinary boy being carried by a stranger for help becomes one of the famous images of South African resistance to Apartheid, in author-illustrator Adrianne Wright's forthcoming Hector: A Boy, A Protest, and the Photograph that Changed Apartheid (Page Street Kids, 2019). The struggles against Apartheid were big worldwide news stories, but author Wright's account, told to her by eyewitnesses, is the story of just one boy, an ordinary boy, whose trip to school ended his life, and of a snapshot that helped change his country. Says Wright in her Author's Note, "The richly detailed, first-hand accounts of Hector's life and the events of June 16, 1976, by Dorothy Molefi, Antoinette Sithole and Sam Nzima helped build a distinct picture of how I wanted to tell this story."

June 16 is now a South African holiday, and the Hector Peterson Memorial and Museum in Soweto tells the story "to honor the youth who gave their lives in the struggle for freedom and democracy."

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