It’s only fitting to finish my 1001 Black Men Online Sketchbook with the most inspiring and influential man in my life, Alphonzo Mance, Sr., my dad.
A native of South Carolina, my dad moved me and my mom to Long Island, New York, where he worked as a chemistry teacher until joining the staff of the National Education Association. (We were living on Long Island when my brother was born, in the early 1970s.) My dad would eventually go on to serve as the Executive Director of the Tennessee Education Association. He was the first African American to hold that post.
As a kid growing up on Long Island, my parents’ pleasure for exploring the bookstores and museums of Manhattan launched my competing obsessions with research and writing and art. All three of those have combined in the project I’m completing today, this collection of 1001 portraits of African American men.
Born in South Carolina, my dad was educated at Bethune-Cookman University, Tuskegee Institute, and Hofstra University. One of eight children, he built his career in education, first as a high school chemistry teacher and, eventually, as an executive for the nation’s largest teacher’s union. Education–whether primary, secondary, post-secondary, or post-grad–is our family business; and my dad was not only born to two teachers (at least one of whom was himself the child of a teacher), but he married a teacher, as well.
Today, both of my parents remain adventurous, politically and culturally engaged, and excited and curious about our rapidly changing world. For all their charm and reserve, my parents aren’t afraid to geek out about things they love–like Broadway plays and musicals, singing, book shopping, and international travel. Each of their visits to the SF Bay Area is a wonderfully nerdy Black love fest, with me my parents and my brother making references and jokes that betray our shared passion for information gathering and our respect for each other’s obsessions.
For anyone who has seen the four of us together–me, my parents and my brother–it should come as no surprise that I’ve spent the last 6.5 years exploring a single line of creative inquiry. The only real surprise is that I decided to stop at only 1001.