Day one: First piece in Cbabi Bayoc's year-long project went to an old friend with a new addition
A piece of art hangs on a clay-colored wall near a baby girl’s crib.
The Savannah, Ga., girl is very nearly 1, with her mother’s dimples and her father’s eyes and an emerging determination that’s all hers.
The framed piece, a charcoal on paper, shows a little girl with big glasses next to a smiling woman.
Down the hall, in the front room, hangs another piece. It’s by the same artist and, in deep and pale blues and dark and warm browns, shows another little girl in another set of arms.
DeShawn Bell (who was then DeShawn Anderson) and Cbabi Bayoc (then Clifford Miskell) met in a class their freshman year at Grambling State University in Grambling, La.
The two shared several classes together, and Bell’s best friend dated Bayoc’s roommate during college. Bayoc was laid back, she remembers, always cool. Now, she thinks, he was becoming who he is today.
“He’s always been very laid back, but he was always very focused on his craft, his art,” says Bell.
Originally from Illinois, Bell was prodded by her mother to make friends with fellow Illinoisans, and Bayoc was one. The two met up once with their own mothers. Bell’s mom thought he seemed like a nice young man.
And he was.
When Bayoc saw a snapshot of Bell with her mother, he asked if he could draw it. Bell agreed, and Bayoc left with the photo.
Right before graduation, he returned it to her, along with the charcoal rendering.
“Ever since then, I’ve always had that picture framed in my home,” she says.
Bell and Bayoc, who never dated, graduated from college and emerged into their own young lives, but reconnected through Facebook.
In 2008, Bell’s mother, Marion LeBlanc Anderson, died. Then, last year, the day before Father’s Day, DeShawn and her husband, William Bell, had their first child. They named her Camryn Marion Bell.
Now, Bayoc’s early charcoal hangs near the little girl’s crib. For Bell, it’s like her mother’s watching over.
The piece by her old friend has been part of Bell’s life for years. And in January, she added another one.
Time for a revolution
Late last year, as Camryn began eating eating baby food and the Bells hurried to buy her winter clothes for a Christmas trip to see family in Chicago, Bayoc was in the midst of his own new creation.
On Dec. 20, he posted on his facebook page:
“Been up for 2 hrs. Need the word out about ‘365 Days w/ Dad’ ... that.s the official title. For my new friends. I.ll be painting an image of black fatherhood everyday next year ... We need to promote the image of dad. 11 DAYS AND COUNTING! ... WE CAN CHANGE LIVES! one image at a time. HAVE AN AWESOME DAY! As Will Smith said, ‘gotta believe in the unrealistic.’”
Bell and her husband decided to e-mail Bayoc a few photos to see if he could use any for inspiration.
On Jan. 1, he did.
“First piece in progress,” he wrote on facebook. “Will be finished tonight. Time for a revolution, y'all. Time for fatherhood.”
Half a year and 128 or so paintings later, Bayoc is still working on creating an image each day, fighting exhaustion and time and the ups and downs of life.
In Savannah, Bell and her husband are still tuning in.
“We just feel like it’s such an amazing movement,” she says. “I can’t believe he’s doing it. He’s doing it.”
When William Bell saw their painting for the first time, he was moved. He’s an ex-football player, he says, so he couldn’t cry.
“But it touched me.”
Bayoc is using his art as a platform to show people that great dads do exist in the black community, Bell says. And she and her husband are proud to be part of that.
“They do take care of their children; they are role models; and it’s not what you see on TV.”
The artist she knew back then is the same person she knows now, evolved and made stronger by the life he’s lived.
And, for her, along with overarching messages about black fatherhood, Bayoc has captured another precious moment of her life with his art.
The day one painting from 365 Days with Dad, entitled “Happy Birthday,” hangs in the Bell's front room.
The baby swaddled tight in a hospital blanket is Camryn.
The image, shot by Bell’s dad, comes from the first photo taken of the child.
The huge arms wrapped around the baby are her father’s. The moment was the first time he held her.
Day 45 - a personal note
I have never been a "Kristi" or a "Krissi" or a "Kris.” My name is Kristen, and that's what everyone has always called me. OK, almost everyone.
Two people have gotten away with "Kris," calling it out in gentle, proud tones. They were my father and father-in-law. Other than liking beer, the two men have so little in common I don't know where to start. One was a white American. One an Indo-Guyanese. One was a doctor. One a mechanic. One had two children. One had five. They lived in different countries, prayed to different gods and led completely different lives.
Somehow though, it never bothered me when my own dad called me “Kris,” and when my father-in-law met me, he slipped easily into it, too.
Last year, that ended. In March, my father-in-law died from kidney failure. In November, my father died after complications from a stroke.
When I learned about “365 Days with Dad,” something resonated. Regardless of all their differences, when my dad and my father-in-law called me “Kris,” I felt treasured. Along with being tough and providing and all the things dads do, those two men did that one thing very well.
Before this project for the Beacon began, I signed up to buy one of the days of Cbabi’s project. It hangs now in my living room, above the couch. And when I look at “Saftey Net 2,” I feel the power that fathers literally have in their hands, to protect, to care for, and to treasure their children the way those two men did for me.