You’d better watch out: Creativity can be contagious.
James Webster caught it from his wife, Cornelia, and the two of them have co-authored a book, “Society Conscious,” aka “Sucyti Konchus,” that will be among the books for sale at Winston-Salem’s Juneteenth Celebration on June 22 in the Wake Forest University Innovation Quarter.
The Websters met on the campus of Winston-Salem State University, where she was a senior, in March 1973. He had graduated the year before from UNC Chapel Hill, where he played football.
A mutual acquaintance asked James to give Cornelia and a friend of hers a ride home.
“She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen,” James said. “I said right then, ‘I’m going to marry her.’” They were married that December and have one son and four grandchildren.
James was born and raised in Winston-Salem. Cornelia is from Roxboro and has relatives in Winston-Salem
Before they returned here in 1988 for James to take an assistant coaching job at Wake Forest University, they lived all over the country, following his college football-coaching career.
While James coached defensive linemen, Cornelia raised their son, worked as a flight attendant for five years and received a master’s degree in counseling from University of Kansas.
“We’ve lived all over the U.S.,” she said. “We built this house in 1999.” The house, an A-frame on several acres of gardens and woods, is full of art and memorabilia from their life together.
Their book is designed around her art work and expressionist writing and his poetry.
“As an African American woman, these basically have been my experiences,” Cornelia said. “And, if not my experiences, they are situations that I’ve had a strong response to.
“What I see and what I feel with my heart and my brain, my interpretation of many things.”
Cornelia Webster works in many media. Sheer pink fabric springs from a painting called “BURN IN DA BELLY.” It’s a response to an article and image that she saw in the New York Times in 2008.
“This little girl in Haiti was out in a trash dump, looking for food,” Cornelia said. “It captured my attention and my heart: Why are there hungry people in the world when our country is so rich?”
Nearly every page in the 124-page book contains some kind of artwork: photographs, paintings, collages, multi-media.
Page 6 is dedicated to her sister, Celia Priscilla Roan Best, who died in 2008. Pages 48-49, titled “SEE!!! WHAT U’ve DONE!!!” reference controversial deaths of young people, including Michael Brown, Travon Martin and Tamir Rice.
“A lot of the book is sharing my perspective and knowledge of what is happening to black people in the world,” Cornelia said. “This one is on Michael Brown, but there have been so many people in that situation.”
Her artistry inspired her husband. “If you are around something, it rubs off on you,” James said. The book contains the first poem that he wrote when he was coaching at East Carolina University and she was in Winston-Salem.
Titled “Tear,” it’s a call for empathy and understanding: “There is a life story inside every Tear, Sometimes we listen, sometimes we don’t want to hear,” it says. On the facing page is a photograph of their two shadows on a beach, holding hands.
Art is a conversation. The artist brings her experience to the work, and the viewers interpret what they see through the accumulated perceptions that they bring to the work. “And there is a hidden message in every piece,” James said.
He said that Cornelia is uncompromising in her art.
“She is the most talented and creative person I have ever met,” he said. “And I’ve been exposed to a lot of people.
“When people do things and they want to appeal to people, they will compromise themselves. This book does not compromise in how it looks at the issues of society. There are no falsehoods.”
Seven authors, in addition to the Websters, will share their literary works and sign books when the Triad Cultural Arts, Inc., presents Winston-Salem’s 15th annual Juneteenth Celebration.
They will include Doris Kimbrough, grandmother of Sherriff Bobby Kimbrough, with “I’m Allergic to Gray Hair.” Bishop Sir Walter Mack, pastor of Union Baptist Church, will give tips on becoming an author.
Juneteenth commemorates the June 19, 1865, announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas, and the emancipation of enslaved African Americans throughout the former Confederate States of America.
Some events will be inside Biotech Place, and some will be outdoors in Bailey Park.
The celebration is set in an area that was once a thriving African American business community. It fell into disuse for many years, and started being repurposed with the opening of Biotech Place in 2012 as part of the Innovation Quarter. Juneteenth moved there three years ago, according to Lindsey Schwab, the Quarter’s director of programs.
“Its a great place for the historical significance of the quarter,” Schwab said. “We wanted to incorporate art and culture into the quarter, so Juneteenth is a great fit.”
The day will include performances, a health fair, heritage displays and demonstrations, food trucks, and vendors with ethnic merchandise and jewelry.
Winston-Salem native Geno Segers, an actor and voice-artist, will conduct a motivational youth session at 2 p.m. He is one of the stars of “Perfect Harmony,” an NBC comedy debuting in the fall. He played Mufasa in Disney’s Australian stage production of “The Lion King” and is known for the role of Chayton Littlestone in Cinemax’s “Banshee.” He also had roles in “Knight Squad,” “Henry Danger,” “Voltron,” “Teen Wolf” and Disney’s “Pair Of Kings.”
Other performers will include Big Ron Hunter, Tony Dove and the Headlynerz, Keith Byrd, the Mount Olive Gospel Choir, Voices of God’s Children, Headcase, The BOSS Drummers and Otesha Creative Arts Ensemble.
Wake Forest Baptist Health will hold health screenings, nutritional displays, and sessions on African American health care.
Spencer McCall will conduct genealogy workshops.