Sitting in front of a blank canvas, Opal Lee looked for inspiration. She wanted to create something that will move and educate people.
She started painting. She started sculpting. She combined the two into a mixed media piece.
Lee hasn’t done any art since elementary school, but now she will have a mixed media work on auction for The Art Station’s Oct. 19 fundraiser “Public Figures Private Artists.” The event will support the organization’s art therapy services at area hospitals, schools and veteran’s clinics, among other locations.
If you go:
What: Art Station fundraiser Public Figures Private Artists
When: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Oct. 19
Where: Historic Masonic Center Ballroom, 1100 Henderson St.
Her art depicts physician Dr. Ronald Myers, who, like Lee, fought for Juneteenth to become a national holiday. Lee said he is responsible for around 43 states having some type of Juneteenth observance.
Myers, pictured at a jazz performance in Lee’s artwork, had a deep love for music, Lee said.
“I thought I’d like to do something about somebody who was so instrumental in leading people to action,” Lee, 96, said. “We do need to know our history. So many people don’t. They just think Juneteenth is a day we have a festival and have a good time. But there’s more to it than that.”
She feels like art is an expression of history and storytelling, and hopes to keep coming back to Art Station for more projects.
Lee was a finalist for the Nobel Peace Prize and, though she did not receive the award in the early hours of Friday morning, she said it was an honor to be considered and she would have used the money on a list of projects she has in mind for Fort Worth.
One project, her farm, employs formerly incarcerated people. Lee said she wants money to provide housing for those who work at the farm.
Her work remains unfinished. Lee said she wasn’t losing sleep over getting the award because it’s not the end of her journey.
“We can’t just sit back and think you’ve solved things, because you haven’t,” she said. “You’ve got to do so much more.”
Lee believes everyone can work to change just one mind and that alone can have an impact.
“If people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love,” Lee said. “I want everybody to be responsible for changing somebody’s mind.”
Activists took over a million signatures to the White House to make Juneteenth a national holiday, she said.
“We can turn this country around, and it needs help,” Lee said. “The richest country in the world — there should not be joblessness, homelessness and climate change and health care that some can get and some can’t. We’ve got a job to do.”
There’s more Lee wants to see in this lifetime. She wants people to have equal pay for the same jobs. She wants to see universal healthcare because, as she said, “it’s ridiculous. People are dying.”
The key to her tireless fight for her community? Lee doesn’t have time to do anything else.
“You don’t have time to worry or be sad or disgruntled,” she said. “You’ve just got work to do.”
But even with that, there never seems to be enough time to do all she wants. Lee said she loves to read, and she has stacks of books on her shelves like “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson and “Glory: Magical Visions of Black Beauty” by Kahran Bethencourt and Regis Bethencourt.
On the same day she and community members gathered to watch the Nobel Peace Prize announcement, Lee turned 96 years old. She’s come a long way in her activism and community work since she was growing up in Marshall, Texas. Lee hopes others continue the fight.
“Each of us is responsible for doing something about our country,” she said. “We can’t wait for the group of men of the city or the county, it’s up to us to do something about our situation. I wish people would understand that we can change the way things are. They aren’t the worst of times, but they aren’t the best of times. I just know that we can do a better job than what we’re doing.”
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.