This digital age has its many draw backs but it has a few pluses as well. With a pending move, I’ve been motivated to go through all of my ever-expanding belongings and sift out the useful from the what-the-heck-is-this? In doing so I came across a disc of which I had digitized some old photos I had shot on some 6×6 medium format film1. The image below is of noted pianist, Josephine Harreld Love. Love was trained in music at some of the finest academies including Atlanta University, Spelman College, New York’s Institute of Musical Art (better known now as Juilliard), Radcliffe College, and at the Mozarteum Academy in Salzburg, Austria. After touring the black-college circuit, Love settled down in Detroit, where she proceeded to open a music studio. In addition she founded and directed Your Heritage House, a fine arts museum and center for youth. I never knew who Mrs. Love was. But I did come to know the man who took me along with him to photograph her.
During the early 90’s, while attending classes at Washtenaw Community College, I took an introduction to photography course. At this point in my life not only did I not know what I wanted to do, I had no idea what I was doing! But it was providence that I took this course because in many ways it was that rock, stick, or leaf, that jutted out in the stream of my life to divert my direction; to give me some direction. As fate would have it, Titus Heagins, noted African-American photographer, was invited as a special guest to lecture one day in our class. Titus shared some of his work, particularly photographs he’d taken in Cuba. I was fascinated not only by his work, which was quite good, but also by the fact that, as to this point in my journey in photography, I had not met another black photographer. We hit it off right away and before you know it, I was tagging along with Titus to wherever he went, particularly Detroit. We spent many long days, some of them in the dead of winter, traipsing around blighted Detroit, photographing her devastated neighborhoods but also her people. This is significant on so many levels. One, this began one of the most important relationships I’ve had to this day. Titus was the uncle, that black uncle, I never had (I do have an uncle who I love dearly but sadly we were never able to develop that kind of relationship). Two, he was able to see value in me—as a young black man—in ways no one ever had before. And three, and perhaps most importantly, Titus understood the frustrations I had as a young man (both black frustrations and youthful frustrations), frustrations I had not found the way to articulate (and perhaps never might have found) let alone deal with. So it’s that value which Titus sparked in me which has given me so much confidence, that I have used it—and still use—every single day of my life since. That is the power of mentorship.
What’s amazing is that while Titus and I are alike on my levels, we’re also different on others. For one, I am a religious person. And while it’s never quite come up, Titus’ religious affiliation is probably hovering over the agnostic ocean. But he was able to see value in my Islam, not because he believed in it, but because he saw it was important to me. In fact, when I had an opportunity to go on ‘umrah2 in 2008, Titus and his wife, Maureen, gifted me some money to ensure I would be able to make it and would enjoy myself. For that, and for so much more, I can never repay them.
So who is Josephine Harreld Love? A pianist. I only met her once. But through her, I met a man, a friend, a mentor, who has greatly influenced and shaped my life for the better. I hope I am able to institute something of this mentorship at Middle Ground, as we prepare to move into our second phase of programming.
There’s a beautiful tradition from the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in which he, peace and blessings be upon him, said,
لاَ يَشْكُرُ اللَّهَ مَنْ لاَ يَشْكُرُ النَّاسَ
“The one who doesn’t thank people is not thankful to God.” Recorded by Sunan Abu Dawud, narrated Abu Hurayrah. Hadith #4811
Thank you, Titus, for taking the time to share so much of your life, your time, and your energy with one lost, over eager, dim-witted young man, and giving me that push, whose inertia is still carrying me on and on.
1. I used to shoot with a Hasselblad 503CW as well a a variety of large format camera including an old Graflex Crown Graphic 4×5, a Toyo 4×5 and at some point I had an 8×10 camera that was sadly stolen.
2. ‘Umrah is the lesser Hajj, or pilgrimage. Unlike Hajj, the major once-in-a-life-time pilgrimage that takes place in Makkah, ‘umrah can be performed anytime of year and only take a few hours or so.