CHICAGO (CBS) — CBS 2 is highlighting the Black history makers in Chicago – the people who are breaking barriers and inspiring future generations.
For Jeff Beckham, that meant finding a new calling in an old skill.READ MORE: Working For Chicago: Nordstrom Holds Hiring Event Through Friday Night
CBS 2’s Steven Graves reported Thursday night on how Beckham is making changes through the strokes of a paintbrush.
In describing his style, Beckham said: “So, I always tell people it’s like neo-contemporary abstract. I really focus on trying to bring color out.”
He brings out not only color, but also greater understanding for those who view his pieces.
Beckham’s new Bridgeport art studio is small and modest, but his pieces are bold.
“I wanted to share stories of people in my mind I see as superheroes,” Beckham said.
And for him, that’s Black faces seared in American history – people of color owning their own stories.
Graves: “Why do you think the medium of art speaks differently?”
Beckham: “I think it breaks down barriers. It’s important we tell these stories the way they were laid out.”
One of those stories is that of Ruby Bridges – the 6-year-old girl who stood up for school desegregation in New Orleans. Beckham originally saw her picture with the N-word next to it.
“I painted that piece and put ‘queen’ next to it, was to change the narrative,” Beckham said.
He also wrote “king” next to Chicago’s Emmett Till, who was 14 years old when he was lynched in Mississippi.
The youth mentor puts the pictures in the background during video sessions.READ MORE: 'Boom!': Residents Wake Up To Storm Damage Throughout Chicago
“I do it intentionally because it’s all about mirroring, right?” Beckham said. “Giving our people a focal point into someone they can be like.”
That mirror mentality is personal to the 40-year-old. He saw art through the drawings of his father, and he studied it, but stopped short of pursuing it. His focus shifted to engineering.
His passion wasn’t there until transitioning to chief executive officer of non-profit Chicago Scholars – helping thousands of low-income youth get into college.
He also works with the group 100 Black Men.
But a close friend’s untimely death turned him to painting – only two years ago.
Now, he’s already sold 500 pieces.
“Losing him and seeing what he had accomplished in such a short amount of time told me, go, it’s time. What are we waiting on?” Beckham said. “And if we continue to wait, we’ll miss the mark and opportunity to help someone else.”
It’s become even more of calling since the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed.
“Something clicked,” Beckham said. “I was out with some of my students protesting peacefully and I saw the power, I saw the emotion – and it triggered the same within me.”
And two paths for his life have now merged into one.
“When I grew up, I always said I wanted to be a superhero or a Black history figure,” Beckham said.
The goal now is inspiring others to do the same.
Beckham will hold his first gallery opening this month.MORE NEWS: Firefighters Battle Fire At Recycling Facility In Gary, Indiana