Updated: Sep 11
You Have To See It, To Be It
After graduating from college in 1985, I left Mississippi and settled in Dallas, TX. As is the case with many graduates, I rented an apartment the first couple of years, and subsequently purchased my first home in my mid-20s. Upon doing so, I became intent on finding fine art that reminded me of the life I had left behind. I wanted pieces that not only reflected the nostalgia of the Mississippi Delta; I wanted a collection that was representative of the African-American experience. I wanted to display art that could effectuate positive change. Many people have said, “One picture can say a thousand words”. I have always believed that art can be more than just a collection of beautiful paintings. When used properly, fine art can be used to convey positive images that give rise to motivation and hope in “all” people.
I began to visit several galleries in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I found a number of pieces that I liked but I also noticed a certain scarcity in what I was looking for and was subsequently able to find. As I traveled from one gallery to another, I had the good fortune of meeting several talented local artists. As I developed relationships with various artists, it became apparent that the perceived scarcity of the art I was seeking was not the end, it was the beginning.
I decided to be a part of the solution and help create the products I desired. That is how the motto "You Have To See It, To Be It" came to fruition. By collaborating with a number of artists I had met, we felt we could build a fine art collection that was representative of the fullness of our culture and the black experience. Always directing my thrust was the profound belief that art was not simply a financial investment but a cultural investment. It could serve as a teaching tool for today’s youth and tomorrow’s leaders.
During this time, I was employed full-time with a large information technology company. While I had become proficient at providing technical and marketing support to a wide range of customers, I realized I had two passions. I loved the excitement of new technology, engineering, and marketing but I had also developed a passion for positive black images. My day job soon became the primary vehicle I used to fund my hobby and soon to become part-time business.
As a consequence, I founded Positive Black Images in 1989. During the 1980s, African American art was gaining wider acceptance and visibility through film, television, black novelists, and visual artists. The publication boom in African American art was growing, and I wanted to participate and contribute to that growing popularity.
For 15 years, we published and distributed art that was culturally inspiring, uplifting, and beautiful. The 1st series we published was “Success Comes In Cans – I Can, You Can, We Can” (see paintings below). The objective of this series was to visually show that success could be achieved through education, family unity, and spirituality. “I Can” illustrates a young man as he studies by the light from a kerosene lamp with a ray of brightness illuminating one of his eyes. A black and white picture of Frederick Douglas can be seen in the background because during that time, there were no color photographs. “I Can” creatively communicates my father’s determination and passion for education dating back to his formative years. To truly appreciate his passion for education, you must first understand his philosophy of education. Dr. Merritt said, “Be it formal or informal, education is essential for one’s own survival and the survival of others. Openness and ambiguity encourage thinking; likewise, specificity limits thinking.” He has always believed that education comes in two forms, “One form of education enables us to earn a living; the other enables us to live. Education can make a difference between hope and despair, love and hate, understanding and confusion, and success and failure. It is paramount to realizing one’s full potential.” It was only fitting that “I Can” be the 1st painting in the “Success Comes In Cans” series.
“You Can” illustrates a school teacher as she inspires the younger generation to realize their full potential. This painting creatively communicates my mother’s determination and passion for educating others as a young teacher. To truly appreciate her passion and commitment to her students, you must first understand Mrs. Merritt’s commitment to her family and the communities she served. As a young boy, she taught me right from wrong. She taught me how to treat others with respect. I learned how to walk in another person’s shoes and care for them as they are. Because of her example, my sister and I embrace people from all walks of life. Nurturing and educating others came naturally to my mother. It was only fitting that “You Can” be the 2nd painting in the “Success Comes In Cans” series.
“We Can” illustrates a family giving thanks before dinner. In the painting, the artist aged me by 20 years, and he depicted a symbolic family of four to represent the next generation. “We Can” creatively communicates the belief that in addition to educating yourself and educating others, family unity and spirituality are the keys to our individual and collective successes as a family unit. This chapter is progressing well in the lives of my family and many other families across our country. It was only fitting that “We Can” be the 3rd painting in the “Success Comes In Cans” series.
Much of the Positive Black Images art focuses on family life, religious themes, music and rhythm, education, social justice, black culture and more. Our collection of fine art includes lithograph prints, Christmas greeting cards, All Occasion greeting cards, wall calendars and other accessories. All of the art has a purpose and it tells a story. For example, the “Angels Watching Over Us” series provides many positive lessons about the universal principles of life (see paintings below). They represent the four directions, four seasons, four times of day, four African American skin tones, and four heavenly blessings.
Angels Watching Over Us by James St. Clair
Angel of the East (Joy) Angel of the South (Love) Angel of the West (Peace) Angel of the North (Harmony)
The Angel of the East is Spring. Her color is pink. She is a dark-skinned beauty, the dawn of life, the blossom of Spring, and the spirit of happiness. She is “Joy”.
The Angel of the South is Summer. His color is green. He is a brown skinned sprite. He is full of vitality, life in full bloom, the midday sun, and a gift of the Word. He is “Love”.
The Angel of the West is Autumn. Her color is peach. She is the color of fall, tan skinned and rusty hair. She is the beauty of a sunset and the spirit of the dove. She is “Peace”.
The Angel of the North is as cool as winter. His color is blue. He is light skinned and charming. He is the light of night, the completion of the cycle, like a bedtime lullaby, and the spirit of music. He is “Harmony”.
As the Positive Black Images business grew through the 1990’s, I continued to assume positions of increased responsibility in corporate America. In 2004, it became apparent to me that I could no longer traverse both worlds and maintain a healthy work life balance. As a consequence, I decided to place a strategic pause on the part-time business and commit myself to a full-time career in engineering, program management, and portfolio management until my retirement in 2020. I am blessed and thankful to have celebrated 35 plus years of service in my profession.
In that spirit, I started Merritt Investment Trust (MIT, LLC), a limited liability company that includes 3 businesses.
1) MIT Management Services provides Program Management Office (PMO) consulting services;
2) MIT Real Estate Services provides tenant and buyer services; and
3) Positive Black Images provides the gift of fine art and commentary via an eCommerce platform.
In addition to selling the items we published from 1989 – 2004 and publishing new products, the Positive Black Images business and brand will include a “You Have To See It, To Be It” blog. Periodically, I will write columns across a broad range of subject matter (i.e. entrepreneurship, citizenship, education, diversity and inclusion, voting etc.). Via these columns, Positive Black Images will contribute to the public discourse by communicating in an open, honest, caring, and unifying manner.
The Positive Black Images business will provide the gift of fine art and it will communicate an uplifting message to blacks, whites, and other ethnicities. The main website for MIT, LLC is www.mitcompanies.com. It includes links for the 3 businesses. You can also access the Positive Black Images website directly. That website is www.positiveblackimagesfineart.com.
We hope you enjoyed reading our 1st column, “What’s in a Name”. You deserve the best, and we are absolutely committed to giving you our best!
Dexter R. Merritt Sr.