It is extremely rare that we cartoonists have the opportunity to affect any change in our cities or our country with our work. Oh, we do our best to bring incisive commentary. We hope that each effort that flows through our hands can and will make a difference. More often than not, however, they go off into the ether with little or no effect. As one time efforts, spaced out over months or years, our hope is that the cumulative effect adds up and brings something tangible, something real and worthy to our cities, our nation and the world at large. Rarely is it the case, in spite of our hard efforts, or so we often think.
Four years ago this past March 19, 2009. My life’s work at the newspaper I so loved came to a halt. Abruptly tossed into the street in an hour’s time with no severance, I had no thoughts of where to direct my life, other than to find something where I could support my wife and three teenage sons. Worried about having no health insurance should something devastating to occur, I took a low-paying job working the late night shift at Federal Express in their ‘Hub’. It was a mind-numbing, backbreaking job of sorting boxes at the bottom of a long chute where I would separate them and put them on one of four conveyor belts where they would go to their cities of destination. After the shift was over, I would return home, get some sleep, and then start looking for a real job. I mailed my resume all over the city of Memphis and the country. I would also do my cartoons for syndication. I needed a miracle.
I had planned at the newspaper to start a campaign with my cartoons on infant mortality and child abuse. I had done several before my ‘exit’, but it seemed as though that idea was out the window. My lovely spouse reminded me of that plan, so I started again to make it happen. I sent those cartoons out into the ether not expecting much, but something unbelievable happened. I got a call from the Urban Child Institute in Memphis, asking if I would be interested in partnering with them to produce a series of ‘cartoons’ on infant mortality, a serious problem in Memphis which has the highest rate of infant death in the country. A non-profit that focuses on early child brain development, they would have my cartoons put on large posters, provide easels for each, and have me travel the city with them to bring awareness of this terrible travesty to light.
I kept my night job and in the early afternoon and weekends, I would do these drawings and take them to churches, civic groups, the library, and anywhere there was an interest. I also sent them to Cagle for syndication and got the message of infant mortality out to the country as well. The infant mortality cartoons expanded into child abuse cartoons which is also a terrible problem. In the course four years, these drawing have grown into a large collection that are seen throughout the city. The mayor of Memphis invited me to speak at the opening of his campaign to stop child abuse and display these cartoons to the television and other news media outlets. I also won several national awards, including the RFK Journalism Award in Cartooning.
So it is with great pride that I was able to put together this large and meaningful group of drawings. I have now added gun control and the killings at Sandy Hook to this child protection effort. I finally feel that my cartoons are having a direct effect on my city and country.
Let me say that it is a darn good feeling and yes, I do believe in miracles.