I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. That is two parents who loved me and provided adequate food, clothes and shelter. It’s hard to imagine what life would be like if I didn’t have that kind of start. I’d like to believe I’d be someone just like Tyree Guyton.
I met Tyree while riding my bike around to the various abandoned factories and neighborhoods of Detroit. I’m glad I didn’t listen to all those concerned for my welfare as what I discovered was even more than I hoped for. What I stumbled upon, right in the middle of decimated neighborhoods was a block that, although filled with abandoned structures, was filled with life and even joy. Joy? In Detroit?! YES! How else would you describe homes and roadways painted with all the colors of the rainbow with stuffed animals positioned having tea at tables alongside mountains of shoes and even totem poles made of furniture? All of it the eclectic, artistic, interpretation of a single man, Tyree Guyton, and his Heidelberg Project www.heidelberg.org
My mind was overwhelmed with the mind blowing context of the entire scene. That’s when I met Tyree, paint brush in hand. “Hey bro, what is the place?” I innocently asked. “My dream!” he proudly proclaimed. Tyree Guyton is a native Detroitian who was sad and even angered by what was happening to the city he loved. However, unlike most who might have felt the same way Tyree choose the path less taken in how he responded. Namely he took action! He started using the discarded “junk” of others to create his very own style of urban art. For 25 years now, this self-taught artist has been transforming homes and even city blocks creating a decidedly different vibe in the process. Along the way he earned an honorary doctorate in art and better yet, inspired others to be the change in their universes as well. That change included me as he very surprisingly handed me a paint brush and bucket and asked me to join him in transforming a dingy patch of asphalt into a polka dotted fantasy land! Who would have thunk it when I started pedaling that morning?!
I could only wish, dream or hope that like Tyree I too would have chosen the path less taken. Tyree, like many others born with less than I, certainly have an argument for accepting their lot in life. In fact even those born with more, (whatever form more takes) have an argument for choosing the path they ultimately take.
After all rich kids who have been spoiled their whole lives are equally guilty of choosing drugs or even simply apathy when it comes to choosing their path in life. Not Tyree and I’d like to think not me either. What about you? Are you the kind of person who finds solitude in finding all the reasons on why you can’t succeed accomplishing something? Do you focus on the very real circumstances you find yourself surrounded in as justification of staying on the path you’re on? Or do you pull a paint brush out of your pocket and start painting your path on the proverbial pavement to self improvement or even self worth?
I asked to take a picture inspired by my experience with Tyree. He politely declined. I understood his message loud and clear and made my own path immediately over to his store (or should I say shrine) in one of those formerly abandoned homes. Once inside I bought one of his books. When I walked out with his book I went right over and took the photo he now enthusiastically agreed to take with me. When he put a paint brush in my hand he effectively had taken my money. This guy was the kind of street smart entrepreneur we need more of in this world. Yet most of the street dumb entrepreneurs on Detroit’s East side are of a decidedly different kind. They choose a traditional path, he choose an unconventional one. He’s the difference maker in his life and that’s exactly the kind of enterprise or more succinctly enterprising individual I’d like to support with my money. That’s because inside me I will always have one burning and unanswerable question. Would I too have had the same mental and emotional fortitude of the Tyree’s of the world who have overcome far greater odds than I to become who they are today?
I respect those who refuse to take the path most taken and choose their own positive path in this world instead. Those people, by definition, are the minority. But they’re the majority of the people I aim to surround myself with. What about you? Who do you surround yourself with? I bet how you answer that question is also how you answered the first one. Because ultimately the choice of being a victim or not, is up to each and every one of us irregardless of the situation we were born into. If you don’t agree with me just ask Tyree. But don’t be surprised if he replies by handing you a paint brush!