Quote of the Day: Not all white people hate. and You always have a choice. lines spoken throughout the play by Gordon’s mother in Parks, written by Harrison David Rivers in collaboration with Robin P. Hickman-Winfield, directed by Talvin Wilks. 

Ivory Doublette, Kevin Brown, Jr. and cast of Parks at the History Theatre. Photo: Rick Spaulding

In this play with music, Parks is a snapshot of Gordon Parks’ early years and how he found his way to becoming a world renowned photographer, musician, writer, film maker and director. (Parks directed the award-winning 1971 film Shaft.) Parks was the youngest of 15 children and spent his early years in Fort Scott, Kansas. He was only 16-years-old when his mother died, and he went to St. Paul, MN to live with his sister Maggie Lee and her husband. Through many hardships, including being kicked out of his sister’s home by her husband a few weeks before Christmas, Parks persevered. When he was homeless, he found work and shelter. He was on his own before he could complete high school. 

Kevin Brown, Jr. as Gordon Parks and cast of Parks at the History Theatre. Photo: Rick Spaulding

The creative team at the History Theatre in St. Paul brings Parks’ story to life in a beautiful, heartfelt production. Kevin Brown, Jr. portrays Parks brilliantly, bringing out the pain from his life, the longing for something better, his incredible talents, and above all his integrity as a human. He did not let the world (especially the cruelty of white racists) beat him down. Instead, he used his gifts of music, writing, photography and storytelling to make the world a better place. He continues to be an inspiration, especially the scholars at the alternative high school named after him, and his legacy continues. 

Kevin Brown, Jr. as Gordon Parks in Parks at the History Theatre. Photo: Rick Spaulding

At the Post-play discussion, Gordon Parks’ grand niece Robin Hickman-Winfield called this production and the creation of it “a sacred experience.” She works with students at Gordon Parks High School, who came to watch the show, stated, “Young people walking in the footsteps of Gordon Parks see their possibilities. If he can find hope, they can find hope.” Hope and perseverance and using your gifts and talents for good are strong themes in this play.

I was thoroughly captivated by this production. They used projections of images of birds, streets, stores, homes, and people that were part of Parks’ life. The ensemble cast portrays the people in Park’s life from family members to friends to employers and thugs. The show is gorgeously underscored by Darnell Davis who composed some of the music and arranged accompaniment for the gospel and folk songs that were sung throughout the performance. Davis creates mood and tension with chords and melodies, dark and sinister during fight scenes, haunting strains during remembrances of his mother, and joyful tunes for the moments of hope and love. 

The creative team at the History Theatre has done a marvelous job of bringing the life and talents of Gordon Parks to life. So many creative, powerful and inspiring moments. You can watch it in person at the History Theatre through April 10, 2022, and it’s available for streaming. Please visit the website for the History Theatre for tickets, showtimes, or instructions on how to view it online. It is so worth your time. You will learn something and be inspired.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: What are your gifts and talents? How have you used them to connect with others?