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Lift Every Voice: A Matter of Choice

Though many things in life are set to autopilot, we thrive when we are choosing. I made the choice to be an artist when I was around seven and realized I could copy Fred Flintstone pretty accurately. It was a spark of magic that I wanted more of.

As an only child, I was able to carve out cozy spaces where I could draw, paint, write, sing, and dream. I marveled over Bob Ross’s “happy little trees” on TV, and my mother allowed me to set up an easel so I could paint along with the show.

She and my grandmother were my biggest fans. I’d take the bus to my grandma’s house after school every day, and we’d sit around her kitchen table while I copied her likeness. My grandmother was a tough critic, often being the first to laugh and say, “Is that what you think your grandma looks like?” Though it was hard, drawing made me happy. It was a challenge I always welcomed.

My mother was my greatest supporter and kept me supplied with paper and pencils. In middle school she enrolled me in a portraiture class at the community art center. I was the youngest person and took my studies very seriously. Learning how to draw facial features gave me a bit more magic to add to my bag. In high school I made a little money drawing portraits of my peers. It wasn’t a lucrative gig, but it taught me that people would pay me for my skill.

When it was time to choose a college, my mom encouraged me to go where I wanted and study what I loved even though we didn’t have much money. She had wanted to be an entertainer when she was young but didn’t have the support she needed to move from Georgia to California to pursue her dream. She traded in that dream and became a devoted mother and educator. She made sure I wouldn’t trade in mine.

Now I am fully grown, without either of those guiding forces nudging me along my path. I am more practiced, more insightful, and wiser about how I live my life and why; I understand that every moment I sit down at the drawing table is a choice. A choice that trails behind each of the other choices, dreams, and wishes that made it all possible.

From the May/June 2019 Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: CSK Book Awards at 50. Find more information about ordering copies of the special issue.

Shadra Strickland About Shadra Strickland

Shadra Strickland won the 2009 John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award for Bird (Lee & Low).

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