A long, long time ago, I was born in Anniston, Alabama. I was raised in a family of former sharecroppers from the deepest regions of Georgia. My mother, the oldest of ten, was uprooted by my grandfather in a move that permanently relocated the family to Anniston.
Until approximately 50 years ago, my family was largely bereft of any formal education. Like her many siblings, my mother left school in the third grade and used what little she had learned along with common sense to educate her children. She, like her sisters, spent most of her life as a domestic worker in the homes of both southern and northern white families. My grandfather and his sons performed many different jobs as skilled but low paid workers. Most of the men in the family struggled at one time or another with weekend alcohol addiction, but for the most part, took care of their families. Growing up in Alabama, in the household and neighborhood where I lived, was a complex and difficult endeavor. We were poor but not destitute. We never went without food or clothing. My environment was a small community of poor black people fenced in by Jim Crow on all sides. Growing up in Alabama with such unapologetic racism and poverty would have and did destroy many Black families.
I, however, was lucky. I was never alone or unprotected. I managed to always be surrounded by strength and determination. My grandmother, my aunts, and later my sisters, were women of necessary, but great, strength who placed over the children in our community a protective blanket that kept most of the monsters away until we came of age and invited them in ourselves. As in
many black neighborhoods, myself, my sisters and our friends were watched night and day by a community that valued us long before they could articulate their feelings.
I lived in the presence of great strength and fortitude. I was never without it, and even in sleep, it was always around me. These were the people that shaped my growth and built, brick by brick, the solid foundation that not only supported my journey, but insisted on it, as I walked a path looking for a life that they always taught me to believe was mine. Their spirit influenced me, molded me, and picked me up when I stumbled.
As I was searching for just the right title for probably my most important exhibition, I looked back to those days when I was surrounded by the protective dome of a strong extended family. As it has always happened in the past, the incredible memories of their lives and commitment to our bond reminds me of who I am and how, in spite of the odds, I have managed to reach the high points of my profession. It is in those memories, those lives that the title for the show lives: Enduring Spirit.
It is important to note that in choosing this concept, I was careful to stay in the singular. It is Enduring Spirit, not Enduring Spirits. The title was meant as a tribute to the specific individual perseverance of the many women and many men who took responsibility for the life that was offered to them and struggled to pass a legacy of hard work and resistances down to their children. They worked not only with their bodies, but too, with their souls and their minds. Enduring Spirit has never been meant to be a testament to religious doctrine. It explores the strength of a past that has informed my present and given me the wisdom and the courage to prepare a future for those I love.
The tall eight-foot piece on the long wall is a part of that series. Whereas, the completed exhibition is based in the concept of unrelenting struggles and the terrible, overwhelming pressure to survive. These drawings express this point unapologetically. This exhibition holds my life, speaks my truth, and talks of the many battles, and wounds that a lifetime committed to trying to do the right thing for others and my family has etched in my mind and spirit. When my mother taught a lesson, it was for life. My spirit endures.