Winning Essay by Jalen H. from South Carolina
Throughout history, many persons of African heritage have influenced the hearts and minds of the American people through the realm of visual and auditory art.  From the complex harmonies found in the works of Miles Davis to the unmistakable genius and remarkable illustrative nature of prose from Giovanni Wright, many artists have given voice to the voiceless while highlighting the unmistakable strength and resilience of the African American diaspora. Yet, few individual artists have has such a wide ranging impact on the very idea of African American life as has Gordon Parks.  During his early adulthood, he gained life experience in the era of the Great Depression.  It was during these times that Mr. Parks found his voice and began to express his views of the African American experience through photography.  By using his lens as a spotlight on the injustice faced by an oppressed people, Gordon Parks forever changed the way that African American story was told to a generation of people.
Mr. Parks was first and foremost, a storyteller.  While others used words or music to tell a story, Gordon used the power of photography.  One of his earliest and more controversial photos was that of an African American woman named Ella Watson.  Ms. Watson posed in front of an American Flag, stoic, holding a broom in one hand and a mop in the other. This photo was reminiscent of the famous picture of a white farming couple called American Gothic.  Mr. Parks named this photo American Gothic: Washington D.C. and immediately received criticism from his then employer about the controversial nature of the photo.  Even though this picture evoked uncomfortable feelings from many white Americans at the time, the strength and beauty of the photograph opened him up to a greater audience of people impressed with the artistic nature of the photo.  Mr. Parks has also worked with Vouge and Life magazines. Yet, his most famous works were a photo essay titled "The Restraints: Open and Hidden."  His documentation of the segregation and abuse faced by African Americans during the 50’s changed the discourse on race in American and was influential in the formation of the civil rights movement.  
Mr. Parks used his influence to change how we viewed the lives and struggles of the African American prior to the civil rights movement.  Because of his works, the path was paved for the emergence of such luminaries as Spike Lee, Ava DuVernay, Carrie Mae Weems and even Prince.  Mr. Parks used his gifts to uplift the human condition from the shadows and illuminate the sufferings of an oppressed people to the world.  His foresight and skill in his art has been an unmistakable influence on artists from all realms, past and present.  As a journalist major, it is his ability to create a narrative devoid of unnecessary hyperbole which gives me the motivation to continue in his legacy: speaking for the oppressed through art. 

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