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Nora Johnson

Soul-Searching Art
By Nora Johnson

W
ere all people, right? All equally I wanted to remind all of us through my artwork that
deserving of respect and everyone has a face, a voice, an identity.
opportunity? Some in Memphis
seem to disagree. Some months later, I drove down Broad looking for
him and ended up approaching a man who looked
Memphis is a racially-divided dirty and dilapidated. The artist in me noticed the
and economically-stratified city known to the outside deep wrinkles on his face and how they resembled
world as home to Elvis Presleys Graceland and killer the deep folds in his disheveled cargo pants. His
yi youthimpact
WRITING SERIES
barbeque. Yet Memphis is a cauldron of heat and unwashed hair and street-weary face unnerved me.
soul food and musicand extreme poverty. We live I was verklempt.
in a nation of equal rights, but unequal opportunity
this is especially true in our community. Thirty five The man was Wesley. I didnt even recognize him; his
percent of our population goes hungry every day, our physical and mental health had declined tremendously
murder and rape statistics are some of the highest in just six months. He had been hit by a city bus since
in the country, and our racial and economic divides the last time I spoke with him. He leaned heavily on a
appear intractable. Memphis needs our help. cane and looked like he had aged ten years. Again, I
About the Author & Artist was verklempt.
Last year I met someone who claims to be Elviss
Nora Johnson is a member of The only way to start helping the disenfranchised is
high school classmate. He was sitting at the corner of
Hutchisons Class of 2016. A Sam Cooper Boulevard and Broad Avenue, the center by feeling their pain, listening to their aspirations, and
talented artist with a passion of Binghampton, one exceedingly hot August day. accepting them as people. Wesley is so much more
and love for her hometown of He was an older man sitting casually on the side of than his home at the street corner of Sam Cooper
Memphis, she has led efforts the road wearing a threadbare sweater and beat-up and Broad and the fact that he went to high school
with Elvis. Everyone has a story to tell. But when
to educate Hutchison girls baseball cap. He seemed friendly, yet slightly lost.
your opportunity, voice, and even identity is stripped
about Memphis issues, history, What is your name? from your lifeits hard for you to communicate
and culture and stimulated a with outsiders what youre enduring on a daily basis.
culture of civic engagement Wesley, he mumbled, struggling to stand. I Wesleys story is similar to Gales, Pats, Bills, Nubs,
introduced myself and asked if I could take his picture
among the upper school as Dianes, Kates, Damians, and Marcuss. All people
for my art project. He hesitantly agreed. I pulled out
president of Hutchisons my camera and captured his image. Could I have
that I drew. All people without homes. All citizens of
Memphis. All individuals who need help.
Rogers Scholars organization. some money? he whispered, and I gave him what I
had. After the AP Art Show, I sold a few drawings from
my portfolio and used the money to buy tents,
To inspire Hutchison girls He sat back down to his life, I drove away to mine. backpacks, toiletries and dog supplies for the people
like Nora to use their talents in my drawings. Unfortunately, Wesley is still out
to serve the Mid-South I took AP Drawing my junior year and chose to draw
there.
Wesley and twelve other vulnerable people to raise
community, Kirby Dobbs
awareness in my community that these people exist,
and Glenn Floyd recently have names and families, hopes and dreams. Too
Down on Beale one night I bought a classic Memphis
bumper sticker: No black. No white. Just the Blues.
endowed the Hutchison Serves often we alienate people who seem different. We
program that spans from early categorize and weigh people on such relative scales I wish it were that simple.
childhood to the upper school. as race, ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic status.

26 / 4Memphis

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