There is no barrier to success which diligence and perseverance cannot hurdle.
— Gordon Parks
By: George Addison (Portions excerpted from – “Moments in the Shadow of Greatness”)
It was in the spring of 1976, that I returned home from the military feeling optimistic about life and my future in general. It was during this time that I reached out to Mr. Gordon Parks, Sr., Photographer, Musician, Poet, Novelist, Journalist, Activist and Film Director, someone whom I considered a true “Renaissance Man. His photography had graced the pages of Life and Vogue magazines.
One of his best known works included a series of photo essay’s entitled “American Gothic” featuring Ella Watson – a black cleaning woman who worked in the FSA building. The photo was a parody of the painting of the same name by Grant Wood. I particularly liked Parks’ movies, “Shaft and The Learning Tree, a film adaptation of his autobiographical novel. He wrote the screenplay and musical score to the film as well, thus becoming the first major Black Director to do so.
In the 70’s he helped spawn the blaxploitation film era with films like “Shaft’s Big Score, The Super Cops” and others. His literary contributions span the gambit consisting of novels, autobiographies, poetry, film making, instructional photographic manuals and more. I always admired his photography, poetry, films and other creative endeavors. I recall the moment I decided to contact Mr. Parks by letter. A number of my friends thought I was crazy and that nothing would come of it.
They stressed that he would be too busy to respond to a young unknown writer and photographer with no credentials like myself. Secretly, I believed they could be right. However, a louder voice inside of me said, “Give it a try, you don’t have anything to lose!” This thought reminded me of one of my favorite quotes by Mr. Parks, “the guy who takes a chance, who walks the line between the known and the unknown, who is unafraid of failure, will succeed!”
Months later I did receive that response letter from Mr. Parks. He had taken the time to express gratitude for my kind words praising his work and encouraged me to stay passionate and keep focused on my poetry and photography while simultaneously continuing to develop my educational and artistic skills. That letter, was my moment in the shadow of this great soul and it inspired me to pursue my creative interests with various artistic mediums. I have no doubt that without his encouragement and the support of my uncle and grandfather that my dreams would have never been pursued with such vigor and diligence.
I expressed this sentiment personally to Mr. Parks when he appeared some years later as a guest on my public broadcasting public affairs program “The National Black Business Report.” What started as simple words of encouragement years before had gone full circle in my life, culminating with Mr. Parks and I chatting about his professional endeavors and our cowboy boots. This gracious and stately gentleman had an endearing, kind and truthful character – and even though I was just one of thousands of people he touched and inspired, I felt respected and appreciated as though I was one of his closest friends and peers. It was the uniqueness of the man.
I will always be eternally grateful and as I promised him during that meeting between the two of us, I will continue to encourage others and pass the knowledge gained to those who follow. The mini doc “Gordon Parks … Life, Career and Universality” brings some of Mr. Parks insights which are beneficial to us all. You can appreciate and support his legacy by visiting the Gordon Parks Foundation and donating.