Today in the U.S. it is a National Holiday – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
This holiday is also known as the MLK Day of Service:
The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Jan. 20, 2020, marks the 25th anniversary of the day of service that celebrates the Civil Rights leader’s life and legacy. Observed each year on the third Monday in January as “a day on, not a day off,” MLK Day is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities. The Corporation for National and Community service has been charged to lead this effort for the last quarter century. (nationalservice.gov)
I am re-posting a blog post from April 2016 from my ongoing series on on my sources of Creative Inspiration, in honor of MLK Day, about a person I knew personally, my father Raoul A. Davis, Sr., who lived a life of service.
My father’s stories, words and lessons keep me centered and focused, and they inspire daily just like those of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Friday Night at Barnes & Noble Bookstore: A Discovery (April 2016)
Life is filled with serendipitous events. Several Fridays ago such an event occurred.
A wild Friday night in Central Oregon involves hanging out at the local Barnes & Noble bookstore. I love browsing in bookstores. I love bookstores, period. They are nearly as magical as libraries (except the discoveries at bookstores are not free to take home!)
While browsing the magazine section of Barnes & Noble, I came across a magazine I had not seen before – American Craft Magazine (and I thought I knew all the magazines in the “crafting” magazine section). This magazine is published by the American Craft Council.
Flipping through this magazine I found an article on an exhibit by the WCQN (Women of Color Quilting Network). I did not know, as a woman of color, that there was a Women of Color Quilting Network! I made a mental note of the acronym and immediately upon returning home I googled the WCQN.
The WCQN , according to their website “is a non-profit organization founded in 1985 by Carolyn L. Mazloomi, a nationally-acclaimed quilt artist and lecturer, to foster and preserve the art of quilt making among women of color.”
Wow. What a discovery for me!
I contacted the Director of WCQN, Dr. Carolyn L. Mazloomi, to find out how I could join.
After several wonderful exchanges with Dr. Mazloomi, I am now a member of the WCQN. I had the opportunity to view her website, www.carolynlmazloomi.com and view her amazing art. I also spent a considerable amount of time looking at the the WCQN website, www.wcqn.org, and viewing their past exhibitions (www.wcqn.org/exhibit.html).
I was overwhelmed with inspiration to explore an additional direction in my art quilting – telling stories with my art quilt.
The WCQN art quilts poignantly share stories from a people of color’s perspective and shared experience.
Wanting to explore this theme in the future, I am inspired to create a future series of art quilts called Stories My Father Told Me.
Stories My Father Told Me
My father, Raoul A. Davis, Sr. was an amazing man. He passed in 2008, and left behind a legacy of stories and inspiration.
Born of the 4th of July, he was the son of two teachers and grew up the segregated South (Charleston, West Virginia) in the 1930s. He faced many hardships and challenges but always forged ahead to achieve his goals and dreams. He was the first black to attend Kiski School in Pennsylvania, received a bachelor’s degree from Central State University, and obtained his master’s degree from Columbia University. He also served his country in the US Army.
He served as a leader in the nonprofit sector for over 40 years. His service included working with gangs and underprivileged youth as a Social Worker in NYC; founding the Urban League of Long Island, NY; and creating the first Empire State Black Arts and Cultural Festival (today known as the African American Family Day Art Festival).
He retired as the Deputy Commissioner for the Office of General Services for the State of NY. In his retirement he volunteered and consulted for local nonprofits and community agencies.
His resume was impressive, but what I remember most about him is his stories.
Starting from my earliest memories as a child, I remember him telling me stories of his challenges growing up in the segregated South, stories of his athletic pursuits (he was an accomplished multi-sport athlete), stories about the intense hazing he received as the first black to attend Kiski Prep School, stories of overcoming shocking physical and psychological abuse in the US Army in the 1950 by his drill sergeant, and many other inspirational stories from his life.
A couple of years before he passed he decided to write his autobiography and I offered to help him by transcribing his handwritten notes and pulling them into a rough draft. It was so wonderful to read the stories I knew well from hearing in my youth; and I was honored to help him with this project.
Unfortunately my father passed before finishing his autobiography. I did take what I had and make it into a book for my sister and brother (two incredible individuals who continue my father’s legacy and inspire me daily); and for his grandchildren (one of which he did not get to meet before he passed).
I am still left with all his stories in my head and in my heart, and I think I want to share them in another medium beyond the verbal and written word: in my art quilts.
His Stories into My Quilts
I am in the early stages of thinking of how I want to translate some of my favorite stories into a textile story – will I do something abstract, or will I do a pictorial quilt (time to brush up my appliqué skills!).
An ongoing theme in all his stories is: Here is a challenge, it may seem impossible, but you can overcome it!
One of my favorite stories that my father told me, is a story from his growing up in the segregated South and a bus ride experience that embodied his outlook on dealing with racial prejudices:
As a teenage in the 1940s, I was riding on the bus and a white guy was forced to sit next to me because no other seats were available. He turned to me and growled – “I hate you, you #%%$%%!”
I calmly replied to him “Well, you would like me if you got to know me”.
We ended up having a great conversation and when we got to his bus stop, he exclaimed as he exited the bus: “Raoul, you are alright”.
My father likely did not change this man’s racist outlook on people of color, but he may have left an imprint in this man’s mind and heart to evaluate people based on their character not their color.
My father, who was also active in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s and fortunate to have met Martin Luther King, Jr., believed in focusing on getting to know each other as individuals and not judging an entire group or population.
He believed change came through dialogue not violence. He taught his three children to be brave, no matter what adversity life threw at them; and to as Mahatma Gandhi said “…be the change you wish to see in the world”.
He also taught us to be proud of who we are as individuals, as a people and of our heritage, and not to listen to those who tell you otherwise.
“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” – Gandhi
I would be honored to share his stories through my quilts.
In Spring 2016, I begin the Stories My Father Told Me series with quilt #1 – The Lesson & The Equation, discussed in the post Stories My Father Told Me: Quilt #1 .
I’ve been sketching out the next quilt in the series.
(This quilt was part of the nationally traveling exhibit “Visioning Human Rights in the New Millennium: Quilting the World’s Conscience“, see post Visioning Human Rights in the New Millennium – Book is Released! )