“I grew up in Indianapolis. There were 3,000 students in my 10th grade class and I needed a smaller environment. My mother is from Mobile and my grandfather was assistant principal at Williamson High School. I moved here and finished my last two years at Williamson. I was a nerd into art, poetry, and music, not sports. Williamson was predominantly African American, and kids would tease me that I wanted to be white because of the way I spoke. Because I wanted to sound intelligent and use the English language as best as I could so people understood me, that made me want to be white. That made no sense. My family gave me roots and the encouragement to be myself. I had the strength to deal with the mocking and move on.
Art has always been my life. My first piece was a crayon drawing of George Washington Carver on cardboard when I was a kid. I majored in graphic art at Alabama A&M but dropped out my senior year because I wasn’t being challenged. Later, I realized the challenge has to come from inside of me. I went back to Indianapolis and worked at a meat packing plant loading meat onto palettes. It was 30 degrees inside and I couldn’t do that long. I went back to college and graduated in art. Alabama’s first comic book company was Dagger Enterprises and I worked for them on a comic book called Team Anarchy. The company closed after less than a year. I had a hard time finding another job so I joined the Navy and went back to school. After the comic book job, I never worked in the art field again. It was giving up a dream, but I looked at it as a man making an adult decision for the betterment of his family.
I am from a family of educators and never wanted to teach. God had a different plan. I was a special education teacher until October 2015, when I became an assistant principal at The Pathway 6-8 School. My dad had Alzheimer’s and died the month after I was hired. He would have been proud of me. Pathway is an alternative school with two programs for grades 6-8. One is the Phoenix Program. Like the phoenix rising from the ashes, we hope to influence the kids who are sent to us because of drug infractions, inappropriate sexual contact with other children, refusal to do work, or follow rules. The other program is the Star Academy for overage 8th graders. In one school year, we catch them up so they can enter school the following year as sophomores. Parents say the program gives them hope for their child and the child hope in themselves. It is hard to get the parents to take a look at what they are doing to their child or the child to question if this is the life they want to live. Students who finish our program have higher expectations of themselves and should be allowed back to their school with a second chance. However, a lot of administrators don’t want these kids back. These are our kids, not dishtowels, you can’t throw them away. It doesn’t matter the color, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or what side of town they come from. They are our future or lack thereof. My principal and I spend a lot of time talking with our students. We stand outside every morning and tell each one we are glad they are here. Sometimes school is the only place they hear this
After all of these years of leaving art behind, art never left me. I wrote a book of poetry and realized I wanted to create poetry on canvas. My wife saw me sketching and told me it was time to paint. I started painting again three years ago. This show at the Mobile Arts Council has given me a chance to bring back my dream. My work does not look alike, and there are messages in each piece. I want viewers to think about where we are headed as people in this country, particularly African Americans and Caucasians. If we learn how to talk about racial things and put them in their proper place, do you know how awesome together we would be? In one painting I have a caricature of a black woman with huge lips and a white baby nursing on her breast. Below, it has MAGA (Make America Great Again). How does going back to that mindset make us better or great? Does it make sense to go back to a time when Caucasian women couldn’t vote and white men didn’t want anyone else to have an education. I don’t want to hurt feelings. I just want people to think. We have to do better than this.
This painting is about more than lynchings years ago. It is also about what African Americans are doing to ourselves. The face in the painting is a collage of mugshots during the 1950s cut up to make one face. The number around his neck is a prison number. The new lynching is going against the law and going to prison. The new lynching is the disproportionate number of black men being incarcerated. But how much of this is because of the choices we make and the company we keep? I know the law can be unfair, but we also have to look at what we are doing to ourselves. We want people to believe black lives matter, but we must first ask do we matter to ourselves? I would answer no, but my perspective may be skewed because of what I see on a daily basis at our school. I ask kids what do you think about yourself? Most of them can’t answer or say they don’t like themselves because of where they come from. My mom does this. I don’t get to see my dad. I hate him, so I hate myself. That breaks my heart.
I love music and the pieces are named under songs I like. ‘Trouble Man’ by Marvin Gaye and ‘Strange Fruit’ by Billie Holiday. One painting is untitled. The heavy black arching lines represent a broken world in chaos. The lines if joined would create the earth. If you look closely, there are blood splatters, a cross, and the face of Jesus. That is my opinion of what can change the world.
I have come home to art and found myself again. I am so grateful to have this exhibit in Mobile where I hope to stir thinking and conversation. I know God has more for me to do with kids and art. The pieces of my puzzle are uniting again.”
R. Warren Goler’s show opens tonight at the Mobile Arts Council and will be up through March. If you want to help Pathways school, Goler says they always need uniforms and Pop-Tarts because many students get to school late and hungry.