Life is about spreading positive energy and transforming it into its true intent for Toby H. Richards, who is curator at the Negro Southern League Museum in downtown Birmingham.
An example would be in August 2011. Richards lost her best friend to colon cancer. To properly grieve, Richards said she traveled to the Commonwealth of Dominica to paint, regroup, relax and figure out life without her friend.
“It was an untapped paradise,” Richards said. “The locals of the village would ask the owner of the home I stayed in ‘who is that foreigner?’ I was introduced as an artist.”
The children of the village became curious and wanted to come back to learn about art. Richards told them to bring their art supplies the next day.
“They came back the next day and they had these little Ziploc bags and pouches, and I was so surprised to see that these children didn’t have anything; a nub of a pencil, broken crayons, just nothing,” Richards said.
It inspired her to create Think Art, schools where children in the local village in Dominica learn art and receive supplies.
“There is no way anyone in this world shouldn’t have the basic tools to create whether it’s a pencil, an eraser, a pack of crayons, glue, scissors, or a drawing tablet,” Richards said.
“When I think of art I think of children all over the world who can’t afford the opportunity to create,” Richards said. “You would be amazed at how much impact tools that we take for granted – pencils and erasers – make a lasting impression on this country.”
Richards said she came back from the trip healed and encouraged by her friend’s spirit.
Richards is one of three women who run the show at the NSLM, where they will be adding restaurant space and a rooftop deck next year. “It doesn’t matter the size of your staff; you can still do phenomenal work for the community,” she said.
Previously Artist-in-Residence at the Birmingham Museum of Art, being a curator has always been a dream for her. Richards began at the NSLM in November 2015. Working in a museum that holds an artifact of her uncle, Richards has come full circle. Her uncle, Reaf Blue, played in the Negro Leagues with the Atlanta Black Crackers.
“It’s fun to honor my family’s legacy while doing a job that I’m always happy to do,” Richards said. “Not many people get to come to work happy every day.”
Family has had an impact in several ways. Richards has traveled to over 20 countries, and has done mission work in many of them. Traveling is a passion of hers, and she believes that the best way to live out your passion is to invest in it.
Richards’ passion for traveling came from her mother, she said.
Also, Richards said she has been inspired by her brother who committed suicide when he was 36. No one knew what he was going through, she said.
“I was the last person he talked with,” she said. “Even in that moment I didn’t know there was a sense of urgency; even in his last moments of life he didn’t want to concern us.”
Richards said her brother’s energy was always positive and he loved to help people.
“His spirit continues to live through all of us (family members),” Richards said. “I have decided to live my life everyday with energy and bring good energy, and transform it to whatever the universe brings me to.”
Richards said she wants to continue his legacy by bringing awareness of mental illnesses.
“Don’t just pass people by because you never know if they could be going through something because he masked it so well,” she said. “Depression is a serious condition, and we didn’t know. There wasn’t a letter, I didn’t see the signs.”
“I live a purposeful life, an intentional life. Tomorrow is uncertain, so I just want to live life. And I live life through him,” Richards said.