The Mission Behind the Missionary

Kentuck. Between the trees and translucent sun, chill vibes and music spill out. The smell of popcorn hits my nose as I enter the gate, anticipation building as I look to see where Missionary Mary Proctor is. A-20. I also need to figure out how to record.

The Kentuck Festival of the Arts is full of colors and stories that could fill books. While walking towards Missionary Mary’s booth, I take in all the colors, sounds, and booths in section A, while trying to figure out if my group was behind me. Coming to Missionary Mary’s booth I am not surprised, or anything less than amazed, at her vivid colors and not only Pro- Black but Pro- People — if there is such a thing — art. I am captivated by the tent surrounding me and the images of African- American women with a background of purple and light blue. Each piece telling a story and each woman showing a personality through her clothing. Going towards the back of her tent, I see the queen herself, Missionary Mary Proctor.

Being a bundle of nerves, I don’t really know what to say to her. Missionary Mary is talking to a fellow artist, but I gladly wait to catch her attention. Once I have her attention, I politely ask if I may interview her . . . and I am well on my way to stumbling through my questions.

“I already know about your history,” I say. “And how you have a mission: if this way doesn’t work out, how will you come back and what will be your next medium?”

“Well, my next media is to do books,” she replies. “I plan on writing my stories and making them into little small books . . . I don’t intend to give up my gift because it’s a gift and I think this here will never go away. People need to see some things and treasure things that have been said . . . So I am trying to transform in my writing.”

I also know that Missionary Mary Proctor grew up with her grandparents, an interracial couple, and wanted to know if that in any way influenced her art.

“Yea because I never knew there was a difference in color,” she says and pauses. “I grew up with people that didn’t care about color. My granddaddy never taught me color… My grandfather just showed me what he was a man of strength and power and a man that new God and was a strong man that’s all. I don’t see—  I never understood racism. My art’s, you know, mixed with color and it wasn’t a big deal.”

She then speaks more on the topic, saying that she did not see color or race until she went up North. In the country where she grew up, race just wasn’t a big deal.

I had read somewhere that Missionary Mary had left high school in 9th grade. Is that true?

“Ninth grade,” she says. “Between ninth and tenth grade, I did stop because I ended up having a baby. My grandmother wouldn’t take care of my baby, but she loved him. But she wouldn’t wanna sit there and baby my baby!”

“And lastly, I heard about the meaning of your doors and you had a vision of the house being set on fire and I think the doors being the mouth to the house like the eyes are to the soul (And how the windows would probably be the eyes). How do you see your doors as?”

“I see my doors (as) an avenue to come out,” she begins. “It’s almost like my Grandma and them couldn’t make it out of those doors that they were in. I see my doors as an opening for people to make it out of something like, for instance, when you see a door, it’s saying something . . . I asked my Grandma, I said ‘Grandma, ‘What is it that you want the most out of life,’ and she said, ‘Just to be treated equal, that would be sweet.’ So I think that’s an avenue to open up the door for people so they can understand that my grandmother worked hard and she just wanted to be treated equal . . . We have to fight for that right to be treated just like another man, no matter what color.”

After my interview with Missionary Mary, I realized that color doesn’t describe or person or hold them back, if anything it gives them ammunition to push forward. Behind her words seemed to be a deeper meaning, one that was caught not only by myself, but from the others who surrounded me.

Missionary Mary started our interview journey through Kentuck. Next we went to see the artist that Alexandria would interview, but before getting there, I realized the sun was out but being covered by the trees. Feeling some inspiration from Missionary Mary’s words, I decided to take a picture and risk being left. Happily I wasn’t left, and after standing by while Alexandria, Destiny, and Maytreecia did their interviews, the Kentuck fun began.

I figured out quickly that, when it comes to food, follow Maytreecia and that, even though I was the youngest in my group, I was not the most childish. After sitting in really tiny chairs in the children’s area and having to figure out if Maytreecia would break one, we continued to color and to help out with a blanket for charity.

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