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Fighting Parkinson's with words and watercolor
Local artist John Givens arms himself with creativity
W Givens 5
An art piece created by Givens shows he and his brother at an old home place.

Heritage Inn Health and Rehabilitation resident John Givens found out a decade ago that he had Parkinson's disease. Yet he doesn't let his illness define him. In fact, he's putting up a fight every day. His weapons of choice? French crayons, oil pastels and watercolors.

"I'm not always feeling good every day," Givens said, "but I am doing art every day. It takes me away from Parkinson's."

Givens sits in a rocking chair on the front porch of Heritage Inn, usually after lunch, with his art supplies on a tray and his walker nearby - a walker he doesn't always use but provides help when his balance is unsteady.

Sixty-five-year-old Givens likes being outside to create because he draws most of his inspiration from nature - that and his memories.

Born in Claxton, Georgia, Givens remembers playing under a chinaberry tree when he was 7 or 8. With few toys to speak of, he played an imaginary war game.

"I played with stick man, but he had to have somebody to fight, so I drew war men in the dirt," he said.

It was a time of racial unrest, and Givens often found himself running into the woods to hide.

"I saw all the colors of the trees," he said. "I ran through a playful joy of nature - my first lesson of golds and browns and yellows, leaves falling, coloring the path I walked."

In his early 20s, after serving two years with the U.S. Navy, Givens worked on a couple of paintings and carvings and began writing poetry, but he didn't seriously pursue his creativity until almost 10 years later. It was then that he slowly began again to create and collect pieces for his portfolio, hoping to show them eventually, and write poetry, with the hopes of having it published.

"I moved back to Statesboro in 1984 because I wanted my family to take me seriously as a writer," he said.

That didn't happen, however, and after a brief stent, Givens relocated to North Carolina to work as a roofer and then to Philadelphia, where he worked as a tree surgeon, a job that sometimes sent him 80 feet off the ground. Givens said the experience gave him a new perspective that affected his creativity.

"I liked being up high," he said. "I met God up there. He's a nice guy; told me to watch out for myself and be careful. I was scared that high, though. That's a good feeling, too, especially if you can get over it."

However, Givens said he's never had any fears or doubts about sharing his creativity.

"I knew it was that good," he said. "It's not about whether it gets published; it's knowing that it's that good."

When his health began to deteriorate, Givens again returned to Statesboro four years ago, with even more art pieces and poetry in his portfolio, and has been a resident of Heritage Inn for the last six months, where he paints daily, writes frequently and motivates many.

"I get a chance to talk to a lot of folks," he said. "You'd be surprised how they talk to me about their dreams. I inspire them. Little kids run up to hug me."

Givens continues to dream, with words and watercolors and ideas. He wants his own apartment. And his poems published. And an art show. And a Parkinson's disease awareness event. And backyard gardens.

"God's going to help me accomplish what I want to do," he said. "All I want for anybody is to be healthy and live a happy life.

"I say to Parkinson's, 'There's a fight going on.' Parkinson's ain't gonna win. I'm gonna be running a very long time. I'm going to fight Parkinson's through my art."



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