In 2006, I was featured in ColorsNW magazine because of my solo show at the Seattle Artist Gallery. At the time, I was not sure what will be the reaction to my work. We have a decent opening and sold some. I invited my friends and family and accompanied by my wife to the opening. At the end of the opening day, I was very pleased by the response I got and left the gallery hoping to do more. But what motivated me even more is what happen the day after the opening. I got a call from a complete stranger that said his name is “Charles”. Charles, sounded like an older man and interested with my work. I thank Charles for his support and asked him how I can help. He didn’t say much and he asked me if I can stop by his place to discuss possible collaboration for the Minority Justice commission he is was co-chairing.
I agreed and drove to his home in central Seattle. I knocked on the door and he opened. An older man in his late 70’s with such a powerful smile welcomed me. I know writing about this can be a bit challenging because words can not explain what I felt at the time. He seemed to me a person I knew for years. A close family if you will. He led me to the living room and introduce me to his wife. They both are very warm people and one can easily see how they can be admirers of art by looking at their wall.
Then I started learning about Charles, He is Justice Charles Z. Smith, the first African-American to serve on the Washington Supreme Court. He was appointed to the court by Washington’s then Governor Booth Gardner and was subsequently elected to his position on the court for a two-year term in 1988. Justice Smith was elected thereafter to full six-year terms in 1990 and 1996. Justice Smith was never opposed in any of his elections. He retired from the court on December 31, 2002. Justice Smith’s career includes service as a judge of the Seattle Municipal Court (1965-66) and as a judge of the King County Superior Court (1966-73). He was the first African-American to serve as a judge of either of those courts. Following his service on the superior court, he became associate dean and professor of law at the University of Washington. He retired in 1983 as professor emeritus. Justice Smith was a news commentator for KOMO Radio and Television (1973-79) and retired from the United States Marine Corps Reserve with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel (1986). He had prior service in the United States Army (1945-46).
Justice Smith then proceeds to describe how he was reading a magazine in the barbershop and looked at my painting entitled “the Messengers” and wanted to meet me. He described his feeling as “the painting spoke to me” and he said he wanted to meet me and ask me if I can let him use the image as the cover of Minority Justice Commissions Annual report. He was very emotional while describing his feeling.
As anyone can imagine, I was trying to process what was happening and left speechless. I said “yes” may be more than I need to say it. He assured me about my rights and he said I will have my duplication right. At the end, my painting featured in the annual report a duplicate is now hung in the Supreme Court’s Temple of Justice and the original is owned by Justice Charles Smith. A rightful place for that painting.
Later, Justice Charles invited me to join him to be a member of the James & Janie Washington’s Foundation Scholarship committee and I served with him one term. In the process we reviewed multiple applications and we gave a scholarship to two amazing students. He and his family also opened their heart and door to me and my family and they kept in contact ever since.
Lately, I came across an oral story of Justice Charles entitled Charles Z. Smith: Trailblazer An Oral History. As a fan of him, it was a simple choice to read this oral story, which is wonderfully written by John Hughes. This oral story gave me an amazing access to a person that influenced me positively ever since I met him.
Justice Charles went through a lot of obstacles and always found himself on top. He kept his amazing smile when the world gave him something to cry about. He managed to change the world and make it better for me and my children’s by walking through fire. There was one story that stuck on me, Justice Charles was once refused to purchased a house in Shoreline WA because he was black. The city I am happily living at and own property today. I then understood why he was emotional when he met me. After I read the story my mind went crazy. I knew I am only enjoying life in Shoreline because of those who sacrified and struggled for my right. He is the reason why I can choose to live wherever and be with whoever choose to be with. He is the reason.
I wanted to keep his history for the generation to come, but how? I decided to call him and ask him if I can do his portrait. The day I called him, he was celebrating his 85th birthday. I wished him Happy birthday and asked him if he give me a permission to do his portrait. He said “yes” not even a hesitation, which freaked me out a little bit. He also provided me with multiple images. I chose the one his son took of him.
The day I deliver his portrait he asked me if I can bring my children’s with me and I told him they can’t make it due to cold. He then recorded a message to them. The next day he send me a message and said. “You are indeed a talented portraitist. You captured the essence of the person I would like to believe that I am.”
I am glad he picked the right magazine the day he went to the barbershop.
More success and happy life to you! Your Honor!