To see Dr. Ronald McDowell today, you would never guess that he was tormented as a child. His extraordinary artistry surfaced when he was only 11 months old and he suffered for being gifted. His brothers punched him with the intention of teaching him how to fight. Teachers beat his hands to stop him from drawing. Neighborhood children bullied him. Back then his remarkable artistic ability was the cause of tremendous pain. It also became his escape.
He withdrew into a world quite different than his reality. In this new world, he had friends and they were kind to him. These friends existed first in his mind and then on paper. For years, his only friends were images he drew to substitute for the playmates he yearned to have. Over the years, he perfected his artistic skills and became a master of almost every medium – illustrations, fine art paintings, montages and sculpting.
Born and raised in California, he moved to Tuskegee in 1986 and was so warmly embraced, he stayed. But no single place can contain an artist of his magnitude. And through his artworks, which encompass every medium, he is internationally esteemed.
A few years after he settled in Tuskegee he was named Artist In Residence, a role created to give city leaders access to his creative genius for public art projects. It was a wise move on their part.
As an emerging artist, he worked at Motown in Los Angeles and crossed paths with all of the stars that worked for the record label including Michael Jackson. Michael asked Dr. McDowell to instruct him regarding art techniques and Dr. McDowell taught art lessons to Michael Jackson for 12 years. Also, Dr. McDowell was an art consultant to Michael Jackson on the “Thriller” album.
In 2016, he joined the faculty at Tuskegee University after the school added an “A” for Art to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program, making it the STEAM program. This world-class artist who is the best in the business is now enriching offerings at the university.
In 2018, a mural created by Dr. McDowell was unveiled in the Jefferson County Courthouse to counterbalance offensive artwork that has been on display since the 1930’s. Dr. McDowell’s mural visually communicates that racial progress has been made in Birmingham and surrounding communities. It depicts leadership that is shared by men, women and all ethnicities.
He bears no grudges and harbors no animosity towards the people who hurt him as a child. This is due to a gift that is equal to his artistic skills — the gift of forgiveness.
*Eddie “Kendrick” is the accurate spelling of the family name. At some point after he became an entertainer, an “s” was added to his last name and the world came to know to him as Eddie “Kendricks.”
Though Tuskegee is a specific locale in the Deep South, this community personifies the complexities of the southern states. The content we will provide showcases the resilience of the people and their unrelenting will to do better, often in spite of tremendous odds. With more and more Northerners returning to their roots or choosing to move South for the weather, cheaper housing and cost of living, these transplants also will find a rich culture and powerful history. At the request of Booker T. Washington, the Harlem Renaissance poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar wrote the Tuskegee Song” in 1906 as an anthem for Tuskegee University. The lyrics praise “Tuskegee, thou pride of the swift growing South.” Tuskegee is still a special place with a story that mirrors the evolution of the Deep South. That is the essence of my contributions under the heading “Tuskegee Spirit.”