The bEARTHday Gift

It was the summer of 2018. I was in Chicago and had set my intention on meeting world reknown artist, Kerry James Marshall. I had no idea how this was to come about but that was my goal. I had no plan. I began by sharing my quest with a few friends. A day or so later, one of them called and informed me that Marshall was a doing an artist talk on June 21st in honor of the Charles White Retrospective exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. Since this was the esteemed Kerry James Marshall, you had to have a ticket in order to attend. I was in for sure. This was going to be way easier than I could have imagined. As soon as I could, I went online to get my ticket. Right there on the screen in a boldfaced black rectangle were the words SOLD OUT!

Aw hell naw! There was no way I was going to get this close and miss that boat. It had to happen.I had to be in there. I called the museum and was informed that there was an expansive waiting list already. I hung the phone up, head heavy with thought. How was I to bring this to pass? I was supposed to meet Kerry James Marshall. The idea had come. The intent had been set. The possibility has been glimpsed. Now I was here, in this liminal space of not knowing what to do to make it happen. I went to a well connected professor at the School of the Art Institute. Surely he could find a way. “Kerry James Marshall is rockstar status. There won’t be any comp tickets.” He told me. “I’m getting in that auditorium”, I told him. “Even if I’m the guy setting up his chair or adjusting the microphone.” Before long all of my cohorts were aware of my intent, even down to sweeping the floor in the auditorium. I talked that up like nobody’s business without a clue of a how. I just knew the what, when, and where.

The days were passing and the date was drawing near. It appeared I was no closer to my goal than before. In my chest though, there was this knawing knowing that would not go away. Each Wednesday, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago would host Artist Talks at the MacLean Center Auditorium. on Michigan Avenue. It was June 20th, my bEARTHday and still no leads. The day was filled with well wishers and bEARTHday meals with friends. That evening, I walked in the auditorium and headed to my customary center, second row from the front, seat. Greg Bordowitz, the Low Res MFA program director walked down the center aisle and greeted me as he usually would. Then he said, “I heard you wanted to see Kerry James Marshall.” I confirmed, eyebrows raised. “I got you on the VIP list.” he continued. ” Just go right in on tomorrow and tell them who you are and they’ll get you seated.” Although I knew in my chest, there would be a way, it was still hard to believe. I would be in that auditorium the next day! “Happy birthday.” He said with a smile and walked away. My gratitude was a groundswell that surfaced in a flood of thank yous.

I shared the news with my cohorts who couldn’t believe the news. On more than a few times that night they reiterated the fact that I had this uncanny ability to make things happen. It certainly appeared that way. Nevertheless, I was not about to question anything between that moment and 6pm June 21st. I was busy trying to wrap my mind around it all.

The next afternoon, I decided to take a nap. I rarely take naps. I wanted to be fully rested and fully awake for the presentation. I had just drifted off or maybe I was just deep in thought, when my phone rang. It was Bethelhem, a friend and fellow artist. “Jahni, I knew you wanted a ticket to see Kerry James Marshall. Lucas can’t go and wants you to have his ticket.” In my brain something hit like those things at the fair when you hit the hammer on the base to make the bell ring. I thanked her profusely. The resulting adrenaline had driven every ounce of sleep back to my infancy. I called home and shared the news. Again I heard how things I truly wanted seemed to appear.

Before 5:30 I was walking over to the Auditorium. I had called another friend and promised her the additional ticket. When I arrived, there was a line down the sidewalk, rockstar style. I walked up and got in line. Then I remember that he had told me to go right in. There was a strange mixture of guilt and pride as I passed all the people in line. A well-dressed lady inside, looked up my name, took me to a side door of the auditorium, and pointed down front. “You can choose any of those seats.” She said. “Any one of them? I repeated. “Yes, any one of them.” She repeated, smiling. I walked my happy butt down there and sat smack dab on the front row.

That night after the event, I walked out the building in conversation with Alabama native, world reknown artist, Kerry James Marshall, his wife, playwright, director, actress, Cheryl Lynn Bruce, along with John White (son of artist, Charles White) and some friends. It had come to pass.

Please allow that be a testament to the power of purpose and intent. I didn’t know the how in the beginning. I just knew the what and kept my focus there. In a series of unfolding events, trusting the process, it came to be. And that professor who said there would be no comp tickets was there too, sitting toward the back in the regular seats. A lot of us saw the power of intent at work that night. In truth my bEARTHday gift was the realization of that gift. Investing the time with Kerry James Marshall was a byproduct of it.

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