Last Thursday I had the wonderful opportunity to attend an event in honor of the late and great Gordon Parks and Black History Month. This event was hosted at Macy’s in Union Square (San Francisco) and had some pretty fabulous sponsors. There was music, food, celebrities and leaders. The event was the unveiling of Gordon Parks photographic art that will be on display in Macy’s San Francisco on the third floor, and we had a wonderful discussion panel that led a variety of topics. We discussed Gordon Parks’ early years, what made him choose a camera as his “weapon of choice”. We discussed his presence throughout the civil rights movement and the trail he blazed and made all his own.
The speakers also discussed their own journeys, and how Gordon Parks’ work touched their own lives and inspired them through their personal and professional careers, and we learned about the foundations and companies that helped put this wonderful night together.
This was the second event I’ve been to that Macy’s has hosted, and once again it was an elegant and classy affair. If you ever have an opportunity to attend one of their events, I highly recommend it!
I met up with my blogger buddy Mommy Powers, and we arrived together. Upon arrival on the third floor, there was an entire area sectioned off for this event. You could hear the live band playing, and there were greeters directing you. Upon check-in, we walked through the roped entrance and were offered various wines or raspberry lemonade. From there, we were directed to our reserved seats where we got a wonderful front row view of the stage!
|All wine was courtesy of Esterlina Vineyards. They offered a choice of red, white, or rosé wine. I chose the white wine, while Mommy Powers had the lemonade. Both were delicious!
|The live jazz band, Cavalisa, played as everyone was getting settled in.
They were really good! They continued to play when the discussion was over while everyone mingled and enjoyed the drinks and delicious hors d’oeuvres.
|Guest speakers: Eriq La Salle, Kim Coles, and the bay area’s own Renel.
|The night began with the legendary Dana King (Stunning! Absolutely hilarious too!) and Gordon Parks Foundation executive director, Peter Kunhardt, Jr. opening the discussion. Dana was a news anchor for 15 years and was a fixture for KPIX Bay Area News. She recently left her news anchor position to pursue her career in art and sculpting. First Dana spoke about Gordon Parks and how he pioneered the way for so many like herself, as a newscaster and an artist. Then Dana led the discussion while Peter spoke about his early memories of Gordon Parks, who was friends with his grandfather and was a frequent visitor in his home. He spoke fondly about Mr. Parks as a person, and the influence he had on him at such a young age. He also spoke about the Foundation and the over 6,000 works it houses that belong to Gordon.
|Next on the panel with Dana was Stephen Sterling, representing his family business, Esterlina Vineyards.
Esterlina is one of the few African-American owned vineyards. Stephen gave us some of his own family history, his family came from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to the Bay Area to start their winery business, and I can say the wine is tremendously delicious and beautifully packaged. They even held a raffle where two lucky attendees each won a bottle of wine!
|San Francisco Mayor, Willie Brown, was even on hand and said a few words for the event.
|The main discussion began and we met Renel, who has been a fixture in the SF Bay Area for years! I first remember her as a radio DJ for 106.1 KMEL when I was a kid, and she also was a VJ for CMC, which is where I watched her and got to know her face and personality as she played music videos for our local bay area channels. She eventually left KMEL and went to work at 98.1 KISS FM and she is also known as the official announcer for the Champions of the World Series, the San Francisco Giants.
It was so wonderful to see a face from my youth that I grew up listening to and hearing on the radio at an event like this.
Renel introduced us to the handsome Eriq La Salle, who many of us know as Doctor Peter Benton from the TV Series ER. Eriq is not only an actor, but he is a writer, producer, and director as well. Currently he is working on the follow up to his debut novel Laws of Depravity, which he plans to make into a movie.
Also on the panel was the gorgeous and hilarious actress and comedienne, Kim Coles. I know Kim best for her role as Synclaire on Living Single. I watched Living Single the entire time it was on TV, and Synclaire was always my favorite character. I was definitely excited to see Kim Coles in person! Kim is now a writer, natural hair advocate and youth empowerment leader, and is about to announce new dates for her one-woman comedy show, “Oh but wait, there’s more.”
Renel, Eriq and Kim discussed Gordon Parks’ early life. I learned he was stillborn, and the doctor refused to give up on him. He put him in a bath of ice water to revive Gordon, and he thrived. As a teenager, after his mother died, his brother in law kicked him out, and he was homeless and worked the railway. It was then that he saw photos of migrant workers published in a magazine. These Americana-style photos inspired Gordon to pick up a camera. He bought his own camera at a pawn shop and taught himself how to use it and work it.
Gordon eventually worked and got paid for his photography, at first capturing social conditions at the time, later breaking into fashion photography.
Towards the end of his life he started doing abstract print, creating beautiful pictures and stories with things like dried leaves.
Gordon was a visionary, instead of stepping out of the box, he built his own box. I love that! He stood out instead of fitting in and blazed his own trail.
|Muhammad Ali, as captured by Gordon Parks
In addition to the extensive photography library, he was also an author, filmmaker and composer. He was a humanitarian and he was a huge part of the civil rights movement. His focus was social injustice and he had a large focus on race relations, poverty, and urban life. He worked with many prominent figures and leaders during that era, developing friendships with leaders, politicians, artists, celebrities and athletes.
Gordon originally worked for Farm Security Administraion (F.S.A.) capturing images of farm workers for publication. After they disbanded, he continues to take photos for Office of War Information and The Standard Oil Photography Project. He became a freelance photographer for Vogue for many years, and he was known for his photos of models in movement with the garments rather than still poses. While continuing to work in fashion photography he also continued to document poverty stricken cities and countries. He eventually held a position for Life Magazine as a staff photographer for 20 years. His portraits of many african american leaders are among some of the most well known photographs documented.
Gordon Parks then began his writing career and eventually became the first African-American director of a major Hollywood movie, The Learning Tree. The Learning Tree started as his own autobiographical novel, which he then adapted as a screenplay and composed the score for the film as well. His next movie to direct was one of the biggest box office hits of its time, the movie Shaft.
Eriq and Kim spoke with Renel about the influence Gordon had on them as they developed their own careers as actors, writers, directors, and artists.
|This is the display of Gordon Parks’ photographic art on display at the Macy’s San Francisco in Union Square on the third floor.
|This event was to honor Gordon Parks’ 100th birthday, in honor of Black History Month.
Here is Mommy Powers and I, enjoying our evening. I really enjoyed this event and I learned so much. Gordon Parks was not only a part of Black History, but he’s such a huge part of American History as a whole, especially during such an important era in American culture.
I was interested in this event because my family is multicultural, and I like to learn as much as I can about all aspects of our nations history to teach to my children so they can know about their multi-faceted roots. Thank you to Macy’s and all the other sponsors that helped make this event happen!
I am a member of the Everywhere Society and Everywhere provided me with compensation for this post about Macy’s Black History Month. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own.