For some folks the recent passing of Morrie Turner will just be a footnote in today’s fast-paced Internet. But not for me.
Morrie Turner, died over the weekend (as of this writing) at the age of 90. He was a pioneer in many ways, but most of all I will remember him because he came to my elementary school and inspired me to be an artist. Let me clear this up a bit. I was in a school for the arts. It was a magnet education / arts program in Oakland, California called Mosswood Arts. So it wasn’t uncommon for the school to have various artists come in and speak to the students. However, when Morrie Turner came to visit there was something different. And for me it was that Mr. Turner was black. In fact, in my three years at that art school he was the only black adult artist I ever met.
When he came to our class he spoke about his craft and showed us how he worked and what his job demanded. He spoke about his newspaper comic strip and how he had to write it every day. He spoke about the diverse cast of characters in his strip, but he never once spoke about the issue of his race.
But for me he didn’t have to. The fact that he, a black artist, even existed, spoke volumes. I was living in the notorious West Oakland Acorn projects. It was full of all the negative things you can dream of in an economically depressed inner-city. I had to take two buses to get to the arts school — which took me to a magical world away from the dark crime of my neighborhood. At the time I saw my school as the end of the road for someone like me. But when Mr. Turner arrived… just by his presence and career alone… he showed me that the world beyond my quirky school was open to anyone — no matter the race of gender.
Recently Rob Guillory and Jamal Igle spoke about opening doors to young talent and showing them that having an art career is not just a white guy’s club. Many kids don’t even think they’re invited, or that the door of opportunity isn’t even there for someone like them. Morrie Turner, in his own way, showed that door to me. In 2013, I recently saw Mr. Turner at a comic convention. His table was just a dozen feet away from mine. I went over to him and talked to him for a while. I praised him for helping a stupid little kid like me. I gave him my book.
You don’t get to meet your real life heroes every day. I am glad I met mine before it was too late. Do the same in your life. When you get the chance to THANK someone then step up and speak. Let them know how much they mean to you.
Life is too damn short.