‘Parks: A Portrait of a Young Artist’—a vision of power, purpose, possibilities

A production of “Parks: A Portrait of a Young Artist” is currently running at History Theatre through April 10, 2022. The show visually conveys to those in attendance the greatness of a young Gordon Parks and his tenacity for life. 

Parks came to Minnesota as a young man, leaving Fort Scott, Kansas to settle in St. Paul’s Rondo community. His early writing career included contributions to the Minneapolis Spokesman and St. Paul Recorder newspapers (now Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder). He became the first African American to write and direct a major Hollywood feature film and a world-renowned 20th-century photographer. 

 “A vision of peace, power, purpose and possibilities” is how Robin Hickman-Winfield describes this visual celebration of her great uncle’s young life. “Parks: A Portrait of a Young Artist” is a biographical musical comprised of drama, poetry, heartbreak, discrimination, and the self-determination of a young Black man’s rise to greatness. 

A Minnesota icon, Parks received many awards for photography, writing, filmmaking and humanitarianism. He was also the recipient of honorary degrees in literature, fine arts, and humane letters from colleges and universities across the country, among them the NAACP’s esteemed Spingarn Medal.

Parks went on to become an award-winning author of two memoirs, “The Learning Tree” and “A Choice of Weapons,” as well as a freelance photographer for Vogue, Glamour and Life magazines. “He became a modern-day Renaissance Man with a vision that spanned his 93 years of life,” Hickman-Winfield said.

In the spirit of her uncle, Hickman-Winfield takes pride in the work behind “Parks: A Portrait of a Young Artist” and its cast of over 95% Black talent. She describes her experiences from inception to stage as “an amazing journey.”  

This journey spanned eight years from conception to fruition. Hickman-Winfield became emotional when she spoke of the talented people she worked with, such as set designer Seitu Jones, Kevin Brown, Jr., (cast as Gordon Parks), and James A. Williams (as Pigeon Man), and how much she enjoyed collaborating with writer Harrison David Rivers and director Talvin Wilks.

Hickman-Winfield, who currently works at Gordon Parks High School in St. Paul, has created an artistic expression that extends beyond the stage. She has imparted her uncle’s vision to her scholars as she encourages their artistic development through public performance and includes the students in her uncle’s ever-growing legacy and life through art and exhibition. 

“Parks: A Portrait of a Young Artist” is a show to be remembered, from the lobby of student art installations to the stage that brings life to art and art to life. At a time when certain powers want to take race history out of schools, this production infuses power in the telling of a real-life experience. Hickman-Winfield stated, “This is what Black Lives Matter looks like when we take the rightful place to tell our own narratives.” 

For more info about “Parks: A Portrait of A Young Artist,” visit www.historytheatre.com.

TerryAnn Nash welcomes reader responses to tnash@spokesman-recorder.com.