By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
WILLINGBORO – The African country of Sierra Leone, once wracked by civil war, seems to be a world away from South Jersey, but for Richmond Garrick, it’s close to home.
Garrick left his native country in 1991 to escape that bloody civil war that took the life of his older brother. His mother still lives there, once known as a haven for American slaves returning to Africa.
Now an artist and teacher at Williamstown High School, Garrick is raising a family of his own and while Sierra Leone is part of his past, it is still part of him.
Sierra Leone in Heart
“The civil war between 1991-2002 was freighting a period in the history of Sierra Leone,” Garrick told Front Runner New Jersey. “The world witnessed one of the worst carnage, mutilation and brutality that left over 50,000 dead.”
Garrick’s vivid artwork, which can be seen at his studio and exhibits around the country, has been his outlet since high school. His art from past experience as stirred powerful emotions in some. He has also created moving portraits of numerous African-American leaders like Barack Obama, Harriett Tubman and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I discovered my artistic abilities while in high school in Sierra Leone,” Garrick said. “From that moment, I recognized it was my divine destiny. It is my source of hope and therapy.
“Through my art, I express my thoughts and myself. It serves as the conduit in which I establish a dialogue with my viewers. It is the platform to express my happiness, my joys, my frustrations, my concerns for the sufferings and indignities of humanity,” he said.
A Message for Williamstown
He has called his time teaching young people at Williamstown “an amazing opportunity that has left an indelible impression on me. I have had amazing students.”
Garrick said on the first day of class each year at Williamstown H.S., he likes to give his students an inspirational speech, based on his life experiences.
“The purpose of my speech is to send a strong message of hope for the future, determination, and for them not to take the opportunities available to them for granted,” Garrick said.
Adding Value Wherever He Goes
Garrick has taken little for granted since arriving in the United States. He arrivedin New Jersey to live with an older sister. Along with becoming a successful educator and creating his respected art studio, he has earned his associate’s from Middlesex County College, bachelor’s from Montclair State, master’s from Rutgers University and now is working in his doctorate from Wilmington University.
“Richmond adds value to every discussion with an often unique perspective on the topics we cover,” Wilmington’s Adjunct Professor Dr. T. J. Vari, in the university’s Educational Leadership program, said of Garrick in an April magazine article at the school.
“It’s clear that he challenges the status quo, as many artists do. He prompts others to think deeply about an issue, without passing judgment or staking a claim,” Vari added.
He has won a wide range of awards from Middlesex County College, the South Jersey Cultural Alliance, the United Artist of Sierra Leone in Britain, the Sierra Leone Association of Artists & Musicians, the Gloucester County NAACP, among others.
Garrick said he has appreciated the chance in the United States not only to fulfill his educational opportunities, but to touch so many others through his artwork, particularly with the local Black community.
“The people in the Black community that I have interacted with seem to embrace their identity as an African and are conscious of the motherland as their heritage,” Garrick said.
Tradition of Family and Education
In continuing the family tradition of education, Garrick and his wife Wanona have three children, all currently pursuing college degrees. Son Richmond, is working on his master’s in music management. Daughters Richmonda and Deborah are both pursing science degrees.
Richmonda and Deborah both helped organize Rowan College at Burlington County’s first Black Lives Matter march in Mount Laurel last month against social injustice and police brutality.
“They are amazing,” Garrick said his children. “They are my world and everything that I could ask God for in this world. I am very proud of them.”
Garrick said his father, the late Sydney Garrick, is one off his inspirations and hopes he can continue to uplift others.
“We can only travel through this world once and we have to utilize the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life,” Garrick said. “We would never travel through this world again after our time comes to depart this world and rest eternally.”
In the next five years, Garrick said he hopes we can retire, travel the world, continue to show his artwork ad give lectures with one dream.
“I just wish that humanity would embrace each other with love and no racism,” he said.
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