Early last Sunday morning, a friend of Kenyatta Savage grabbed a cup of coffee in Attleboro, glanced at a newsstand, then did a double take. He sent a text message to Savage: “Do you know that you’re on the front page of The Boston Globe?”
There Savage was, his image for tens of thousands of readers to see, a lone black man in a Los Angeles Dodgers cap, surrounded by a sea of white fans at Fenway Park. It would be a centerpiece photo for the Globe Spotlight Team’s seven-part series that examined whether Boston still deserved its long-running reputation as a place unwelcoming to black people.
Globe photographer Keith Bedford, who was working on the project with the Spotlight Team, took the photo from behind third base, too far away to get the man’s identity. After seeing the picture, editors instantly seized on it as reflecting a key part of what our team’s reporting unearthed: All too often, black Bostonians are not a part of the city’s mainstream, as demonstrated by their scarcity at iconic places, such as Fenway.
Since the photo was taken in July at a Red Sox game against the New York Yankees, I’ve had such powerful feelings about it. But one thing nagged at me, as well as my Globe colleagues who picked this photo to lead the opening day of the series: Who is he?
The photo of him at the game fit the theme of the story — but did this man’s life really fit the story? How would he feel about his image representing a series examining Boston’s racist image? What does he think about the region’s image?
We didn’t know. We assumed we never would.
After getting the text, Savage, a 43-year-old from North Attleborough, went online and started searching for the picture when another friend texted him a link to the article. The opening paragraph jumped out at him: “Google the phrase ‘Most racist city,’ and Boston pops up more than any other place, time and time again.”
“Oh, I’ve said that before,” he thought to himself and kept reading.
He said the words in the story resonated deeply with him, and he began to understand why his photo represented something that many black people in Boston can relate to: being the only one.
“I feel [it] all the time,” Savage said. “I’ve been the only black guy. I’ve been the only one in the room. I was identifying with all of that.”
For much of Sunday, he got a steady stream of phone calls and text messages from friends and family about the picture and the Spotlight Team’s race series. He started trading stories with his mother about what it’s like being black in Greater Boston, he said in two interviews with me, one by phone and another in Marlborough, where he works as a facilities specialist at GE Health Care.
His mother lives in Los Angeles, which is where he was born. She moved to Boston to attend Northeastern University in the late 1970s, while he was cared for by his maternal grandparents back in Los Angeles. He remains a loyal Dodgers fan.
After his mother graduated, Savage joined her in Boston when he was 6. On Sunday, they spoke and started reminiscing about enjoying Fourth of July celebrations at the Esplanade one year, singing loudly and dancing to the music, when a white man told them, “Some of us are just here to see some fireworks.”
Savage said his mother remembered thinking, “Everyone else is dancing and having a good time, and you’re focused on us.”
They returned to the West Coast to be closer to family when he was 13 and his little brother was 6. But Savage came back to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music and has been here since.
At his job Monday, Savage showed co-workers the photo. People were thrilled, he said, until they read the headline.
“They’d stop in their tracks,” he said, “and say, ‘Oh, it’s dealing with race . . . are you mad?’ ”
“No, I’m not mad at all,” he responded. “This is what I deal with all the time. I’m glad they used me.”
At 11:14 p.m. Monday night, Savage e-mailed me. The seven-part series was reported by me and five colleagues on the Spotlight Team, but my e-mail was at the bottom as the writer of the opening piece.
“I am a black man living in MA. I love your article. I want to give you a bit of my background because I really felt your story,” he wrote. “Before I do, I gotta tell you I’m the dude in the Dodger cap in the pic taken at Fenway.”
His e-mail took my breath away. I couldn’t believe I was hearing from the man in the picture.
“Imagine my surprise when I woke up to phone calls and text messages Sunday morning saying I (along with 50 white people) am on the front page of the Sunday Globe! Ha!” the e-mail said.
The next day Savage, told me about his life in Greater Boston, a place he calls home and a place he now hopes can more fully live up to its promise.
“I’ve been talking to a wall for the last 20 years, and all of a sudden I feel like that wall has actually loosened so I can actually push it down,” he said. “You touched on some stuff that a lot of people have been going through. To use me as a cover [photo], it was like, ‘Thank you.’ ”