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Chris’ Corner

Chatting with a hero over coffee


Last weekend unfolded like the pages of a vibrant, deeply inspiring storybook in West Plains, one penned by the visits of Charly Palmer and Dr. Karida Brown. The anticipation in the air was palpable as Crockett and Tonya Oaks, the transformative figures behind the Lincoln School’s renovation, introduced these luminaries to our community. And I was there, right in the thick of it, thrilled beyond words to sit down with both of them for what turned into an unforgettable morning.

The setting for our chat was as poignant as it was powerful: the basement of the Lincoln School, a site teeming with historical resonance. This wasn't just any old interview space; it was a room echoing the past, where every word seemed to carry more weight, every silence filled with the whispers of history. To conduct an interview in such a place was to weave our conversation into the very fabric of the narratives held within those walls.

I approached this interview with an ethos that might seem a tad unconventional to some. There were no pre-scripted questions, no meticulous notepad to mechanically consult. Instead, I was armed with my iPhone running the voice memo app, my extensive research crammed into my brain, and a desire to delve beneath the surface. I've always believed that the best interviews aren't merely exchanges of questions and answers; they're genuine dialogues, where unexpected stories emerge organically, coloring outside the lines of rehearsed responses.

From the outset, I made it clear that I wasn't here to tread over old ground. We didn’t need to revisit his achievements like the iconic cover art for a John Legend album, his Time magazine cover, or his work on a postage stamp. These were stories well-documented and widely celebrated. Instead, we steered our conversation towards the unexplored and personal. The real magic happened when Palmer shared anecdotes so unique that even his wife, sitting beside him, heard them for the first time. It was a moment of revelation, of genuine narrative unfolding, which underscored the depth and intimacy of our discussion.

Charly’s artistic philosophy—that "Art should change the temperature in a room"—is not just a lofty ideal but a tangible, palpable force in his work. For over three decades, his art has not merely depicted the Black experience—it has invoked it. Palmer’s paintings are immersive experiences, rhythmic visual narratives that provoke, evoke, and invite introspection. His unique ability to weave patterns, symbols, and textures into each piece challenges viewers, urging them to ponder foundational questions about identity, heritage, and truth.

Sitting alongside Charly was the equally formidable Dr. Karida Brown, a beacon of scholarly insight whose work in sociology and oral history has profoundly shaped understandings of Black life. Her research, deeply rooted in academic rigor and enriched by her roles across prestigious institutions, has broken ground in numerous ways, pushing the boundaries of knowledge and understanding in both historical and contemporary contexts.

Can I also just take a moment to mention a certain piece of blinged out hardware owned by Dr. Brown? That would be an NBA Championship ring from her time working for the Los Angeles Lakers!

The privilege of engaging with both Charly and Karida in such a meaningful setting was a profound honor. Their warmth, intelligence, and willingness to share their insights added layers of depth to what was already a landmark occasion for our community. They were exactly as one might hope them to be—engaged, enlightening, and utterly inspiring.

As we wrapped up our time together, I was left with a profound sense of gratitude and a renewed appreciation for the arts and humanities’ power to shape, define, and enrich our communities. Charly Palmer’s and Dr. Karida Brown’s contributions to their fields speak directly to the core of our shared humanity, urging us to look within and beyond, to recognize the complexities of our histories, and to embrace the expansive potential of our collective future.

As I reflect on my interview with Charly Palmer and Dr. Karida Brown, the words of Langston Hughes resonate deeply within me: "When a man starts out to build a world, he starts first with himself." Both Palmer and Brown embody this sentiment, each beginning their monumental tasks by cultivating their own talents and perspectives, which in turn, they have shared with the world.

In our discussions, it was evident that their personal journeys of self-discovery and introspection have informed and enriched their work, enabling them to touch and transform the lives of others through art and scholarship. This personal commitment to growth and understanding has not only shaped their professional paths but has also contributed to a broader dialogue about cultural identity and community.