Sarah’s Diary Episode Twenty-Six

Jenny was uncertain how to prepare for today’s class. The only sibling she hadn’t discussed was Sarah. While the class had heard a lot from Sarah through her diary entries, rarely did those entries focus on her. In fact, Jenny found that not once did Sarah focus on something she had accomplished.

You could tell from her diary that Sarah was proud of her brothers and sisters. She seemed to be in awe of them. But why didn’t she speak about herself? Hiram called her a nurturer in his memoir. Where would Sarah’s future take her? You could see her as a teacher. In our day, she could be a counselor or mentor, but those didn’t exist in her day.

What Jenny decided to do was to ask each student in class to write down what they thought about Sarah. Then they shared their personal thoughts in small groups of four to achieve a general sense of how they thought about Sarah. These small groups then shared their thoughts with the entire class.

The sense of the class was that Sarah was a wonderful, caring person. Jenny chose to not do the four innovation questions for Sarah since there was so little information to judge them.

She chose instead to probe the role of encouragement in innovation. She was aware of how often innovators continued their work even though they faced discouragement and outright hostility. But could encouragement also be a key factor in innovation? That seemed to be Sarah’s role.

She asked the class to read the story of Gordon Parks.

Gordon Parks was born in Kansas in 1912. He had 14 older siblings. His education began in a segregated elementary school. His high school was integrated but African American students were limited in their participation in school activities. They were also discouraged from furthering their educations beyond high school.

When he was 14 his mother died, and he was sent to his older sister. That didn’t last long, and at the age of 15 Gordon left and began working in brothels as a singer and musician.

At age 28, Gordon discovered his why. He began to take photographs. At first, his photography was of fashions for a clothing store. He later did portraits of elite society. But he was more and more attracted to capturing the images of African American lives. Some of those photos can be seen here.

He was able to get grants to develop images of the social conditions that many Americans face. He described his camera as a weapon exposing images that were uncomfortable to many. When his grants expired, Gordon returned to commercial photography to sustain his more socially conscious work.

Gordon was more than just a photographer. In fact, there are few creative areas where he did not make a contribution. These include:

  • Film – his most notable work was the director of the movie named Shaft.
  • Music – he wrote songs, symphonies, and ballet scores.
  • Writing – he was the author of 15 books including books on photography, poetry, and memoirs.
  • Artist – he produced photographic-related abstract paintings.
  • Magazines – he helped found Essence Magazine.

Gordon Parks passed away at the age of 93. He never finished schooling but received 20 honorary doctorate degrees in his lifetime. Just imagine the creative contributions of one man who most would have written off when he was young. His entire life was turned around when a clerk who developed his first roll of film encouraged him. This one simple act unleashed a creative genius. Just imagine how many other Gordon Parks that might have added to our national treasury of creative work but never received the encouragement that he received.

Jenny concluded class by saying: “Could it be that Sarah was the photography clerk to her siblings? As we’ve gone through this class, I’m sure you wondered about your potential as an innovator. I hope that Sarah’s story gives you an idea of another role you can play in the innovation process – one of providing encouragement.”

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“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” – Leo Buscaglia (motivational speaker, author)

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