Tommy Dodson, Mario E. Sprouse and Deborah Willis will be the recipients of the “Gordon Parks Choice of Weapons Award” at the annual celebration Oct. 5-7 in Fort Scott, KS. The celebration is in honor of Fort Scott native Gordon Parks, noted photographer, writer, musician, and filmmaker.

The Choice of Weapons Award was established in Parks’ honor to be given annually at the celebration.

This year’s celebration will feature several events including presentations, special events, tours, music performances, a barbeque, Fort Scott Plaza School Reunion and a celebration tribute dinner. 

This event is for everyone and is open to the public. Tickets should be reserved by Wed, Oct 4, for all the reserved events. 

The schedule of events is available below, at the Gordon Parks Museum or online at and the Facebook page at

“Gordon Parks Choice of Weapons Award” 2023 Recipients

Tommy Dodson, is a musician, composer, author, photographer and Fort Scott native who has enjoyed a 50-year-long career in music. Tommy began his professional music career at age 13.  He toured with his band across Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas before relocating to Los Angeles at age 17.  He signed with Capitol Records and performed professionally until he was drafted into the Army.  After his discharge he returned to California and continues to play professionally, including several years on a cruise ship.  

Along the way Mr. Dodson developed an interest in nature photography with a special interest in macro photography. He studied under noted California photographers and has had his work appear in “Better Homes and Gardens,” “A Manual of California Vegetation,” “Reader’s Digest” and more. 

Mario E. Sprouse, who has been working in music, theater and film for well over 50 years, was Gordon Parks musical assistant for 20 years and music supervisor for three of his films: “Moments Without Proper Names,” “Martin” – a film ballet, and the Emmy-nominated HBO documentary Half-Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks.” He also produced Mr. Parks’ first CD of original classical music created to accompany his book “A Star for Noon. Mr. Sprouse is a member of the Board of Directors of the Gordon Parks Foundation, and is currently working on a project with the Colour of Music Festival of Black Classical Musicians, to bring the classical music of Gordon Parks to international prominence.

Carmen McRae, Hubert Laws, Cornell Dupree, Buster Williams, Freddie Hubbard and Grover Washington, Jr. are some of the jazz artists who have recorded his musical arrangements. Orchestrations and original songs written by Mr. Sprouse have been performed live by Gregory Hines and Phylicia Rashaad.

Deborah Willis, Ph.D, is University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, where she teaches courses on Photography & Imaging, and cultural histories visualizing the black body, women, and gender. She is the director of NYU’s Center for Black Visual Culture/Institute of African American Affairs. 

Her research examines photography’s multifaceted histories, visual culture, the photographic history of Slavery and Emancipation, contemporary women photographers, and beauty.  She is the author of The Black Civil War Soldier: A Visual History of Conflict and Citizenship and Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present.  

Dr. Willis was awarded the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and was a Richard D. Cohen Fellow in African and African American Art at Harvard University; a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow, an Alphonse Fletcher, Jr. Fellow.   

Event Schedule 

Learning from Gordon Parks, Thurs.., Oct. 5, noon to 1 p.m.  

This presentation and discussion by Ann Dean, an artist and freelance photographer who teaches photography classes at the Lawrence Art Center. This is a Lunch and Learn Event. The presentation by Ann Dean is free to attend, but the lunches are only available by pre-purchase for $10 each 

The Superfly Trilogy, Thurs. Oct. 5, 1:30 – 2:15 p.m. 

Fifty years after the premiere of this Soul Cinema masterpiece, L.Roi Boyd, III, Professor of Theatre & Speech at Virginia State University, will provide a presentation on his new book “The Super Fly Trilogy.” Boyd will share the backstory behind the film taking it all the way to its beginnings in Cleveland, Ohio and its parallels with real gangsters and racketeers. 

Parks and Muhammed Ali, Fri., Oct. 6, 9 a.m.

Professor John Edwin Mason, Associated Professor, University of Virginia Department of History will explore the special friendship between Gordon Parks and Muhammad Ali. Gordon photographed the heavyweight champion on two separate photo-essays for LIFE magazine. 

Harlem Renaissance and the Renaissance Man, Fri., Oct. 6, 11:30 a.m. 

With Randal Jelks, Professor of African and African American Studies and American Studies at University of Kansas.  This presentation will share the history, journey, and connection of two titans of the early 20th century — Langston Hughes, a poet and playwright, and Gordon Parks, a photographer.

This presentation will reveal their shared legacy through an exhibit panel display that celebrates their lives and careers. This will also be the official launch opening with ribbon cutting of the exhibit.

“Back to Fort Scott” and “I Needed Paris Now,” Fri., Oct. 6, 12:30 p.m.  FSCC Ellis Fine Arts Center with Michael Cheers, Associate Professor, Photojournalism, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, San Jose State University, Shreepad Joglekar, Department of Art & Associate Professor, Kansas State University and Jason Miccolo Johnson, former Professor in the Journalism and Mass Communications Department at Savannah State University.

The presentation of the “Back to Fort Scott, Now” project, is the reimaging and tribute of Gordon Parks photos that he had taken in Fort Scott, KS, in 1950. Parks was on assignment for LIFE magazine to do a story on segregated schools and to follow up with his classmates that he graduated with from the segregated Plaza School in Fort Scott.  Cheers & Joglekar will share project research and discuss the October photo exhibition. 

Professors Cheers and Johnson, will also provide an update and share photos of the “I Needed Paris” project that took a group of African American photographers through Paris, traversing the same streets and neighborhoods as Gordon Parks, when he worked in the Paris bureau of Life magazine in the early 1950s.  This session reimagines Gordon’s iconic fashion, portrait and documentary photo essay work. 

The Collections and Works of Yvonne Palkowitsh, Fri Oct. 6, 2 p.m. 

Yvonne, a self-taught fine arts photographer born and raised in Fort Scott, KS, delves into the depths of storytelling through her work. She will be showcasing a collection of her pieces, which will be on display during her presentation.  Through her use of painterly techniques, Yvonne transforms traditional photographs into imaginative and soulful tales. 

“Free to Serve” Murial Unveiling, Fri. Oct 5, 4 p.m., 

The unveiling of the new mural display featuring the “1st Kansas Colored Infantry.” This is in honor and tribute of their sacrifice and willingness to serve. The mural will be on display at the north downtown building located at 9 South Main St, near Skubitz Plaza. 

Celebration Dance Party featuring The Kansas City All Stars, Fri., Oct., 5, 7:30 p.m. 

This KC Band will perform some of the best R&B and Dance hits for all generations. (Doors open at 6:30 p.m.) Cash bar available. 

Open Mic Poetry, Sat., Oct. 7, 8:50 a.m., 

This open mic is for any poets, rappers, musicians, or artists of all ages to read their work. 

Back to Fort Scott Plaza School, Classmates and descendants, Sat., Oct., 7, 10:15 a.m.

Katherine Karlin, Professor, Emerita, English Department, Kansas State University and Natassja Norwood, Undergraduate Student at Kansas State University will introduce and share findings from their research about Gordon Parks classmates and their descendants from the segregated 

Plaza School in Fort Scott. 

History of the Hawkins/Plaza School and All-School Reunion, Sat., Oct. 7, 11:30 a.m., (Lunch and Learn Event) with FREE “BBQ by the Patio.” This presentation and event will explore the history of the (1884 – 1956) segregated Hawkins/Plaza School that Gordon Parks attended. We will also honor former students who attended either school throughout the years. 

Celebration Tribute Dinner, Sat., Oct. 7, 7 p.m.  Liberty Theatre

(Social Hour starts at 6:00 p.m.) The evening will be highlighted by the presentation of the 2023 “Gordon Parks Choice of Weapons Award” to Tommy Dodson, Mario Sprouse, and Deborah Willis. There will also be a presentation of the inaugural “Gordon Parks Learning Tree Award” to Jill Warford.