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Day 161 takes the message to a place it's needed

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 12, 2012 - About 18 miles from the Louisiana border, there’s an elementary school with a cinderblock library, purple, green and tan flecked carpet, a purple dragon rug, and rows and rows of books. 

“Fancy Nancy,” lives here, near by “Captain Underpants,” “Junie B. Jones,” and the rhymes and lines of Shel Silverstein. There’s a space for art and science. There are old encyclopedias. And there’s a trading post for coins students get for good behavior. 

In the past three weeks, the library at Hugh Goodwin Academy for the Arts in El Dorado, Ark., has also added a new resident. 

Day 161 doesn’t hang on the walls, yet, but stands on an easel, instead -- sometimes by the front door, where students file into the library, and sometimes by the back door, where they file out. 

“What Lil Man See, Lil Man Do” is different from the other art here, says media specialist Peggy Makepeace, in both style and subject.

It’s a simple scene. A man and his son sit tucked into the couch, newspaper open in front of the man, book open in front of the boy, who’s slouching so low, only long fingers and legs appear. 

It’s different from the other art, and the students at Hugh Goodwin have noticed. Especially the black students.

Who is the man? they ask. Who is the boy? Where are they? Who made this?

The man is a father. The boy is a son. They’re on their couch, at home, reading. The artist lives in St. Louis, she tells them. 

And he’s painting one of these every day.

Makepeace’s son, Russell Makepeace, lives in St. Louis and has followed the career of the artist, Cbabi Bayoc, for years. He and his family, who live in the city, eat frequently at Sweet Art, the restaurant run by Bayoc and his wife. And when he heard of Bayoc’s project of painting an image of black fatherhood every day of the year, Makepeace wanted to have one.

The piece he bought for his mother now lives in the town where he was raised. Here, nearly half of the 450 children are minorities, and 53 percent are from single-parent homes. 

Peggy Makepeace sees the challenges those kids face every day. This piece shows a scene that many aren’t familiar with. And for some, it’s gotten them thinking.

“It’s opened up a lot of conversations with kids that normally don’t talk about the picture itself,” she says. “They don’t ask questions about the characters in the pictures.”

With this one, though, they do. 

Bayoc’s doing important and hard work, Russell Makepeace thinks, and he wants that work to get out of St. Louis into places where it’s also needed. He hopes the kids are talking about the piece at home like they are at school.

But it’s important, too, that it’s just there, showing instead of telling. A man and his son sit tucked into the couch, together, reading. 

“This can be normal,” he says. 

There are so many stories of young black children without their fathers. And at this school, there are so many young black children without their fathers. For many of them, their dads just aren’t in the picture, Peggy Makepeace says.

And then, they come to the library.

“The daddy’s in the picture in this one.”

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