Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Artists In Your Life: Are they Creating or Slaving?

What would this world be without the artists in our lives? They see things as only they can and create things that only they can. Unfortunately, school counselors and many parents put a dark mark on artists and suggest these students get a "real" job. That's why too many toil away--unfulfilled, with their creativity ebbing away as each day passes.

My sister, Alicia King, is a talented artist, although yet undiscovered. I love her work. She excels in oils, and pastels but she loves making things, flower arrangements, hats, shoes. Who thinks to actually MAKE a shoe? My sister does. But my sister does not work as an artist. She is working with autistic children as an assistant teacher. Before that she worked in a cafeteria. Before that she worked in a motor home building factory. My sister. The one with more talent in her little finger than our whole small town back in New Jersey works in anything but art.

In my travels, I have met great artists who stepped out on faith, trusted their art and created their livelihoods: Charles Dixon, Varnette Honeywood, Synthia St. James, Charles Bibbs. These are artists and entrepreneurs. But the granddaddy of them all, the one that could have passed for white, but chose to paint black images AND led the way by opening a gallery featuring the works of black artists was the one who saw his art as viable and used it for commercial work to sustain his family. He then parlayed that into a stellar career as a fine artist. His name is Walt Walker, and I had the pleasure of writing and co-directing a documentary on his life.

As is the case with all successful artists, Walt had a dedicated agent: his co-pilot was his wife and business partner Jane Walker. He passed on 5 years ago, but at 87 years old, Mrs. Walker is still growing and learning and working on the business of Walt's art. She will be there at the premiere, surrounded by her family and friends and all who knew and loved Walt. She makes things happen.

Two years ago, she asked Gail Parker, her web designer(www.WaltWalker.com), if she could help the world remember her husband. Gail and I had been dabbling in video production and took the project on as a way to learn, under the tutelage of our mentor William Byers. Harold Brown was our first cameraman, who shot Mrs. Walker and Cecil and Miriam Fergerson. We looked high and low for those who had footage of Walt and memories to share, or even a picture of Ray's Kitchen. We pulled together what we could but we were stuck. William saw us floundering and even tried to edit what we had. But we did not have enough.

One day, at last year's Los Angeles Black Business Expo, my husband and I had a booth to promote his World Afrikan Civilizations Class. On a break, I ran into Mrs. Walker. She looked good, but now she was walking on a cane.

I called "Hello! How are you?" She replied "I'm 87!"
Hmmm. I went back to my booth and told my husband I got Mrs. walker's message, loud and clear. My husband said "while you were gone, Moza stopped by and said they extended the deadline for the Pan African Film Festival (PAFF). You know you guys better finish this movie because tomorrow is not promised."

A few minutes later, I again went walking around the convention floor. The very next aisle Sandra Evers Manley, of the Hollywood Black Education Resource Center had just strolled in (with her queenly walk). I fell into step with her and asked "do you know where we can find money to finish a film project?" She said "How much do you need?" Flabbergasted, I sputtered "Let me ask Gail." At one point, she had been Sandra's web designer as well. Days later, Gail set a price and Sandra answered our distress signal.

William Byers agreed to shoot and edit and in one day we captured interviews with Ayuko Babu (PAFF Director), Charles Bibbs (626 Gallery Owner), Russel Walker (Walt's son) and Jesse Raudales (up and coming Olympic artist walking in Walt's footsteps.) We worked around the clock, and one day, it was finished.

Thanks to this chain of events, it has been selected to premiere at the Pan African Film Festival. Feb 15 and 16.

We are so excited, we cannot tell you. But I digress.

Perhaps I should have been the one to help my sister see that her art was viable. That's what Varnette Honeywood's sister Stephanie did by helping her create Black Lifestyles, when the popularity of the Cosby show flung Varnette's art to the national stage. And that's what Jane did for Walt.

My sister and I did create an unpublished children's book together "Penny and the Popsicle" and she has done various sketches and artwork for my projects through the years. What makes me most hopeful is that her daughter, Sonia King, now 16, had that same artistic eye and she has already had a number of art shows, and is getting formal training in her art at the Governor's School in Norfolk, Virginia. The world that Sonia is about to enter into is wide open as opposed to the one my sister had to navigate through.

It's not too late. If Mrs. Walker at 87 can see her dream realized surely my sister can share her talents with the world. That is my goal for 2008. Thanks, Mr. Walker!

Take care, and hope to see you on Feb. 16!

Note: All artwork above is my sister's (pictured at left with me-she's the one on the right). To see Walt Walker's art visit www.WaltWalker.com and click the link to his gallery.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Please: Go see The Great Debaters Today

And, please, take me with you.

5:55 a.m. I really have another cool hour before I have get to up, but all I could think about was how to convince you to go see The Great Debaters.

First, I love movies like this: tastefully acted, suspenseful and fulfilling, rich in history, but so dramatic that you don't realize you're learning history. I can't wait to see it again.

I really planned to see it when it opened Christmas Day but these holidays were so all consuming that I looked up and it was Jan. 5 (Ravi's s birthday) and I still had not gone. I wasn't even thinking about going, until I was at KJLH Radio, about to go on the air, guest hosting for L.A. Speak's Out, when I had to run to the door for this nice young man. My guests for that segment were wedged between an Obama discussion and the topic of my next post. They were promoting the upcoming Martin Luther King Parade in Los Angeles. Founder Larry Grant invited his celebrity grand marshalls, Dr. Mildred Garcia, the president of California State University Dominguez Hills, (a Puerto Rican sister, fresh in from New York) and Jermaine Williams, the young man who was trying to figure out how to get in to the station.

He looked slightly familiar and I welcomed him in, but it was time to crack the mike so I did not learn that he was "Porkschop" from Stomp the Yard until we were underway. But, Mr. Grant introduced him as Jermaine Williams, who played Hamilton Burgess in The Great Debaters. Like my youngest son, he just turned 25, and he was a joy to get to know. He easily interacted with the other kids in the studio for the next segment.

So, since I met this young man, after the show, I called the family to get up (No easy feat on Saturday morning). Kwaku was already out but Jaaye was sleep but I told him to get ready, we were going to the movies.

We went, and we were not disappointed. When Jaaye was younger I took him to see Lean on Me, a movie which he often says was one of his favorites. That one, Akeelah and the Bee and The Great Debaters are great movies for young students to see to help inspire them along their studies.

I am not going to tell you what the movie is about. If you lived in America, you've probably already seen the interviews of Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker (click the link above for clips). Still, somehow it has only made a reported $16.5 million to date. It's been my experience that boot legs of I am Legend and American Gangster were readily available, (which in its twisted way attests to the popularity of a movie) but I have seen none of this one. The fact that many families are blowing off this movie is a tragedy.

Go see it in the theaters. This is one of those films we have been clamoring for, always saying if our rich superstars got together and made better films we would support them. But the gang banger films with basic unknowns are laughing all the way to the bank, while this one features two Oscar winners.

There were only four Debaters featured, and Jermaine is the one who did not compete in the end, so you will know which one he is, but the eyes of his co-star (the youngest debater coincidentally named Denzel Whitaker), haunt me to this day. You must see his last scene, his greatest moment.

More powerful though, was his interaction with his father and how they inspired each other throughout the movie. And Jaaye reminded me that he later turned out to be James Farmer, the founder of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), since this is based on a true story.

Please. Go see The Great Debaters while it is still in the theaters. Not just for Denzel and Oprah's sake, (I do hope they venture into more cinematic efforts like this) and Denzel's great directing, but you should go see it for you. And bring that young person with you--no matter who he or she belongs to --and inspire their spring semesters.

Here's a few more pix I snapped from that radio program: Click here!