The Power of Kind Words

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.

* * *

“I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs. I knew at that point I had to have a camera.” – Gordon Parks

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.