According to Little, he had not been home in 13 years. He was filled with fear and trepidation for many reasons. He could not find the words to say about this work as my feelings about the work had evolved over time. As he was 30 miles away from home, the words flowed like a river; like the Tar River, the place he was baptized at the age of 6.
Words, they can sting, can hurt. This installation is a metaphorical and spiritual journey to enlightenment. We must take to heal the divides of race and class in America.
Where I grew up Black and white farms stood side by side divided by fence. Things said about race, on one side of the fence, were equally said on the other; just never together
These majestic African-inspired walking sticks could possibly be fences, barriers, African ceptors to protect, to exalt. They could be emblem of nobility, an instrument of battle or ritual. They could possibly suggest we all as humans move beyond hatred for one another and embrace our commonalities. We were all born with the capacity to love, have compassion for one another. Hate is learned.
These majestic sticks are adorned with cockle burs—prickly seed pods that could represent African hair in its natural state. Once a racial epithet, our hair is considered a symbol of strength and resilience. As many of us embrace the texture of our hair, we can say today, as we many echoed in the 60s and 70s, our hair is beautiful. Blackness is beautiful.
The 4 symbols crown my mystical sticks: The halo (female), horn (male) could represent the characteristics we as humans all have. The (flame) could light our way on our life journey. The (diamond)—oh, the riches; for there are many riches that have little to do with money. My family grew up poor, but we were rich at the same time; lived off the soil; didn’t want for nothing. We tilled the soil. The earth in turn gave us a bountiful harvest that made us rich—rich as the soil beneath our swollen feet.
The inspiration of the title comes from a phrase from Robert Frost's poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. The speaker says, “But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep.” The speaker is traveling and needs to cover some distance before getting back home. – A symbolic safe place of security, love, happiness, nirvana.
We all have miles to go before we get back home. And we have miles to go before we sleep. Maya Angelou said it many years ago, however it is still apropos: “We should strive to make this country more than it is today
Willie Little is a Black artist and storyteller from North Carolina who currently splits his time between Oakland, CA and Portland Oregon.