The letter that changed Michael Kirkpatrick’s life came from out of the blue on an ordinary day. It had been airmailed from Malawi, even though Kirkpatrick did not know a soul on the African continent. The writer did not ask for money but simply stated that he wanted to hear about Kirkpatrick’s life.
Kirkpatrick wrote back, sparking a correspondence that lasted for two years. Eventually he learned that his new friend had discovered Kirkpatrick’s employment identification badge in the pocket of a shirt Kirkpatrick had donated to the Salvation Army. The shirt had ended up at the man’s retail enterprise in Malawi.
Kirkpatrick, who was raised in Sellersville and graduated from Pennridge High School in 1985, has traveled to Africa seven times since 1998.
Through friends at Calvary Church, Souderton, he met Richard Kabazzi, a Ugandan who was raising support for an organization he had established in his village to care for AIDS orphans.
“How do I know you’re really using this money for the kids?” Kirkpatrick grilled Kabazzi over dinner one evening.
Kabazzi replied by opening a calendar and pointing to a date.
“He said that for every question I answer of yours, you have 20 more questions,” Kirkpatrick said, “and the best way I can get you to understand is to invite you to come to Uganda.”
Kirkpatrick arrived in Uganda on the day in June 1998 that Kabazzi had pointed to on the calendar.
The trip exposed him to a new side of Africa.
“There’s things that we’re fed in the media that are an incredibly small percentage of what Africa is really about,” Kirkpatrick said.
With the right video footage, America could also be made to look like a desperate place, but people would protest that that is not the whole story, according to Kirkpatrick.
Instead of seeing only misery, Kirkpatrick also observed an abundance of talent in Africa.
“Here I see incredibly talented people who are trying to just scrape by and I’m like, whoa, you deserve attention, you deserve for people to know about your creativity,” Kirkpatrick said.
As Kirkpatrick continued his travels to Africa, he began to build friendships with some of these individuals.
Artist Fred Mutebi crafts mutlicolor woodcuts that portray both the social and natural environment of Uganda. While some people might say Mutebi’s work is reminiscent of Picasso’s, the situation is actually the reverse, since Picasso delved into cubism after attending an exhibition of African art, according to Kirkpatrick.
“Picasso was influenced by Africa; it wasn’t the other way around,” Kirkpatrick said.
Although Africa represents an enormous percentage of the global population, Kirkpatrick said that when he studies auction reports he finds that not one African is listed among the top-selling artists.
Kirkpatrick is motivated to change that, using social networking tools to provide global exposure for Mutebi and others. By designing a website and Facebook page, Kirkpatrick has helped Mutebi gain a presence in cyberspace, but he has also worked with him to secure magazine interviews and gallery exhibitions.
Another friend of Kirkpatrick’s is musician Maurice Kirya, who was named the 2010 winner of the Radio France International Discovery Prize for the Best New African Artist. He is also the winner of Uganda’s Young Achievers Award.
Kirya made his American debut at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, March 2010. He was featured on The Africa Channel’s “Soundtracks at Red Kiva” program, which is taped live at the Red Kiva nightclub, Chicago.
For more information about Mutebi and Kirya’s work, visit Kirkpatrick’s website at http://independentglobalcitizen.com.
Story originally published by Erin DuBois, Montgomery News.
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