Kyle Johnson and Eli Reed will be the recipients of the “Gordon Parks Choice of Weapons Award” at the annual celebration this October 7-9, 2021 in Fort Scott, Kansas.
The celebration is in honor of Fort Scott native Gordon Parks, noted photographer, writer, musician, and filmmaker. The Choice of Weapons Award was established in Parks’ honor to be given annually at the Celebration.
Named after his autobiography of the same name, the award seeks to honor a recipient who exemplifies the career and character of Gordon Parks.
Previous recipients include actor and musician Avery Brooks, photographer Howard L. Bingham, Elizabeth Eckford and Ernest Green, two of the “Little Rock Nine,” Richard Roundtree, star of the Parks-directed film, Shaft, Nichelle Nichols of Star Trek fame, acclaimed actress Ruby Dee, photographer John Shearer, LIFE magazine photo editor Bobbi Burrows, Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum, musicians Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr., editor Genevieve Young, filmmaker Kevin Willmott, educator Bernadette Gray-Little, Roger E. Mosley, star of the Parks-directed film, Leadbelly, Karole Graham, Stephen Perry and S. Pearl Sharp, cast members of the Parks-directed film, The Learning Tree.
Kyle Johnson, was born into a show business family – his mother is none other than Nichelle Nichols, known throughout the universe as Lt Uhura of the original Star Trek. He made his professional stage debut at age 7 in Only in America and his first television appearances include Day in Court, General Hospital, and The Fugitive.
In his teens, he began to consider more seriously his desire to pursue a career in acting. Kyle’s appearance in Chuck Connors’ latter day vehicle, Cowboy in Africa, accelerated his critique of the film industry and it’s the portrayal of Black people and culture.
Encouraged by his grandmother, Lishia, to endure and overcome, he was soon cast in a groundbreaking collaboration between NBC and the Watt’s Writer’s Workshop – Losers Weepers.
The following year Kyle got a call regarding a film in planning and met with Gordon Parks who decided on the spot that Kyle would portray him in the screen adaptation of his autobiographical novel, The Learning Tree. The film and it’s author have been lauded continuously since it’s release in 1969. In 1989 it was among the first 25 films inducted into the Library of Congress National Film Registry for their cultural, historical, or aesthetic value and now stands in the company of Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and Citizen Kane.
Following The Learning Tree, Kyle compiled more credits including The Mod Squad, and as the son of Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee in The Sheriff. But Kyle’s misgivings about Hollywood’s stereotypical and demeaning portrayals of Black America were further reinforced. Hopes for a new dawn were dimmed by the emerging wave of Blaxploitation films and he withdrew from the film industry in the mid-70s.
Johnson’s creative drive was redirected to music. He quickly developed his talents and attracted attention as a singer/songwriter performing in clubs throughout Los Angeles and San Francisco as a solo performer and with bands including Gideon & Power, a 2Beat Gospel/Funk band and The Skanksters, a rambunctious Reggae/Ska combo.
After moving to New Mexico in 1993, he became general manager of CATS! / Community Access Television of Silver, providing public, education, and government-related programs in Silver City. In the early 2000’s, Johnson had a local am talk show that created controversy – Radio Free Silver! – that created such controversy that it was abruptly canceled mid- program under pressure from disgruntled advertisers.
Eli Reed, is an accomplished photographer that began his career as a freelancer in 1970. His work from El Salvador, Guatemala and other Central American countries attracted the attention of Magnum Photos in 1982, where he became a full member in 1988.
Reed has authored several books, including Beirut: City of Regrets, Black in America (preface by Gordon Parks), The Lost Boys of Sudan,
and Eli Reed: A Long Walk Home (introduction by Paul Theroux) an award-winning retrospective.
His photographs have been recognized in numerous shows and exhibitions. Reed photographed the effects of poverty on children for a film documentary called America’s Children, Poorest in the Land of Plenty, narrated by Maya Angelou and televised on NBC on Mother’s Day.
He has worked as a stills and specials photographer for many motion
pictures including Rosewood, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Poetic Justice, Five Heartbeats, Ghosts of Mississippi, and Oscar-winning films including A Beautiful Mind, 8 Mile, and the documentary about young people
actively involved in the Civil Rights movement in Alabama, Mighty Times, The Children’s March.
Reed has received many awards including, Pulitzer Prize Runner Up (1981), Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University (1982-83), POY Nikon World Understanding Award (1983), Overseas Press Club
(1983), World Press Daily Life Award 1988, W. Eugene Smith Grant in Documentary Photography (1992), his video documentary Getting Out shown at the New York Film Festival in 1993 and honored by the 1996 Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame International Film and Video Competition in the documentary category.
He just recently received three renowned awards which are the National Press Photographers Association Joseph A. Sprague Memorial Award, Harvard University Nieman Foundation I.F. Stone
Medal award for Long Term Investigative Journalism, and now the Gordon Parks Choice of Weapons Award (all in 2021).
Reed was a Clinical Professor of Photojournalism at The University of Texas in Austin (2005) until recently.
He is currently involved in writing, working on his next photography book, along with preparing for planned exhibitions in Korea and China delayed because of the Pandemic.
Reed is also involved with film projects as writer, producer, and director on current ongoing fictional and documentary film productions.
Johnson and Reed will be honored at a dinner at the Liberty Theater in Fort Scott, KS on Saturday, October 9th. Ticket information and the full schedule will be posted on the website gordonparkscenter.org.