2023 CSK Illustrator Award Acceptance by Frank Morrison

I try to work on books that impact me personally. I was fortunate enough to illustrate Carole Boston Weatherford’s eloquent words and interpretation of the hymns that have been sung in African American community churches for what seems like centuries. I do not claim to have the same poetic abilities as Carole when it comes to writing, but if you can allow me to give my interpretation of the moving passages of Standing in the Need of Prayer, I’ll begin.

* * *

I’m old-school. That means: house parties, garage parties, park parties, and block parties.

My dances were the Wop, the James Brown, the Pee-wee Herman, the Smurf, the Cabbage Patch, and yes, the Electric Slide. Google it, if you don’t know.

It always seemed the best parties were in places where you needed the most friends as back-up. You know, that guy who couldn’t dance, but he did lift weights. That girl who was cute but didn’t play. Yeah, they could ride.

Those block-busting, most-talked-about-on-the-Monday-bus-rides-to-school parties weren’t always in the best neighborhoods.

Come to think of it, most artists and creators of color seem to be living in those red-lined conditions. Dapper Dan, or Dap. Frank Morrison, hip-hop.

Pardon me, this is all talk. It’s that sitting-on-that-wooden-pew-next-to-the-big-usher-because-she-caught-you-talking-again-to-your-friends talk. That good-thing-your-momma-was-helping-downstairs-and-didn’t-know-what-happened talk. That smelling-your-mother-and-the-mothers-of-the-church-cooking-dinner talk. Those something-out-of-nothing dinners. That good-times-in-bad-times living.

As I ponder, as we ponder, I think about why the best places to buy the fat laces and the Puma sweats in all the colors were often downtown, in those neighborhoods, towns, and cities that were so dangerous.

We are scared of ourselves. Isn’t that something? Somewhere, the bond was broken.

The bond started when we were snatched, chained, whipped, and cargoed into another dimension — I mean, slave ship.

In the deep bottom of those horrific, terrifying, disgusting gullies of ships like La Amistad — I mean, floating prisons — I can only imagine how we came together to help one another the best we could.

I can imagine finally being pulled up from the bottom of the beast to get a breath of fresh air, the stronger helping the weaker.

I can also imagine the bond we had when we were being chained one by one by two, by thousands, by millions on the way to the draft — excuse me, the auction block.

I can imagine that wailing sound of the torn-apart bond. Oh my gosh, the obliterating sound when our ancestors had to let go of their daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers. Then, witnessing them being stolen — I mean, sold — up and down and across the rivers, cities, states, and towns.

O beautiful for spacious skies. No, that would not come for four hundred years. The average life of a slave was between seventeen and twenty-one.

I’d like to think that bond was partially mended in the compassionate arms of a caring human being of the same color whispering: We cousins now, we family. We got you.

As I move forward, I can imagine riding with that bond in the glove compartment, driving deeper and deeper into the South visiting family. No, not 2023 — 1953. Seeing strange, unfamiliar “Only” signs. Seeing “No” signs. Only white. No blacks allowed. Then, opening the bond book — the Green Book — to get a better interpretation. Now seeing new signs: Come on in, y’all welcome to stay, eat, and rest, in peace. Y’all don’t hear me?

This is that fried-chicken-wrapped-in-a-paper-bag-and-aluminum-foil talk. That sweet-smells-of-the-greens-and-cornbread-flavor talk. Can I get an amen, or am I the only one here standing in the need of prayer?

* * *

Back in the sixties and seventies, the communities bonded together to help raise the youth. Back then, you couldn’t speak any kind of way in front of certain neighbors. They had the authority to whip your butt on the spot.

What seems like many years ago, a lifetime ago, 2020 ago, I saw a glimpse of solidarity from unfamiliar communities. How they know?

The causes were the same, but something was wonderfully different. All shapes and colors and religions, men and women, children of all kinds came together and stood up to the evil, vindictive face of racism, and said: Black Lives Matter! Like two strings coming together to make a bow, I felt unity. For the first time I felt United in the United States of America.

It takes months to be okay. It takes years to be great.

* * *

I’d like to thank my wife, Connie, the rhythm-catcher, and my five spoiled children for the years of putting up with Let me finish painting this page.

The CSK jury — that day you called was a blessing. It wasn’t just the award, it was the recognition. I put a lot into this. Thank you.

Our courageous Carole for writing our need-to-know-and-you-better-know unsung stories.

Sonali Fry, the visionary, for walking into that church and coming out with a holy spiritual.

Nicole de las Heras, great director of art.

My super agents, Lori Nowicki and Claire Easton Morance, for putting up with my phone calls, my forget-to’s, and my jokes.

My dog, Zoey. She tragically passed. She was a pain in the butt and my buddy.


Be good be great.

Frank Morrison is the winner of the 2023 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for Standing in the Need of Prayer: A Modern Retelling of the Classic Spiritual, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and published by Crown Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children's Books. His acceptance speech was delivered at the annual conference of the American Library Association in Chicago on June 25, 2023. From the July/August 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: ALA Awards. For more speeches, profiles, and articles, click the tag ALA 2023.

Single copies of this special issue are available for $15.00 including postage and may be ordered from:

Horn Book Magazine Customer Service

Full subscription information is here

Frank Morrison

Frank Morrison is the winner of the 2023 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and received a 2023 Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Award for Picture Book for Standing in the Need of Prayer: A Modern Retelling of the Classic Spiritual, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and published by Crown. He is also the winner of the 2021 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and published by Atheneum.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.