You could not have told me nearly three years ago that I would be where I am now, in great part, because of Beauford Delaney.
My study of James Baldwin and my desire to understand the man who taught him how to write so colorfully led to me “meet” Beauford.
at the American Cultural Center, Paris
Photo: U.S. Information Service
Through that introduction I have met wonderful people – friends of Beauford, seen beautiful works of art – Beauford’s paintings, and encountered wonderful memories – Beauford’s spirit. And like James Baldwin, I have been inspired to write by the man whom he called his mentor. I have earned my Ph.D., written my first book (to be released in December of this year), and established the Baldwin-Delaney Institute for Academic Enrichment and Faith Flourishing at Chicago Theological Seminary. Needless to say, I have walked through the unusual door!*
When my soul looks back over this time, I find myself in the grasp of Beauford’s model of manhood; a manhood that dares to live within the grace given by God to pursue the fulfillment of your gift. It takes great energy to maintain the worldly identities that are thrust upon us and the pursuit of one’s vocation beyond the stifling dependency on these identities often comes at great cost. Yet, that cost is minimal when put up against the madness of pursuing mediocrity, the middle ground, the easy life, the safe thing to do.
The door that Beauford opened is one that few walk through completely and the path he pioneered is one that few navigate successfully. I see Beauford and imagine his exhaustion: an exhaustion that comes with carrying the great burden of manhood encumbered by blackness and being misunderstood sexually. Yet, his craft did not fail him nor does it fail us. In spite of it all, the rage never limited the beauty of his art or the import of his sacrifice, even if it cost him his sanity.
1963 Watercolor on Wove Paper
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator
I think that more than anything, the purpose of the paintings Beauford left for us is to inspire us to live our greatest vision of ourselves. So here I am at the end of one thing and the beginning of another. It is Beauford that guided me here, giving me the strength to go through the unusual door and unto the path of greatness. It is not a path for the faint of heart and Beauford reminds us of what can happen, but not that it has to happen. So, I move forward wanting to make the world a better place, desiring to be a good steward of the path of vocational freedom, and to love well while I live.
© Errol Sawyer
Every time I look at Beauford’s face, every time I look at one of his paintings, I am reminded of this. Thank you Beauford, for showing me the way and for being my friend.
*According to James Baldwin, the “unusual door” is a lyric from a song that “Beauford would often sing.” Baldwin speaks of this in his essay “The Price of the Ticket” in Collected Essays ed. Toni Morrison.(New York: Library of America, 1998), p. 830.