I came across this picture on my Facebook newsfeed this evening and I couldn’t help but smile. I didn’t immediately think to write about it but then I saw it come up again and again as it was reposted by various friends in my network. It struck me then that the image had resonated with so many people that I knew.
When I first saw the image I immediately recognized James Baldwin and was excited to see him in a light that I hadn’t ever before. I didn’t recognize Lorraine Hansberry (you can’t see her face) but after some quick googling I was able to find out that it was her. To see two young black intellectuals from a different generation dancing and having fun was surprisingly inspirational. Sometimes it can be hard to imagine that these mythic figures were in fact once young and trying to make their way in the world just like me.
Images like this remind the” young black and gifted ” of this generation that our interests and strivings are not pointless. That even James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry got down and partied sometimes too. I think more importantly it reminds us of the value of our networks. Of our interconnectedness. That even those we consider great minds, did not exist in a vacuum or a box. They had friends. They talked to each other. They valued one another. They made each other better.
In the play To Be Young, Gifted and Black, Lorraine Hansberry says: “My name is Lorraine Hansberry. I am a writer. I suppose I think that the highest gift man has is art, and I am audacious enough to think of myself as an artist.” A recurring theme in African-American literature, whether it be Richard Wright in Black Boy or Malcolm X in his autobiography, is that there are just some things that black children aren’t meant to do, and writing is one of them.
Even in 2012 its hard to convince people of the value of art and literature. And often material needs eclipse the desire to work for something greater than a paycheck. It’s hard to be “young, gifted, & black” and choose not to become a lawyer or a doctor or a business executive, although we need those too. It strikes many as a waste of ability to choose to drop out of college and write plays like Lorraine Hansberry did. But pictures like this remind us that its not all hard times. And that you can write A Raisin in the Sun, you can write The Fire Next Time, that you can choose to go on the road less traveled, and manage to be happy too.