The Key…

On last evening I arrived home with an armload of belongings. After a long afternoon of meetings, I was more than ready to be home and eat. At the door, I reached into my pocket to discover my house key was not there. Then I remembered that I’d left them inside. I went back to my car to get the spare. I’d used it too. They were also inside the house. My anxiety rose a bit, realizing that I would have to postpone eating the delicious smelling food sitting in the car waiting for me. The idea of sitting in the car in my driveway eating, held little appeal. I called my partner and told her the situation.

‘We’ve got a problem then.” She said way too calmly.

Then I remembered that she’d misplaced her keys about a week ago at her aunt’s house in a whole different city. She was relying on me having mine. My mind ran in a quick circle and came back with the idea that I had a spare at my Mother’s house. I called her and she said there was a key there. Hopeful, I drove all the way to her house to find that it was a key to her door. Could we not have checked this before I came? I felt like screaming the Charlie Brown yell. Auuuuuuuuugghh! I did no such thing. All the while, I was using this misfortunate event to search out gems of enlightenment. I wasn’t totally distressed. I didn’t know how I was going to get in but I did know that I would get in. Each step, however put that a little more at a distance. Mom gave me some homemade soup and hot water cornbread. I was grateful. I wanted keys.

When I got back home, I thoroughly checked both my vehicles to see if a spare was there. Nothing. Then I called the locksmith. They had no one to come out. Called another. The price to come out was outrageous. I told him to come on. I called my Dad to see if I had forgotten that I’d given him a spare. Nope. He then proceeded to help me feel worse about paying the locksmith that amount of money to get in my house. I just wanted to get in. I checked every door and window, hoping that I would have occasion to nevermind the locksmith. At least I know how secure my house is now. I could see in through a window. The warm glow of a lights. The cozy furniture just waiting for me. My cat Kosmo, just staring like he knew I’d messed up. Why couldn’t he just open the doggone door. So close yet so far.

The locksmith arrived and in less than five minutes, I had parted with an unintended chunk of dough, but I was in my house. All of my keys were right where I’d left them. I eventually sat down to eat, not even bothering to reheat my tepid food. It wasn’t until the next morning when my dad called and eventually said.

“Yeah man, we don’t realize how important keys are.”

Then I got it. Key’s are important. So simple, yet so profound. Keys are the key. The means by which we gain access. They open doors to where we want to go, do, have, and be. Our abilities are keys. Our resources are keys. People in our lives are keys. Our mental attitude is a key. Our knowledge is key. Ha, I’d pay for that revelation. I had paid for that revelation. It was a reminder to mind how I tended my keys. Those people, talents, and resources that open doors to our goals are of utmost importance. They grant us access to the life we want to live. Take great care how you handle your keys…or you’ll be standing outside of your possibilities at the mercy of someone else to let you in. And that can come at a great cost.

When I Think of Home…

Years ago, in Colombia, South American the first time, I was on the ride of my life in terms of using my acquired skills, creative and otherwise. It was a whirlwind of celebrity status activity. Back home I used to tell my partner that I felt like a corvette stuck in the slow lane. In South America, I was moving into full throttle. I’d found my lane. On a particular day in conversation with my son in his senior year, he asked if I missed home. I hesitated then answered…

“I miss you guys.”

The conversation proceeded. After I hung up I gave some serious thought to the question and my hesitance when asked whether I missed home. Strangely enough, I felt like I was home. What is home and what does that mean truly? Is home where the heart rests or revs? Perhaps, considering that, home is a duality. On the one hand it is the place where we find solace, comfort, and protection from the outside world with our lockable doors and closable windows. It is the place where we can curl up and sleep, away from the hustle and bustle of the world at large. We live there but…can we truly live there? Before the pandemic, a general handful compared, made their living from home. Most had to go out into the world to have their living made. Home was safe and removed. We can’t just stay there and truly live. Can we…

The other idea of home is nearly the polar opposite. We speak of the eagle being at home on the wing or some adventurer at home on the open seas. That is where they feel truly alive. Where they make their imprint upon this life. Where legacies are churned out and history is written in blood, sweat, and years. That notion of home is where, like what Ray Charles said, We let it do what it do. It’s what pumps the blood running hot in our veins, opens up our nostrils and makes us raise our head to the heavens in the joyful throes of applying our abilities to the world stage. But can we live there…fully? If we remained in that space, adrenaline pumping, eyes glossy with the need for more, we would surely burn out. We would wear ourselves to a frazzled fanatic, crash and burn out like boxers who stay in the ring too long, or rappers who don’t realize it’s time to pass the mike.

Home, then, is not just a place, but an idea of an ideal. A balance between spaces of operation. We need the safe space and the hairpin curves in order to glean the most from what this life has to offer. When I was in South America, and had that conversation with my son, my engine was humming, running with rpms tapping the right side. I was wide open, testing the road. I felt so alive. I was home. However, I know I couldn’t live in that whirlwind of activity. I’d burn out. Back at home in Alabama, I’d felt that corvette in the slow lane feeling too long. I felt there was not enough room to spread my wings. I was turning into gel. The key to fit the ignition of who we are is found in the right combination of the nest and the wing, to find the harmony between our ways of being. To weave them together in a tapestry that we can wear with impunity is where we find our unique rhythm. Instead of being slowed, pushed, prodded, and carried along by the whims of the world, invest some time into tuning this life…your life. It really can take you where you want to be. Let’s go home.

This Art Life…(thou art with me)

“Are you still doing the art thing?”

That’s the most asked question when I run into someone I haven’t seen in a while. Either they don’t know what to say for conversation or they actually see my art making as a phase, a thing I did. Something I picked up and put down like a decision between a can of dole pineapples in place of the real thing. Or like a magazine I pick up to stare at in the checkout line just to put down when I’m next up. This manner of viewing art and artists is all too common and at times, exasperating. In most cases our expertise, skills ,and laser like use of imagination is reduced to hobby status, or worst yet a relished pastime. Yes, there are those who practice art as a hobby or did it as a pastime, just as there are those who sing in the shower or play around in the kitchen. But then there are those of us who are called. I won’t fully unpack that word since I’m choosing blog over book.

I’ve answered the call that so many of us hear with clarity at a time when our lives are less complicated. Only to lose touch beneath the cacophony of social expectation. I’ve, at times, struggled, to make out the distinct yet faint voice of that thing that bids me to make marks on paper, canvas, or stage. To sculpt the future in the present and personify the past. This calling leads me beside still waters and restores my soul. It’s so much than what I do. It’s who, what, where, why, and how I am. To present an alternate and sometimes cooperative view of living and being in this world is part and parcel to being an artist obedient to the raging calm. That calls for a being that is both fluid and stolid in varying degrees. A person open to designing against the grain or seeing beyond the scene without undue concern about how they are seen. A man or woman who is still a hair’s breadth away from the child within and in constant conversation with the God of their choosing and the devil of their devising.

The word art is much like the word life. It is alive and shifting, ever growing, and morphing into more of itself. Those of us who saddle up and take the ride are prone to the same. Whether it be on cloth, film, page or stage, to deny that calling is to deny who and what we fundamentally are and exist out life as a truth that is not ours. Some may call that a lie. For me it was purgatory. No, I will never tell you that every moment is glorious and sunshine and rainbows, but I can paint them when I choose. Even in the challenging times, I remind myself that I get to do this. Heaven is just on the other end of my brush tip or pencil. And yes, hell is never far behind. That is the conundrum that is the art life. It is what keeps the pendulum swinging, just as the negative and positive firing of neurons keeps us kicking in this space.

Yes, I am still doing the art thing. Just as the engineer is still doing the engineering thing and the doctor doing the doctoring thing. We are just as valid and must see ourselves as such. The art thing feeds the soul. It is something most people don’t give conscious thought to as a profession. Art is the salt and spice of life that is noticed mostly when missing. Never mind the lack of understanding up front. That is a part of our calling, to inform, shed some light, sometimes by exploring the darkness. By doing, we give permission to do. So in being called, I know there is someone, something doing the calling. There is a path for us. It may not be a crystal stair but it’s there. Even when I walk through valleys covered with the shadows of death, I will not give up for anything that comes against me. Will you art with me? …Yes, I am smiling.

The Human heART

A few years ago I went to a train terminal in Chicago to go hear Korey Wise speak at a venue further south. I bounded up the steps to the second tier. As I rounded the corner a young man sitting on the railing asked whether I could spare some change for him to get a bite to eat. I reached in my pocket and handed him the few bills I had. He thanked me as I walked to the entrance. I swiped my Ventra card and nothing happened. I swiped it again and more nothing. I was confused and a bit agitated. I tried again and looked around to see the young man staring at me. I stared at the card as though my eyes would activate it. Finally, I went around the corner to the attendant to ask for assistance. She informed me that my card was disabled and that I’d have to return to where I got it to have the problem fixed. Now I was really frustrated as I was on a timeline. As I reached the steps to go back down to street level, the young man approached me with dollars in his outstretched hand. I looked at him, apparently with a question mark on my face.

“Take this back so you can get you can get on the train. I saw you trying to get on and you didn’t have enough money. I don’t want you to miss your ride because of me. You can have this back.”

I took a breath and swallowed, so moved by this brother’s actions. “Nah bruh, that’s yours. There’s something going on with my card. I gotta go get that straight. You keep that toward your food. Thank’s though.”

“You sure?” He questioned.

“Yup, I’m good.” I responded as I bounded back down the steps to go deal with my card issue. The entire process took me about 30 minutes or so to get the situation straightened out with my pass. I also grabbed some cash in the process and headed back to the station. The young brother was still there, on the rail.

“You straight?”, he called out as I walked toward him.

“I’m straight.” I replied as I slapped some money in his hand with a smile. “Now you can get some food for real.” He smiled, nodding his head yes. I walked away toward the gate to his rhythm of thank yous.

I didn’t get to hear Korey Wise speak that day. I was too late. However, I was right on time for where I needed to be for one of the most moving depth of the human heart experiences of my life. This young brother, who was obviously down on his luck, had actually offered me money back so I wouldn’t miss the train. Perhaps he felt for me what I felt for him when I first shared. He was willing to give up the money for my well being. I can’t actually call what I did a random act of kindness. It’s a matter of intent. I plan to share because I know how karmic energy works. Plus its heart food. There was an energy exchange in those actions between us that day that went far beyond those dollars. The cosmic calibration shook a bit on that one. And I can guarantee we were both the better from it. When we slow down enough to open our hearts in sincerity and truly connect in that real space of human compassion, we drink from the divine fountain overflowing with the unadulterated milk of human kindness. The most exquisitely valuable masterpiece ever is the human work of heART.

BloodWork

When I was a little fella I remember watching tv withy my family. Although I was really young some of those images are still so vivid. One particular image that made a major impression on me was the opening of King Fu, a made for television martial arts series starring David Carradine. In the opening he was walking toward the screen with the dessert sands stirred up by his bare feet. For me, that was such an awesome arrival. It was epic and humble at the same time. Oftentimes, that is how I see me journey as an artist

As an undergrad, I was told by a university professor that my “success is inevitable because this Alabama red clay is rich with the blood or your ancestors.”  That quote inspired me.  This Alabama red clay soil has been with me wherever I’ve moved over the course of my life.  Eventually it guided me back to these red-clayed roots of my curiously nomistic Alabama rising. 

Red clay was the pathway of my childhood. I’ve dyed fabrics with red clay, tinted wood, made pots, eaten it, used it as a mud mask, had mud/dirt fights, and made bricks.  This red clay that caked on our shoes, stained our clothes, and the bottoms of our feet has taken on a powerful significance as it relates to my story and ancestral unfolding.  I found that I could sculpt the unforgiving substance with water and brushes to build space on a flat surface. The clay responds very different from paints in that I mix the dry with the wet directly on the surface of the paper.  The permanence is supreme. The paper is dyed by the iron oxides in the soil. The nature of red clay gives me the feeling that I’m painting with a living substance.

“We are linked by blood, and blood is memory without language.” Joyce Carol Oates 

And that I receive as the truth that drives my work.  Iron oxide gives the clay its red coloring. Iron is the essential element for blood production. Blood is the sacred force in man and beast – the ultimate sacrificial substance, representing life itself. Blood is a charged element that symbolically marks my work. Iron is present in blood and as oxides in the clay. Iron, also present in much of my work was used in building material, tools, and shackles. Iron serves as a viable conductor.

In my upbringing saddled with the binary history of the American south, I was faced with the peculiar positionality of the “Black body” and its usage in that history. “In my work, I contend with the duality, the double consciousness, of the “black body” and the mystery of dark matter, the most prevalent and least understood matter in the universe. Having been referred to as black gold, people of color in America were flattened into the monolith of projected nuances and chattel property. Take that and butt it up against the human experience of living while driven by an ancestral spiritual connection and survival. What you get is a people with the will of the gods. My ancestors spilled their lifeblood from the womb of the mother to the altars of this southern soil. My work honors the life/clay/blood connection of past to future. My work is a conduit and I am on on this path for life. Sacrifices activate the divine. The divine is the source of re-memberance, resurrection, redemption, and restoration. My artwork operates as a sacrament on those pillars,  an invocation to reconnect to the sanctity of life. This is blood work. 

A Shining Star…

As a child, I was in a church choir called The Shining Stars. I knew I wasn’t much of a singer but at ten years old I didn’t have much say in the matter. One Friday evening after rehearsal when I was actually paying attention, the choir director talked about getting new robes. Whenever it came to being required to buy things, even as a child, my anxiety escalated. I knew my parents didn’t have the means to buy new clothes for five children, not to mention a choir robe. I fidgeted in the choir stand, my mind already running. Then I heard him say something about a fundraiser. We’d be selling candy to help raise money for the robes. I saw an open door, a way. I was so focused on the idea of selling enough candy to fully purchase my robe that I didn’t even hone in on the part of his presentation about the trip to Walt Disney World. Mind you, I loved Disney. I was a regular with reruns of The Mickey Mouse Club and any Disney produced shows. That night I shared the news about the robes and the candy sales with my parents. I never mention Walt Disney World.

By the next rehearsal, the candy was in. Rows and rows of stacked candy lay in waiting piled high on tables in the church fellowship hall. I have no idea what the other children saw but I saw possibility. I found the table with my name on it and walked away with my boxes – the seeds to a symbiotic relationship. I wondered if this would be enough to pay for the robe. I didn’t want any undue pressure on my parents. That week, I sold to relatives and to friends on our street. The exchange of the bars of chocolate for the dollar felt more than physical. There was something unusually energizing about the handoff that hit deep in my gut. The dollars piled up in place of the chocolate bars. Anytime I received a no-thank-you, I was all the more determined to make that up with even more, yes-I’ll-take-twos. I talked about the chocolate, the flavors, and the joys and challenges of being a Shining Star. I’m not sure if it was my pitch or the intense tenor voice coming out of my little chocolate face, but before the week was up, both boxes were empty. I was on a mission for them greens – a lean, dreaming, chocolate selling machine.

The next week I got more and the weeks following they combined boxes of other children’s unsold leftovers to fill boxes for me. I hit the streets daily after school hawking caramel filled chocolate, almond chocolate, peanut chocolate, dark chocolate, and plain milk chocolate. They were stacked in order of the fastest sellers. I was a stone cold chocolate hustler. I even had repeat customers. The empty boxes stuffed under my arms felt as good as the wad of dollars rolled up in my pocket. My only intent was that my parents wouldn’t have to pay one red cent for that robe. I remember the choir people calling our house to see if I wanted more candy to sell. My answer was always yes. I knew I could sell it. I would sell it, and did sell it. I sold down to the last bar. A sense of peace settled in knowing that I had done my due diligence.

A few weeks later, I rode my bike over to my best friend’s house after school to see them off. They were preparing for the trip to Walt Disney World. Bags were piling up on the porch as I watched from the seat of my bike in the driveway. We would exchange conversations between him, and his brother and sister popping in and out of the house dropping various items on the porch. I was cool with everything. I had reached my objective. After a while I heard his mother calling to me from inside the house. I got off my bike and went to the door. She said that my mother had called and I needed to come home right away. No questions asked out loud, I jumped on my bike and pedaled off like crazy. What was wrong? What’s happened? The question flooded mind mind faster than I could reason them away. Minutes lated I dropped my bike on the carport and leaped the steps into the house. Everything looked the same. My Mom met me halfway across the living room. She seemed okay, just a bit excited.

“You want to go to Disney World?”

My mind turned every which way but loose. “Yeah, but…,” I began, trying to wrap my mind around her question. They had already started packing my bag. We finished up as she explained the situation. It turned out that I had sold so much candy that it had also fully paid for my trip to Walt Disney World. I couldn’t believe my ears. This was a dream beyond my dream. I felt like a rich man stepping onto the bus that day, my hand rubbing the neatly folded five dollar bill my dad had given me for the trip. It wasn’t about the money but what I had accomplished. As we drove the winding stretch through Alabama, I saw the landscape shift. Crossing into Florida, the palm trees, then orange trees, then on to that wondrous Walt Disney World.

That trip opened up a whole new world for this tiny-for-his-age fifth grader. I found a new power in my ability to close the gap between what I didn’t have and what I desired. It all rode high in the saddle of my intent. I knew the limited worldview in which I had existed could no longer contain me. The possibilities are never somewhere outside of us. We only need an intense desire. Those desires, those frequently visiting curiosities will guide and connect us with the resources that are always there. They will take us beyond what we imagined. Open up to what you’ve always had inside, and it will make manifest those things you will on the outside. I’m not sharing what I believe here. This is what I know. If you want it, it’s in your stars. It makes no difference who you are…

This is actually actor Kevin Hooks from and older movie called J. T. My family always said I looked just like him. I agreed.

You Had It All Along, My Dear

One of my favorite scenes from the Wizard of Oz is when Glinda the good witch tells Dorothy that she had the power all along. She is speaking of the power to go home. Home in this case is where we truly live, feel alive, and relevant. It really has nothing to do with our physical address. The ability to go home was available to her the entire time. The clicking of the heels was symbolic. She just had to tap into that power. Without the experiences in Oz, she would have returned without the elevation those experiences gave her. She was ushered into new ways of seeing, giving home greater meaning and significance. Could it be that what we find ourselves searching for are much closer than we ever imagine? We spend so much time looking for things we already have or had and cannot fully see or appreciate.

On her journey through Oz, Dorothy is challenged as she adjusts to the characters she encounters along the way. She meets them where they are and acknowledges them. She tends to them and encourages them to be who they are. In return, they help her to get to where she needs to go. Each one of the characters is an aspect of herself. As she supports them, she shores up her capabilities. She develops or realizes greater strength. As creatives, we sometimes allow those times of nourishment to slip by in our search for home– place we desire to be. Whether it’s winning contests, getting into museums and/or galleries, selling your work, working successfully as an artist, etc., it’s important to take care and tend to aspects of ourselves along the way.

In my experience, as I do those things that feed my soul, I find myself accomplishing more than when I grind unconditionally alone. Feeding the soul does not have to involve deep diving into metaphysical waters. It can be as simple as eating crabapples on the edge of a country property (they taste like childhood memories). Or riding my scooter in the street, or wrestling with my children, or climbing a tree and looking out across the landscape from a higher vantage point. Whatever it is for you, I’m recommending you do it. Do it without justification or remorse. Buy that book or magazine subscription, that hotel pillow, that vintage doll, or car, for that matter. Go to that restaurant you’ve been seeing on your way to or from work. Try on the dress or shoes in the display window. You don’t even have to buy them, just connect – click your heels. Tending your curiosities, no matter how small will do more to lead you to the things that lead you home than months of stressful grinding. You already have the possibilities inside, just connect with the journey home.

Calling…

The southern landscape has begun its transformation. It’s changing in more ways than one. The first falling leaves are riding the wind to earth. The morning air is chilled by the frigid nights. The sun always seems brighter and more intense in early Autumn. Although I’m not a coffee drinker, this time of year makes the steam swirling up from those mugs appear most seductive. There’s a certain smell in the air. Smells made more relevant by the memories associated with them; warmer clothes brought in from storage, ripe sweet persimmons, my Mother baking in our family’s tiny kitchen, smoke from a few early season fireplaces roasting still green wood. In these memories, I am always a child. Perhaps that is when we see with the most clarity, unencumbered by things to come. Not suggesting that childhood is care free. Mine was far from that. Nevertheless, every year, I vow to be more still, more present like I was as a child, more appreciative of what I have right now in this moment. Each year, I run just as fast, warping speed to get things done. Like the seasons, everything shifts with change. It’s all about perspective, about how we choose to see things. We do, always have a choice you know.

When the green suited foliage change into their vibrant Autumn attire we marvel at the fiery glow and inspiration it brings. Truth of the matter, the leaves are dying, we know. The trees going dormant to rest, to be still and prepare for another season of life giving and production. Through the cold crusted bed of winter to a soggy bottomed spring they lay in restful preparation to brim anew. I see. I am seeing. I will have seen all these things come to pass for many years at no loss to nature. In fact when she returns as pale green in the new season, her adornment will be all the more lively. Try leaving a vine growing on a fence over the winter months and see for yourself. They come back with a vehement fervor to live, to thrive and claim their space on this planet. The dormancy, the quiet still time, the death, as you will, adds to the vibrancy of the life that is to follow.

We… I could do well to take in this lesson so simple in its depth. How each season has its place in the space of life, all in support of that life. I’m reminding myself with these words that periods of less or inactivity are ok. In fact they are beyond okay and into necessary for the balance of life with all the things folding in on itself. I am listening. Listening to the rhythm of Mother Universe calling. Calling her children home to themselves to dance the dance of life on this grassy path in harmony with who we were before we were told who to be.

heARTSpace

When you look at it head on, from just the right distance, the world seems solid. The order of things presents itself as impenetrable. Yet a change in the angle of vision reveals fissures, fusions, flukes – a world of pieces shifting ceaselessly. One vision of the world promises stability and order, the other freedom and creativity. Which of these is more attractive depends on where one finds oneself: pressed upon by the weight of the world, or abraded by the shifting fragments.

Thedisorderofthings.com/2012/12/07

Some years ago, I’d relocated to the edge of the Tennessee valley, just over the Alabama/Tennessee state line. I was there to live the country life that I’d heard about from my parents and pined over in the writings of Henry David Thoreau. Before long my artistic acumen inspired one of the local schools to call me in for a Carreer Day presentation. I was told that the presentation time was 20 to 30 minutes. That was a piece of cake and a scoop of ice cream for me. When I walked into the classroom, children were plastered from wall to wall with waiting eyes. I began and ended my presentation in full sermonic splendor with a clap of hands and preparation to leave after questions and answers. As the room emptied, it simultaneously filled like a human water vacuum. I kept going with even more fervor since I had warmed up. This happened once more before the room was finally left with a spattering of students that teachers were pushing toward the door. That 30 minutes had turned into well over three hours. A tall dark haired man with a short beard to match, walked in with outstretched hand.

“I had to meet the man who kept my students engaged enough to skip lunch.” He said with a toothy smile.

He vigorously grasped my hand with both of his. He was the principal and had been informed that students were skipping lunch to return to my presentation. That explains the repeats and the consistent filling of the classroom. That presentation landed me with a contract with Lincoln County Schools under a grant from the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth to teach life skills while focusing on the the prevention of underage drinking. Yes, a tall order indeed. As an art equipped dreamer, I stepped up to the task and designed an arts based experience that I called P2 (Positive Images, Positive Impact). My assignment was to cover all six county schools in Lincoln County Tennessee, teaching art to students in grades 1-8 for 6 week increments. I was given office space and storage, and the journey began. I was warned by a well meaning woman at the office to be careful in Petersburg and definitely stay out of Flintville after dark. With that, I meticulously planned out my stint in Flintville for April/May, when the days were longest. In case you haven’t figured it out, It was because I’m Black. The county was mostly white and some were whiter than others with a strong predisposition toward all cream, no coffee. I’m bold but not batty, so I adjusted accordingly.

The last session came far too fast. April came in with a muggy spring way-too-early warmth. Over the course of the classes, the woman in the office had repeated her voice of alert to avoid Flintville after sunset. I do admit that her words, also echoed by others had me a bit concerned. I felt like I was about to step back into the 60s and do a segment on desegregation. Man, I just wanted to share art with these children and head on home to my Black family, unscathed.

As I walked up to the school that morning, with armloads of art supplies, alongside cars pulling up to drop off children, the icy stares coming from intentionally rolled down windows, chilled may spine. It was pretty obvious that my presence was unwanted. I scanned the children going in and the cars they left. Not one person of color in the bunch. Oh shit. Here I was, young, gifted, and very Black, replete with locks and a less than southern accent, in an area designated by proxy as white only. I feel you *Ruby Bridges! A cropped-maned brunette greeted me at the door, and led me down a maze or corridors to a well lit room filled with desks and a table up front. She gave me the general run down of daily operations then proceeded to warn me that I might have problems. Yes, challenges based on the fact of my Blackness. She did her best to say it kindly but it still bruised a bit. I took the words and tucked them in my back of my mind. I knew what I could do with the magic of art. This would be another proving ground.

The weeks went by quickly and without incident. There were two older guys who looked more like college students who were present several periods on a given day. One afternoon, as I was preparing to leave, the principal came in and inquired as to whether the two boys were giving me problems. “Not at all. Why do you ask? I inquired. He went on to say they they were trouble makers who rarely came to school. However, they had been skipping other classes to attend mine. Since I’d been there, they had perfect attendance and no write-ups. From my point of view they were a couple of well behaved guys who seemed to love art and sharing stories. He praised my efforts and left. A few days later the counselor sat in the back of my classroom during a session. Afterward she came up and apologized to me for her assumptions on the problems she thought I might have. She also informed me that the principal and office staff had shared the sentiment. I had proved them all wrong. Correction: The students and I had proved them all wrong and proved ourselves to be recipients of that miraculous power of art to elevate and unite. That classroom became a sanctuary for us and a fortress against all that would have come between us. Our daily laughter and experiences was a chorus that went beyond those walls and struck familiar chords. The time at the Flintville Elementary School was one of my best that year.

This experience, among others, consistently repositions art is the proverbial foot of the cross, the safe place of refuge and liberation from those things that set us apart. It is a soul language that runs deeper than all of those fences planted on the landscape of humanity’s refusal to see the we in all of us. The language of creative blossoming speaks from the heart with no detours or flags. It is that attainable space where anything is possible.

*Ruby Nell Bridges Hall is an American Hero. She was the first African American child to desegregate William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana. At six years old, Ruby’s bravery helped pave the way for Civil Rights action in the American South.

On Purpose Still…

…continued.

Within a minute I was aboard the green line weaving through Chicago going to find the Church where Rev. Jesse Jackson was to speak. By the time I arrived at the church, there was no doubt that it was the right place. About a dozen or so television news vans lined the area across from the Hispanic church. I went in. The cool calm space was inviting. I could hear people talking and made my way toward the voices. From the back of the sanctuary, I could see Rev. Jesse Jackson up front. An arch of camera’s surrounded him as he was closing his address. At least I got a chance to hear a little bit. Even though I was late, I walked in and took a seat on a pew. Less than five minutes later, we were standing again as he walked down the center aisle shaking hands as he came. When he got to me, he reached past my outstretched hand and gave me a fatherly hug with the words.

“Good to see you again, brother.”

He actually remembered. I was a bit more than surprised since I’m sure he sees so many people on any given day. Either way, I fell in behind him and we filed out of the sanctuary. Our interaction apparently pushed people to the conclusion that we were together. They began to ask me questions to which I’m honored to say, I had answers. Some inquired as to whether they could photograph Rev. Jackson. “Sure, I said.” Not really knowing what else to say. Outside we spoke again briefly and took a photo together before he was whisked into a waiting black SUV. Not before I heard one of his assistants say something about an event as the headquarters.

On my way back, I stopped in China Town and purchased a money plant. I hopped on the train with my little tree and headed back uptown. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this part of the journey had more to offer. At the next stop I changed trains and headed south toward the University of Chicago. Reaching the area, I walked a block or two and came to what I thought was the building that housed The Rainbow Coalition. A handsome elderly couple dressed in black and white grand church attire walked by me on the side walk across the street. The man spoke kindly. I returned the gesture with a nod. They looked really good. I knocked on the door a few times to no answer. I thought this was it. Finally I decided that maybe that part of the journey was over. I walked to the end of the sidewalk, headed toward the bus stop. The elder woman, still on the sidewalk across the street for some reason, called out to me.

“There’s somebody at the door, baby.” in that sweet grandmother voice.

I looked back and sure enough, inside the glass reflected the surrounding buildings, I could see the moving form of a man peering out. I quickly retuned to the door. He opened it as I approached. I told him that I’d heard about a meeting or event. He told me that they were taking donations for the situation at the border. I told him I wanted to make a donation. “Follow me.” He said. We entered a long hallway filled with black and white photos of all sizes. Each turn of the spaces had even more images of the movement suspended in time. I felt like I was walking through the pages of a Civil Rights coffee table book. Finally we walked into a large office. Behind a desk to my left sat Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson. He looked up and gave me a slight smile. For the next few hours he invested time and energy in my questions and musings. We talked about life before, during, and after the movement. He eventually signed and handed me three photos. One with he and a smiling Dr. Martin Luther King, one with he and the stately Nelson Mandela, and one with him being embraced by the greatest of all time, Muhammad Ali. He shared things that it only seemed a relative might share. He even had me answering his cell phone. In all the photos had I had seen plastered over the span of time, none of them had ever hinted that the Reverend Jesse Jackson had a comedic streak. At one point he nodded to my money plant and joked about me being bold enough to travel publicly in Chicago with a live weed plant. It was all a surreal experience. I knew I had to leave soon. In fact I should have left hours ago. I was supposed to be at the Southside Community Art Center at an event for artist, Eda Wade. I bid my farewells and walked with the gentleman back through the maze. My head and heart were filled with memories and a heaping helping of viable information. As we went though a large open room, I caught a glimpse of a life-size standup photo that flared up a memory. In the picture was Dr. Martin Luther King flanked by Jesse Jackson and Dr. Ralph Abernathy. I couldn’t speak, the wheels in my head spinning to a hum. What did this all mean? I needed to go. “Hey, check out these over here, li’l brother.” The man ushering me out, said. Quickly checking the time on my phone, I followed him to the corner, really needing to go. “Just check these out before you go.” He added. I stood for a few minutes and got lost in images I’d never seen before.

“Jahni.” a familiar voice called out from across the room, pulling me from my thought space. “Let’s take this photo.” I turned to see Rev. Jackson coming down a flight of stairs surrounded by his entourage. He was smiling and motioning for me to come over. “Right here,” he said as we positioned in front of the life sized iconic image of himself, Dr. King, and Dr. Abernathy. I didn’t have adequate words for the moment then…and I don’t have any now. The way all of this connected to my dream was orchestrated to call coincidental. Rev. Jackson is the last one of the men in the photo left walking on this plane. He invested time in me. Ralph Abernathy shared something with me in the dream. And there I stood. Here I stand. All I can say is that I know it was all on purpose. People invest in us for a reason. There are no happenstances. All the words and things planted in us by others are little guiding lights to our place of practice. Those reasons are not always clear in the beginning but, like connect the dots, if we trust the process, they will eventually take on the form of what we need to come into our purpose.

On Purpose