At Black eSports Network, we strive to tell all kinds of stories, from those who came before us to those who will come after us.
We strive to tell you about people you may be familiar with and those you may not know. Black Americans are not a monolith. Black gamers are not a monolith; we aspire to represent that in video gaming and esports.
But before the Black gamer, there was the Black artist. The Black Dancer. The Black singer. The Black performer. The Black musician.
Worsening Jim Crow laws in the Deep South and poor economic condition led to the Great Migration from rural areas to urban cityscapes of the Atlantic Northeast, the Midwest and West.
In 1920, George and Anna Seabrooke followed the pattern, moving from Charleston, South Carolina to New York City with their daughter, Georgette.
Georgette Seabrooke was born on Aug. 2, 1916. Her mother worked as a domestic housekeeper, but her father passed away when she was young. She had to work with her mother when she was young still.
Seabrooke graduated from Washington Irving High School and then accepted into Cooper Union School of Art in New York at just the age of 17, which she did attend. In 1935 she was awarded the school's highest honor, the Silver Medal, for her painting titled "Church Scene." Seabrooke also studied at the Harlem Art Workshop and the Harlem Community Art Center.
A New Deal agency, the Works Progress Administration, took Seabrooke on as an artist in their Federal Art Project in 1936, giving her commissions and making a name for herself as a muralist with public art and murals for the Queens General Hospital. In 1937, she was denied her diploma from Cooper Union for "incomplete work," but spent two more years with the WPA and worked on her most famous piece.
Of the four muralists chosen to create murals for the Harlem Hospital, Georgette Seabrooke was both the youngest and the only woman.
"Recreation in Harlem" is a 20 feet mural that depicts daily life in the late 1930s. Parts of the mural include women chatting with each other, a couple dancing, and a singing choir.
The mural displeased hospital management with its depiction of mostly African Americans, citing the demographic of Harlem could change (though, Wikipedia says hospital management didn't want to be known as a "Negro hospital).
"Recreation in Harlem" was put on display for staff members and patients to view inside the hospital, but that was the only time anyone could view it.
For decades, the mural was painted over, drywalled under, and even survived a fire. In 2012, the mural was restored and rehung in Harlem Hospital's new Mural Pavillion. The restoration can be seen from the street now too.
Georgette Seabrooke got married to Dr. George Wesley Powell in 1939. They had three children together; for 20 years, she drew illustrations for calendars and magazines until 1959 when she moved to Washington D.C.
Art Therapy, Art Activism
She began to study art therapy in the 1960s and, in 1972, became a registered art therapist through the American Art Therapy Association. Seabrooke Powell's art teachings promoted skill-building and self-esteem in her patients with mental illness. When she founded Tomorrow's Art World Center, she taught art as a way of promoting social activism, be it by depicting social issues or community.
She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Howard University in 1973 at the age of 57. Throughout the 70s and 80s, Seabrooke Powell painted a series of portraits of Washington D.C.'s homeless population, simultaneously emphasizing their plight and giving them dignity.
Black and African Americans using the visual arts as a form of activism is not new. The Great Migration saw a majority settle down in New York City, leading to the intellectual and cultural revival of African American music, dance, art, fashion, literature and theater that was the Harlem Renaissance.
The Black Arts Movement of the 60s and 70s conveyed messages of Black pride. In 1976, the most famous traveling exhibit of all Black art culture launched: "Two Centuries of Black American Art."
Recently the subject of an HBO Documentary, "Two Centuries of Black American Art" was first shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, giving the LACMA at the time their highest attendance of any American art exhibition.
A Motivational Message
While Georgette Seabrooke Powell was not a part of that exhibition, she is considered a pioneer in art therapy. A method shown to work for people of all types of mental illnesses will continue to flourish because of her contributions.
Creativity has shown to be therapeutic for people of all types. BESNTV's very own founder, Tim Fields, loves to paint, and our Marketing and Communications Manager loves coloring.
In 2008, Cooper Union presented her with a lifetime achievement award and now recognizes her as a member of their Art School's Class of 1937. She died in 2011 from cancer.
At a time in the present when it feels like doors are closing on Black Americans, I think Seabrooke Powell's story of succeeding at a time often narrated as negative for Black folks is relatable and motivational.
No one's journey to success is perfect, but a narrative of someone who works hard despite all drawbacks of her life, both things she can and cannot control, kept going no matter what. It's a story that maybe people with mental illness like myself need right now.
A creative, sometimes downtrodden, never giving up, and doing their absolute best to get to where they need to be is something everyone can draw inspiration.