Get an education! From a very early age my parents, family, and community drilled home the idea that I must “study hard” (Korean grandmother’s accent) and get an education. They gave me plenty in talks about thinking for myself, always questioning status quo etc. Education. To learn, improve one’s self, the struggle to gain knowledge was took to heart and I carry it with me everywhere I go. I’ve repeated it to every classroom I’ve taught in. I put it in my brush strokes and I tell my boy. Thank you to all of my many teachers.
The following happened almost all at the same time, but I couldn’t just make one huge paragraph, so there you go.
So then I dropped out of college. Ok, I went for a couple of years but I didn’t raise my hand. I didn’t get tutoring. I didn’t join Mecha or the Black student group. I went back to the town (Oakland) to kick it with my homies after class. Going through several years at a college taking courses was not teaching me. I had to leave school to learn and to understand what it was that I wanted to know. Ultimately I wanted to know myself and the following decade after I left school completely transform me. I enrolled in life.
When leaving school I joined a group of artists who would later become “Trust Your Struggle”. I love these folks and they are my brothers and sisters. In the beginning there were just 3 of us and later we grew to three times that. Having come from many backgrounds racially, geographically, and economically we took the ideologies we grew up with or were studying and blended them with our many styles of art. We taught each other, argued, we laughed, talked shit, and I grew exponentially as an artist and as a man. We said things that were not so popular 11 years ago, but we made our own gallery shows when others said no. We participated in organizing efforts to teach youth about the intersection of art, ethnic studies, and organizing at schools and conferences. We painted large murals across the country for schools, organizations, and actions. The crew formed mural tours where we met people who shaped our beliefs in the US and some of us went abroad.
My most amazing beautiful experience came when my son was born. A little boy who me and his mother named for his movement and his voice. I fell in love with his eyes and have held his hand tightly in mine ever since. Thousands of questions, a fierce spirit, a reminder of how precious life really is. I am forever grateful that he chose me to be his father. In him I rediscovered a love for stories reading to him at night. I decided that if he smiled while listening to them, I wanted to tell stories about where he came from, who he is, who I am, and who is community is. So much of both his and my identity is rendered invisible in stories that play out in real life. I feel that the simple act of telling a story is limitless in power. It satisfies my need to ask questions, to be creative, and to love.
At the same time, I taught. A lot. I have been working since my early teens but when I had to command the attention of a room of fertile minds I……. I was trying to think of something poetic to say here, but I’ll just say that $%^& was hard! Then, I had all these ideologies and concepts of what it meant to be radical in thinking or action until I met people who actually made political and social change. Not through a name or a big personality but by organizing at a ground, hand to hand, foot on the pavement level. I worked for a stint with non-profit organizations then back to teaching. I met children all over the Bay Area and later all over NYC. I made lesson plans, power analyses, I made curriculum. I snuck in revolutionary quotes in graffiti letters. I played songs like “You must learn” and “ Wear clean draws” next to “tell me when to go” and “candy shop”. Overall I think I learned more than I taught.
Then, I fell off on with my art a bit. I decided that I was going back to school to finish what I started. I started to practice again, between diaper changes and lesson plans. I start to make plans to leave my hometown. I decide with my son’s mom to leave the Bay Area and to travel to a whole new city. To Brooklyn, a whole other planet as Lyte one said. I teach there too. In Brooklyn, Manhattan, Harlem, Queens, etc. My crew has moved there too. I discover some kids literally have their school paid for while finishing my BFA. I realize I’m the oldest dude in my new classes and very often the only man of color. Folks come up to me speaking Spanish for the first time in El Alto. I hear Creole, Hindi, Spanish, and Patois when I walk. I meet people who challenge my point of view. I meet some artists of amazing caliber and incredible new friends with hearts as big as the city. I plan, I decide to commit to a new craft; absorbing as much as I can about how to tell stories. I read children’s books, comics, art books, watch more films like a mad man. I graduate. Pop my collar one time. Maybe twice.
I come back to planet Oakland after having met so many different people and having a really different world view than the one I left with. So much has changed when I return because I have changed. My pace slows for a minute. Then I start writing and drawing again like nuts and what happens next?. To be continued to the next post.
In case you missed it, I launched my first childrens book “Furqan’s First Flat Top” on kickstarter this past week. Check it out.