31 comments

“Single-file! Whoa, buddy, back up. Around the barrier. Everyone, Single-file!”


The line captain herded us like cattle, directing traffic toward four separate sound stages. I didn’t expect a mixed team of volunteers and police to handle such a diverse crowd of thousands at the Houston rally.


“How did they organize all this in three days?” I asked my friends, who had talked me into videotaping the event. Justine and Paula showed off for the camera, blowing kisses in full body paint. Justine flashed her body, covered in an ocean of metallic blue with white stars. And Paula boasted patriotic red and white stripes from head to toe.


“What are YOU supposed to represent?” A precinct guard barked at Justine, while men in tactical gear whistled and howled their catcalls at them.


“We’re with Antifa!” Paula taunted back. She shuffled Justine away from the line of ogling fans headed the other way, toward the Veteran stage. The men hooted and waved their MAGA hats from across the roped off barrier, saluting the two gorgeous girls wearing nothing but red, white and blue.


I caught the chaos on video: Trump supporters waved their flags, chanting “Trump 2020!” Crowds of marchers touted signs that covered all colors of the political spectrum, from Black Lives Matter to Blue Lives Matter. While punks and anti-racist skinheads took the “Free Speech” stage across the street.


Separated by ranks of National Guardsmen, officers in uniform ushered the Patriots away from the Anarchists. Yellow police barricades marked the thin line between civil protest and World War III.


I only came to videotape the Art Memorial, taking place behind City Hall. But Justine and Paula planned to be part of the action.

“Don’t you dare mess with those maniacs!” I called to them, unable to hold back my best friends, and capture the crowds at the same time. I couldn’t care less about mobs of militants and anarchist trolls, threatening each other online, or on the streets. Any fool can wage war!


I cared more about real leaders who could make peace. They impressed me more. True community leadership inspired me to film this circus. Not for the show, but the greater message taking shape.


I was proud to hear how volunteers teamed up with BLM and ALM to create a historic art project. In total, they collected ten thousand cans for spray painting a 100-foot portrait of George Floyd to send to the White House as a national tribute.


I searched the grounds, hoping to interview the mural artists, Ronnie and Rena Allen. These artists in residence designed the panels, numbered by color for the crowds to fill in, signing their names and messages of peace from the Third, Fourth and Fifth Wards of Houston.


My camera panned the park of peaceful artists, painting side by side, while music blasted from the stage. I turned toward the direction of “World Wars III and IV,” brewing across the street from City Hall.


And ran smack into someone’s fist.


“Ow! FU--” I almost cussed. A black eye was the last thing I needed. From my own camera.


“Watch where you’re going!” A teen punk in a black mask yanking the scope from my grasp. And slapped the daylights out of me, with all the weight his masculinity could muster. 140 pounds?


“You watch it, Pee Wee!” Paula jumped out of nowhere, as Justine wrestled with him for my camera.


“No cameras past this line!” The tattooed punk yelled at us. “Can’t you read the signs?”


 “Or what?” Justine laughed at him. “You’ll call the cops? While you hide behind your mask?”


His jaw dropped when he realized Justine and Paula weren’t wearing anything at all!


“We’re not taking pictures of you. Don’t worry!” I grabbed my camera and ran. “C’mon!”


We quickly dodged across the street, behind the barriers surrounding City Hall, where Veterans and Patriots flocked to rally for police, Trump, and everything great about America.


“You’ll be safer on this side,” I pleaded with my friends. “Promise me you’ll stay out of trouble! You can’t afford to get thrown in jail. With nothing on you but body paint!”


“You’re no fun!” Justine laughed in my face. “Those Antifa guys? Under their masks, they’re all pussies!”


Paula chimed in, “We’re not scared of cops. We have nothing to hide!”


They high-fived and ran off to join the patriotic crowd.


I imagined I’d see them later. Stage-diving on the eleven o’clock news. I shook my head and sighed. Couldn’t wait to see that story!


I adjusted my settings and panned past the flags and fanfare, across the steps of City Hall. And back to the teams of artists, on the ground, working diligently to meet their deadline.


Eight hours and forty-six minutes.


That’s all the time they had to finish the portrait, in honor of Floyd and the eight or nine minutes he took his last breaths, caught on video that made history.


The footage incited outrage across the nation. But inspired me to spotlight the positive side of history in the making. I wanted my message to be uplifting.


To focus on creative solutions, and the impact of art on rebuilding communities. I wanted to capture the artists at work.


“There you are, Congratulations!” I startled Rena and Ronnie, both flustered. He gestured wildly and walked off, to finish a clearly urgent phone call.


“Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.” I apologized for the bad timing.

Rena turned to me, “Do you have a cell phone I can borrow?” She looked worried.


“Sure.” I was glad to help. I put down my camera and handed her my phone.


The project was running two hours behind. Depending how dark it got, the team might not finish.


“If the driver can’t leave until 2 p.m., that’s too late. It’s cutting too close!” I overheard Ronnie, asking to bus in art students from his Fourth Ward magnet program.


Rena tried to contact the stage manager for the “Free Speech” rally. If they could announce over the speakers for artists to come paint, a few dozen more hands might save the day.


Unfortunately, nobody answered their calls for backup in time. Rena handed me my phone, and waited to see if Ronnie had better luck.


“Let me call some friends,” I offered, “at the other stage.”

Rena looked at me strangely, with no idea what I was thinking.


Apparently, I didn’t know what I was thinking either!


Justine and Paula answered the call within minutes. Bringing over seventy men in uniform, including police, riflemen in camouflage, Trump and MAGA diehards. And maybe some Antifa. 


Rena’s jaw dropped. And so did Ronnie’s phone.


“We heard you needed help to finish the painting to send to Trump at the White House?”


The Chief of Police asked the artists in charge where to station his men, while a patriotic crew of volunteers followed their instructions. As if they were on military time.


I couldn’t believe what my camera lens captured.


Side by side with the other painters, the Patriots filled in the blank panels to complete the picture.


“You mean we can even sign: Go Trump! God Bless America!” asked one older Veteran, expecting firm rejection.


“Yes!” A little girl in braids joyfully pointed to the canvas. “Just check the number on the puzzle piece. It has to match the number on the can.” She instructed the old man she took under her wing.

“You can spray whatever you like, as long as it’s the right color. See, my panel says, Umoja. That means Unity!” 


The man’s scowl turned to a smirk. Then a smile, despite himself. Others joined in the effort.


Even the teenage punk, who followed Paula around out of curiosity, decided the concept wasn’t complete without his gang to add their signs to the masterpiece. 


By 8:46 p.m., the portrait of George Floyd was finished.


Together, we made a statement. Between the canvas, and the crowd.


And my camera.

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31 comments

Knycki Taylor
05:23 Jun 27, 2020

I loved reading this. I truly felt as if I was on the ground experiencing the dual protests and the creation of the mural. Bravo.

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A O
02:22 Jun 27, 2020

Lovely.

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Roland Aucoin
14:30 Jun 26, 2020

Interesting writing, for sure. Many twists, all to a reasonable (hopeful) ending. I like it. Good word choices and clear text. Nice.

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Khizra Aslam
20:12 Jun 25, 2020

The way you made a fictional story from a real situation was jaw dropping. Fantastic❤

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Pamela Saunders
10:32 Jun 25, 2020

They say that truth is stranger than fiction, but you did such a good job of fictionalising from a true situation, that after I read it, before commenting, I went looking online to see if it was a real portrait... then I read the comments before commenting myself. Probably this is all I need to say. It's so good. And, re the body paint that someone commented on - my daughter and a friend of hers spent a whole day being a shade of blue (just blue body paint, nothing else) for a city art project with thousands of others similarly (un)attired....

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05:15 Jun 25, 2020

That was really great. I could see what I was reading like I was watching it, and that's excellent. Being from Houston originally, I've driven through the wards for various reasons...going to the zoo...taking a friend home, etc...and for there to be peace in the wards...just...wow.

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Harken Void
10:42 Jun 24, 2020

Very well written, Emily! I could clearly imagine the people and the surroundings through your descriptions. Just like Brita, I'm lost when it comes to the political agenda of different groups involved, but that didn't prevent me from enjoying the story. It had that feel of 'being a part of something big' to it. I liked the stars and stripes body paint of those girls. Badass. Reminded me of Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad for some reason. I loved what you said about "every fool can wage war". So true.

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Emily Nghiem
14:40 Jun 24, 2020

Thank you Harken Void! Yes, I had envisioned the activist in blue paint being a badass, but totally nonviolent and arresting the bad boys with her attitude. If I get off my own BA and write my script, I'll hire you to consult to make sure the characters KA! It is very hard to make peace, because each person has to dig deep to forgive first, and heal our own injuries and anger, before we can walk others on the same journey. It is a hand in hand process, heart to heart, and meeting of the minds on common purpose. The people who can do that are...

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Harken Void
15:58 Jun 24, 2020

Whoa, I'm lost for words... thank you Emily :) Haha, it's funny, I was thinking of hiring you for proofreading (when I finally do write that damn book), as you've said in your bio that you like proofreading. I don't know what else to say, but thank you for your support and kind words. It means a lot :) And you're absolutely right about our responsibilities. Art is a war without guns, a war fought for the betterment of everybody, using beauty and inspiration instead of grenades and hatered. And I agree with you about forgiveness; those are s...

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Jessica X
20:01 Jun 23, 2020

Hi! I loved reading your story! The imagery you used is amazing, and I can picture the scenes happening! I love how well you described the chaos happening! Great job incorporating politics into the story too! You are an amazing writer!! :)

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Emily Nghiem
00:11 Jun 24, 2020

Hi and thank you, Jessica! I appreciate your feedback and left some for you. I only read one of your stories so far, and really liked the concept! If you are interested in dramatic writing for stage or screen, I encourage you to develop that idea further. I will try to read more of your stories!

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Jessica X
15:56 Jun 24, 2020

Thank you Emily! I will read more of your stories as well!

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Joanne X
19:56 Jun 22, 2020

Wow this is an awesome story. I love how you added real facts and events that are happening around us today - it was really informational and described awesomely! I especially loved this statement that you added: "Any fool can wage war" and I think that it is completely correct. Conflict is the easy way out when trying to overcome an obstacle/disagreement, while making peace in this time of turmoil is hard but so utterly vital. People don't usually think/listen about the unity in these times - the news covers the bad in these difficult times...

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14:19 Jun 22, 2020

Hi, Emily! Great story, and well presented. Thanks for being even-handed about the politics involved.🙂

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Huma Fatima
07:27 Jun 22, 2020

I must say that the idea was extremely unique.

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Nandan Prasad
07:08 Jun 22, 2020

This really captures the chaos of what I imagine would be happening! I don't understand much of the politics, but the writing is really good. Descriptive and really imaginative. Hoping to see more of your stories!

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Brita Sherren
17:17 Jun 21, 2020

I love this. I'm a little lost as I don't fully understand the politics of all the groups involved, but also lost because of the whole full body paint on the two characters. I mean, it's certainly something that draws attention, but I feel like it doesn't add to the story. All I can imagine as I read about those characters is that in the mob of people, they'd be losing paint pretty quickly. Personal space wouldn't exist, and being jostled...wouldn't that leave them more than a bit smeared? The ending, the show of unity, I love that bit....

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Emily Nghiem
18:46 Jun 21, 2020

Thank you for reading and sharing such detailed comments in depth! Sorry, I didn't want to get into too much explanation of the various political groups. It was meant to sound spontaneous and a bit chaotic, to capture what crowds look like when you don't know who is who. As for the body paint, that is a good technical production point. I looked up online, and the smudgeproof paints or sealants that could work are much more expensive and require special products to remove. The idea I had in mind is actually from a movie screenplay I am develo...

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Brita Sherren
18:49 Jun 21, 2020

I love the idea, and I agree with your decision to not go into the political groups in any depth. It's a fair assumption that the reader is familiar with the politics.

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Emily Nghiem
19:26 Jun 21, 2020

Love your story and commented there, too. Thank you, excellent!

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Batool Hussain
10:34 Jun 21, 2020

Great story! Mind checking my recent story out? Thanks.

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Emily Nghiem
16:06 Jun 21, 2020

Thank you! Please check, and thank you for reading and sharing!

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Laura Clark
19:40 Jun 20, 2020

I really like the multiple points of view in this one - lots of different people all portrayed kindly and humanely. Lovely writing!

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Writers Block
17:56 Jun 20, 2020

Action packed story 😎

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Praveen Jagwani
07:42 Jun 16, 2020

Well done Emily. The significance of 8:46 is not lost. You've paid a nice tribute, as did Dave Chapelle.

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Roshna Rusiniya
05:03 Jun 15, 2020

This is a great story with a beautiful message. I hope the editors accept your request.

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04:56 Jun 14, 2020

This story is awesome, and I loved the content. I enjoyed it to the very end, and it was wonderfully written. Could you please check out my story, 'B.L.E.A.C.H' and give me feedback? I love the feedback you give me on my stories. They're really helpful, and I appreciate them a lot. Once again, this is a great story you have here. I hope you sort out the prompt issue soon.

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Emily Nghiem
04:33 Jun 13, 2020

NOTE: This was supposed to be under "SOLIDARITY" but the time zone on my computer was off. So I am trying to contact the editors to see if it can be changed to the other prompt.

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04:55 Jun 14, 2020

I noticed. I was about to comment why you didn't write a story for the last contest, and that this story would have been good for it. I hope they get to change it for that prompt. It's really good. Keep it up!

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Anja Z
10:24 Jun 25, 2020

Great story do you mind checking my latest out too please:)

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Amy Paquin
10:42 Jun 25, 2020

Oh this makes so much sense! I actually read it twice thinking I missed something about someone writing a book! LOL! I enjoyed it both times. As one commenter said, I felt as if I were in it myself. Thanks for the engaging read!

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