Kansas community shines light on Living Democracy

National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson holds his paper as he describes all that he learned while taking pictures in Cuba, Kan, 40 years ago. Richardson visited the K-State Student Union's Wildcat Chamber to speak about Living Democracy. (Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

Jim Richardson, a photographer for National Geographic Magazine and a contributing editor for the magazine’s sister publication TRAVELER, presented his work on Cuba, Kansas.

Richardson said that 20 to 30 years ago the United States was confident and secure in the idea of democracy. He said he believes that today, things are different.

“We are all a little skittish about how things are going,” Richardson said.

The small town of Cuba, Richardson said, may shine a new light on how Democracy can work.

Richardson said he first arrived in the north-central Kansas town about 40 years ago to photograph events and people of the town.

“I thought I knew what I was doing; I was photographing the death of a small town, but they resolutely refused to die,” Richardson said.

Jeannine Kopsa, a resident of the town 40 years ago, said the size of a town does not dictate the size of the community.

“It was the place they came to have an identity, to be part of something,” Richardson said. “To align their views of the norms of life.”

The city limits of the town, at the time, contained about 300 people, but Kopsa said the actual community of Cuba, Kan. contained about 700 people.

Richardson said Kopsa was very active in the community 40 years ago, citing her work as the source of modern day life for the small community.

“I seen bakers who knew how to take flour and make bread, but I never seen a person who knew how to take people and make [a] community,” Richardson said about Kopsa.

Richardson said Kopsa taught him that being part of a community is optional. Additionally, Richardson said he believes people have the option to put as much effort as they want into a community, and the same is true for a living, breathing democracy.

Richardson said when he photographed Cuba, Kan. back in the 1970s, community meant that individuals would get coffee or talk on the front porch, but social media has become a significant platform for communication.

“I’m not one who says ‘oh jeez the social media have taken away our personal contact, I don’t think that at all,” Richardson said.

Richardson said he believes that the platform of social media has allowed for different communities to expand and grow instead of shrink and die off.

Max Leonard, a freshman in journalism and mass communications, said that he thought Richardson’s presentation more than when he had expected.

“It made me feel like I knew some of those people,” Leonard said.