The GIFT of Drawing on History – 30 Years of OUR ROOTS by Tayo Fatunla

OUR ROOTS has been a Black history cartoon column series featured in various publications at different times – and also in UK’s The Voice newspaper – for over 30 years. The history of the Black race is what Tayo Fatunla has been illustrating and disseminating. OUR ROOTS is a journalistic and historic journey, which Tayo Fatunla first created as ‘African Sketchbook’, when he was a student at The Kubert School in New Jersey, USA.

Steve Pope, the then editor of The Voice in 1989, wrote to Tayo (when he lived in Hackney, East London) asking him to visit The Voice premises in Coldharbour Lane, as he was interested in featuring Tayo’s work in the paper.  Tayo remembers sitting down with Steve Pope and Yvonne Taylor (on whose page the series featured in The Voice) to discuss how to run the feature in the weekly paper. Tayo’s initial challenge was to research about Black history makers from the UK and from all works of life internationally. His idea was not to focus on one particular Black race, but Black race in the Diaspora. It worked, and the interest in OUR ROOTS from all quarters grew bigger and bigger – beyond his expectations. He is thankful to God for this. Tayo believes that, just as it says in the Scriptures, his gift has made room for him. “I tried doing other things to earn some income, until I realised that the work of my hand was already there: drawing cartoons.”

In the course of drawing OUR ROOTS, Tayo has also featured Christian achievers and history makers. One such is the missionary, Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, who in Nigeria turned the English Bible into Yoruba, a language spoken in the southern part of Nigeria. OUR ROOTS has also featured Elizabeth “Lisette”Denison, who used her life savings of $1,000 to build a church in Grosse, Michigan, US.

Jerry Robinson, the creator of the Joker, ran a US-based syndicate called Cartoonists and Writers Syndicate. He showed an interest in OUR ROOTS, and the series was syndicated in the US newspapers, starting in News Sentinel, a Fort Wayne, Indiana newspaper.

Yumy Odom, President and Founder of the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC), says: “Long before I met Tayo – 2018 winner of the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC, Inc.) Pioneer/Lifetime Achievement Award – I was very familiar with his work via the New York Amsterdam News, which I read for 25 years. I enjoyed the Pan-African (World) history Tayo shared. His work was, and still is, referenced in our many ECBACC workshops and presentations, demonstrating the relevance of OUR ROOTS even after 30 years.”

The British Museum loved the OUR ROOTS series, and commissioned Tayo to do 10 African Kingdoms illustrations for its ‘The Wealth of Africa’ online educational resource.

Artistic ability isn’t easily identifiable in the early stages of childhood. Tayo discovered he had an interest in drawing in the latter part of his primary school years, and believes that his gift to draw and inspire, and to educate and inform others comes from God – and he is thankful.  He believes everyone is gifted, and that a Christian should make every effort to develop whatever gift a child is demonstrating, so that it can be used for God’s Kingdom here on earth. Because of this, Tayo has been conducting cartoon workshops and sessions for children for several years.

It has been 30 years of God’s goodness, and Tayo is looking forward to even more.

Tayo’s illustrated ‘OUR ROOTS: Black History Sketchbook’ is available. For more information, contact  tfatunla@hotmail.com or call 07802 970511.

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