Brian “Voice Porter” Hawkins


Store # 50832
Birmingham, Alabama

Brian Hawkins – a poet, artist and community organizer known around town by his stage name, “Voice Porter” – grew up in Birmingham. He had his first cup of coffee with his grandmother, a singer and songwriter who creates music for gospel quartets.

“As the story goes, somewhere around 4 or 5 years old, I just kind of woke up one morning and poured myself a cup. I would never let a 4 or 5-year-old drink coffee now, but apparently she just let me do it,” Hawkins said, laughing. “I remember sitting in the kitchen with her early in the morning, sun's not quite up, and having a cup of what I thought was coffee but was really mostly creamer. Just a little bit of coffee with my creamer is what I was having. But I think since I've been introduced to tea, I've been mostly, I'd say, 51 percent tea, 49 percent coffee.”

He got his start as an artist at 11, when his cousin, Sherman, enlisted him to help with a mural at an elementary school. The two boys, along with two employees from the Birmingham Museum of Art, painted a tribute to a teacher who had died.

“We painted the teacher with angel wings. And I was responsible mainly for painting the angel wings, because painting the face was not going to be my thing. I knew my space. I knew my strengths,” Hawkins said.

He has since become a proponent for public art, which he thinks provides an opportunity for a communal deep breath and reflection. If he could paint a mural for the whole world to see, he would make it one about what’s happening in the world – the pain, the melancholy, the hope.

“I would hope that they would spend 15 minutes looking at it, and in that time find such a range of emotions that it brings them to the middle, and to a space where they can think about what's happening in the world. They can think about the subject matter, about how they fit into whatever we're talking about, how they fit into this narrative, and how we can work together to change it,” he said. “I do feel hopeless sometimes. But what gives me hope is just watching people be the best person they can be for no other reason than to be the best person they can be – and knowing that being a great individual can help other people be great individuals. That is a thing that brings me joy.”

—Jennifer Warnick

If he could paint a mural for the whole world to see, he would make it one about what’s happening in the world – the pain, the melancholy, the hope.

Photos by Joshua Trujillo.

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