(Soundbite of This I Believe intro)
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
On Mondays, our series This I Believe brings you statements of personal conviction from people in all walks of life.
Today our essay comes from Frank X. Walker. He's a poet and teacher in Lexington, Kentucky.
Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.
Mr. JAY ALLISON reporting:
Fifteen years ago Frank X. Walker found himself at a poetry event celebrating Appalachian writers, and he realized that there was only one African-American reading. Since then, he has helped organize black writers in the region, and dedicates himself to encouraging all the arts in his community.
Not because creativity is a luxury, but because he thinks it is essential.
Here is Frank X. Walker with his essay for This I Believe.
Mr. FRANK X. WALKER (teacher, poet): I believe that what we often call survival skills is simply creativity at work.
When I think about how my mother fed all seven of us, making us think that every day was a different meal, I still appreciate how much a creative cook can do with a single potato. And it wasn't just in the kitchen. She would flip her old Singer sewing machine upright, study pictures in books and magazines, then make ethnic versions of those same dolls and stuffed animals to sell at church fundraisers. Without a TV in the house to distract us, we made the dolls come to life, filling the hollow fabric sleeves one fist-full of cotton at a time.
My mother made her own clothes and all my sisters' prom and wedding dresses. I always knew when she was making something because she'd be singing or humming. She sang all the way through her home correspondence courses in floral design and interior decorating. She made being creative as normal as breathing and encouraged our participation by telling us that idle hands and minds were the devils workshop.
I believe that happy children are those given the freedom to be expressive, to discover, to create their own refrigerator door masterpieces. I remember mixing tempura paints with powdered detergent and painting the Baskin Robbins windows every Christmas season. Not for money, but for all the ice cream I could eat. And every time I saw people look up at the window and smile, I knew I was getting the best part of the deal.
I believe that the highest quality of life is full of art and creative expression, and that all people deserve it. I believe in a broad definition of what art is, and who artists are. Barbers, cooks, auto detailers, janitors and gardeners have as much right to claims of artistry as designers, architects, painters and sculptors. Every day, our streets and school busses become art galleries in the form of perfectly spiked hair, zig-zagging cornrows and dizzying shoelace artistry.
My first collection of art was a milk crate full of comic books. I survived the projects and my teenage years inspired by my favorite character, the Black Panther, who had only his mind and no super powers. And Luke Cage, the thick-skinned inner city hero for hire.
By the time my bookish reputation and thick glasses became a target for the neighborhood bullies, I responded by composing juvenile but truly heroic rhyming couplets in my head. Ever since high school words have continued to serve as my first weapon of choice, and my salvation.
Many of life's challenges need creative solutions. I believe creativity, in all its many forms, can change the way we think and operate. Celebrating the creativity around us helps maintain our sanity and keeps us happy.
Mr. ALLISON: Frank X. Walker of Lexington, Kentucky, with his essay for This I Believe.
Every one of you is invited to send in statements of personal belief to our project. To find out more and to see and hear all the essays in the series, visit our website at npr.org.
For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.
INSKEEP: Next Monday on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, a This I Believe essay from Phil Powers, a climber and director of the American Alpine Club.