Obstacles come in all forms. Gordon Parks would agree, although he may have had a hard time identifying which of his life obstacles gave him the most trouble. Being the 15th child in the family? Being poor? Being born in white Kansas in 1912? Being born dead?
Being 15th in his family became one of Gordons' greatest gifts. He loved his family, and they loved him.
Being poor didn't affect him much during his early years, either. His family made up for the lack of material goods with an abundance of support.
Yes, he was born in Kansas at a time (1912) when black and white were far apart. A big obstacle he couldn't change. Then he was sent, unwillingly, to Minnesota at age 15 after his mother died, where she thought he would get better treatment. Turned out to be worse. When the Great Depression hit, he ended up jobless and homeless much of the time.
Being born dead? That's a great story with a wonderful ending because of a tub of ice water! After being dunked, head first, in and out, he gasped his first breath and continued breathing for 94 more years.
One obstacle I remember him talking about was the dilemma he unintentionally created for himself. After he became successful in a white man's world--famous photographer for Life magazine, filmmaker, best selling author--his fellow black friends and acquaintances, even some family members made reference to his "joining the white cracker world". He was disappointed at their assessment of his motivation, but he did not change his behavior. He had weathered enough rejection to keep going regardless of others' opinions. He recognized what stood in his way and what didn't. He picked his battles.
The opposite took place, too. Some of his white friends and colleagues kept their distance, as if they didn't trust him because he was black. Eventually he said, "I didn't feel like I belonged in either world. I wasn't accepted by my black culture because they thought I'd gotten uppity, and the white man wasn't going to give me a blank page. I didn't know how to navigate through that time in my life. It was painful and confusing. After a while, it didn't make any difference what others thought, that is, after I'd developed enough confidence."
Writers often ask themselves why they write about a certain subject, as most writing is somehow autobiographical. When I've asked myself why I write about Gordon Parks, the answer is clear. Overcoming obstacles. He persisted in the face of the greatest of odds. And he overcame. Like forming his own personal Civil Rights movement years before the rest of the country took on the problem. He led the way with his modeling, his writing, and his filmmaking. Those who live free, or at least freer because of his and others' actions on their behalf, owe him a thank you for his worthy example of pursuing equality in the face of impossible odds. I am one of those.