Mr. Keith is one of the maintenance guys that works at THEARC in Anacostia, DC. At one point in his life he was homeless and addicted to crack cocaine. Wanting to do better by his three little kids, he followed a friend to an Narcotics Anonymous meeting to get some help.
Months later he was no longer picking the stuff up, but was becoming tiered of introducing himself as an addict. He remembered that when he was growing up in the projects, a man used to bring him and his buddy, Junior, along to church. That way, they wouldn't be left hanging around with the older boys in the neighborhood to drink and smoke. The memory inspired Keith to turn to God to help him with his life.
He has been clean for twenty-six years now and has been married for seventeen. He has ten children, some biological and some adopted. When the kids were young, Keith used to take them and any other kids that needed a little love and minding to the zoo, park or basketball court. They would get from one end of the city to the other by bus. Sometimes, his children would complain about having to bring along stragglers. He would explain though that we all need to look out for each other.
Today I had the honor to give Keith this:
I installed his portrait in the community garden that he helps to maintain at THEARC. When he saw the painting he gave a series of strong hugs and high-fives, and he told me his story. "We all need to look out for each other" he said gesturing to the painting "and that is what your doing here!"
Unlike the other nine subjects for this project (most of whom I will probably never meet), I am so happy to have had the privilege to get to know Keith Cook just a little bit, and to hear his reaction to having his portrait painted. He radiates a sincere goodness that just makes you want to be around him and soak up what he has to say. It would be difficult to find a person who deserves more to be recognized and honored for his bottomless love and his drive to live every day to its fullest.
I hope that when the rest of the portraits hit the streets on October 1st, they will brighten a few days. I hope that they will let people know that they are seen and that they matter. I am also pretty sure that there will be portraits that no one will find. There will be paintings that will be rained on, stolen or thrown away...and I've made my peace with that. A gift is only a gift if it is freely given, and I want these portraits to be true gifts of notice. Whatever happens to the other nine paintings though, I am very very happy that Mr. Keith has his.