The surprise twist behind this viral NYC subway photo
The true story behind an iconic New York City moment has finally been revealed.
In 2011, Jason Feifer was on the subway and saw two men — one white, one black — sitting next to each other and sharing earbuds. The pair caught Feifer’s attention.
“It was the briefest moment in time,” Feifer, now the editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur magazine, tells The Post. “I was sitting on the subway looking at my phone. I looked up and saw these two guys wearing bright blue earbuds. I wondered what they were listening to. They looked so different and they weren’t looking at each other.”
Feifer, now 39, snapped a picture and shared it on his Twitter account at the time. The photo went viral, with the internet collectively rejoicing in a heartwarming moment that seemed to unite an unexpected duo.
“It just felt to me [like] the most New York moment,” says Feifer, who lives in Park Slope and grew up in Florida. “The beauty of New York is that it’s full of differences and possibilities and so often we’ll produce these beautiful moments you just can’t find anywhere else. And I just felt like this was one of them.”
Turns out there was a backstory behind what seemed like just another feel-good Facebook share.
But first, years went by, and the poignant picture kept resurfacing. In 2016, Feifer’s snap again made the rounds after Ted Cruz attempted to take a swipe at Trump and called out socially liberal “New York values.” The senator received tons of blowback from the statement, including when Feifer offered his subway snap as a rejoinder.
But after nearly a decade of wondering about the two men behind the iconic moment, Feifer finally discovered their identities, and how they came to be linked — which, in a surprise to many, extends well beyond their train encounter.
As the unrest erupted across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death and other racial injustices, Feifer posted his image once more on Instagram, and it was shared by a follower, whose friend knew one of the young men. Turns out, the two were college classmates who bonded over old-school hip-hop — and had no idea their image had become, for some, symbolic of the Big Apple’s melting pot.
“I had no idea it existed until a few weeks ago,” Matt McDonnell, 27, tells The Post. “It was funny to find out about it. And it was mind-blowing to know someone had taken the picture.”
McDonnell, a Midtown native, and his buddy Danny “Rokit” Nieves, who identifies as Afro Latino and grew up in Harlem, met at City Tech in Brooklyn when they were both students.
Feifer hosted them on his podcast, “Pessimists Archive,” last week on an episode entitled “The Mystery of the Shared Earbuds.”
The pair joined their secret photographer and told him the story of their friendship, which started with McDonnell introducing himself to Nieves, who is a break dancer in a troupe called Break Fresh NYC. They started chatting and Nieves said he was going to smoke a joint between classes. McDonnell joined and they started talking about ’90s hip-hop, a passion they both shared. That night, they took the subway together, and McDonnell pulled out his phone to show Nieves his music collection.
They were listening to a song by rap trio KMD. That’s when the picture was snapped, Nieves tells Feifer.
“It’s a good reminder that our skin doesn’t predict who you are. I guess we take it for granted here in New York, where it’s so natural. Your neighbors aren’t the same skin color as you,” says McDonnell, who works in marketing.
The podcast was a reunion of sorts for the pair, who stay in touch mostly on social media these days. “Jason asked me if I were in his shoes would I take that picture, and I said no because to me it’s normal,” says McDonnell.
“If that picture helps people realize that we are all the same, I am happy that moment helped somebody. To me, it’s just normal. It should be for everyone.”
Feifer is happy to solve the mystery and to see the picture circulating once again.
“It was so small and yet so important,” he says. “It’s a vision of the world that should just be.”
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