Artist-activist Kofi Tyus. (Photo by: Kamau High | The Afro)

By Jessica Dortch

As an accomplished artist-activist, and recently, the recipient of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) Award for Best Editorial Cartoon, Kofi Tyus remains humble about his artistic contributions to African American society. However, behind the thought-provoking and award-winning artwork is the same man whose life’s work is spreading a message of empowerment and hope.

At a young age, Tyus expressed himself through his drawings, but his true passion for art was cultivated in high school. “She saw something in my work that she thought was exceptional,” Tyus explains his high school art teacher’s dedication beyond the classroom in helping him get two scholarships to college.

The Washington D.C. native then accepted a scholarship to Howard University, where he would soon graduate and face the harsh realities of supporting a family as a struggling artist. “Black people, for a long time, didn’t invest that much into original artwork, they were more concerned with getting food on their table and stuff like that,” Tyus recalls this as a sign of the times for African Americans in the 60s and 70s. Because of this, Tyus decided to start his own greeting card company that would serve two purposes: provide a vehicle of communication for the community, and provide an outlet for his art.

Since those times, Tyus held a series of jobs including being a courtroom sketch artist for The Washington Post, however, for the past decade, the seasoned artist continues to be The Afro’s editorial cartoonist. The cartoonists wife, Fodowo Tyus, describes her husband’s work as essentially being warm love. “…You can feel the love and joy in his work, and his message is always just right.

After a lifelong career of inspiring African Americans through art, Tyus believes that his message has not changed, but is simply refined. He identifies despair as one of the biggest problems that citizens of the Baltimore face daily, and his artwork aims to bring hope to the hopeless. Kofi Tyus’s work can be found on display in various exhibits throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

Jessica Dortch is a writer and the editorial coordinator at the AFRO. She may be reached by email at jdortch@afro.com.

This article originally appeared in The Afro.

Kofi Tyus: Then and Now

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