A Thousand Words Spoken

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.” — Henry Ward Beecher

Today is the birthday of Charles W. Thomas, Jr., the photographer for Giving Back. I’m taking the occasion to publicly thank Charles for collaborating with me on this project. Our dispositions and skill-sets proved a good match; however, it was a shared pride in our cultural heritage and love of our community’s stories that defined our work together. (Though, my loyalties as a Tarheel might rightfully be questioned for working so well with a Duke grad! Sorry about that.)

Still an amazingly vivid memory, my initial conversation with Charles happened almost four years ago. We had crossed paths professionally, but neither of us truly knew the other or had never even had a one-on-one conversation. Months earlier, I had conceived of and mapped out the book project and was now in search of a photographer.

I wanted to find someone who would approach the project with an artist’s eye and could capture the striking beauty of our people and our stories. Knowing of his affiliation with The Light Factory Contemporary Museum of Photography and Film, Charles had been on my list of prospective photographers, and several people in Charlotte’s arts community also had suggested I meet with him.

During our meeting, I unfolded my vision of the book and shared notes from a concept paper. Charles held an amused look as I rambled on about what I envisioned and the timeline and the resources and the logistics for making it happen. He expressed his past desire to pursue a similar concept. As we talked further, there was clear alignment of our values and artistic aspirations.

A crucial move, choosing Charles as my photography partner on the project was no doubt divinely inspired. His collaboration has been a God-sent steadying force—from his initial blind faith in my vision to his level-headedness, patience, professionalism and generosity. During the photo shoots, he established a trusting rapport with each person and thus captured telling images. He also was easy about the unexpected twists and turns of the project and the constant stream of ideas coming from me.

You will soon see, in each of the 180 photographs featured in Giving Back, a thousand words spoken not only about every subject but also about the wide soul and genius nature of Charles Thomas.

Thank you and have a happy birthday Charles!

— VF

Over the Moon

Over the past week, I’ve begun receiving “advance commentary” on Giving Back. Selected readers of prominence, from across the country, have been more than generous with praise of the book’s stories and photography, and their affirmation means the world to me.

For more than four years, I was burrowed deeply in a writer’s hole and afflicted with a brutal case of tunnel vision in order to make this book happen. Making it happen meant not only generating the book’s content but also raising considerable funds and navigating the publishing industry, all of which were foreign to me.

Nevertheless, nothing could keep me from where my sights were cast. With remarkable clarity from the start, my mind’s eye held tight a vision that only sharpened over time. Though the vision was clear, the path was uncertain…really uncertain and seemingly treacherous at times. Trusting a gut sense while feeling my way through the dark and benefiting from gracious gestures made by Charles, family, friends and giving circle members helped move the book project forward.

After following a path that has tested every ounce of my soul and being, I’m sent higher than the sky to find that Giving Back can withstand the brightness outside the burrow and, in fact, shows best in the light of the wider world. When readers tell me they’ve seen, felt, thought and learned the things I long hoped someone…anyone…would, then it seems the years, the sacrifices and the times being misunderstood have been worth it.

Here’s one of the submissions from an advance reader that sent me flying over the moon:

“Astonishing . . . so beautiful, so deep and yet so inviting.

Giving Back belongs in every American home, not just every home of Americans of African descent. Each page connects the readers and the children they love to generosity that God, the Declaration of Independence and our awe-inspiring Black forebears taught us all.  A visual triumph. A story that has not been told!”

Dr. Claire Gaudiani, author of The Greater Good, Generosity Unbound and Daughters of the Democracy