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Alicia Dianne on the art of compassion

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Posted on 6/3/2021
A woman sits in an artist studio, drawing.

Artist Alicia Dianne at work in her studio in Santa Clarita, California. Through her business, Alicia Dianne Art Company, she sponsors four children in Kenya.

 

Drawing has been Alicia Dianne’s safe space for as long as she can remember.

“I was sort of a shy kid,” she laughs. “I think in a way, I’ve always used my drawings to connect with other people, make them laugh or smile. It wasn’t until I was in high school that more and more people would say, ‘Hey, you are really good at this.’ And I started to think, ‘Maybe I can do this for a living.’”

Today, Alicia is a successful illustrator, animator and graphic novelist. She also sponsors four young girls in Kenya through ChildFund – ages 17, 12, 9 and 5. She says that helping others, especially kids, has become an important part of her work and her life in general.

“I want to give someone a chance,” Alicia says. “That one person who says something kind or does a small gesture for us as a child can change our whole life and future. I know several people who did that for me, and I want to pass it on.”

Drawing from history                  

Alicia’s vision for serving others wasn’t always so clear. After graduating from art school, she knew she wanted to give back, but she wasn’t sure what that might look like for her. So she immersed herself in activities at her church. Her late grandfather, a minister and African-American studies professor, had always modeled the importance of charitable giving and community service.

“He had a big impact on me and how I look at the world,” Alicia says. “I always felt, though, that that was his calling, not mine, and I didn’t see how I could contribute.”

 

Alicia Dianne smiles while holding up a photo of her late grandfather

Alicia was inspired by her grandfather, who taught her the importance of serving others.

 

Then one day at church, she heard about an outreach project in a small town in Kenya and something just “clicked.” She felt a yearning to become more involved.

“I knew nothing about Kenya or the continent of Africa other than that my ancestors had derived from there,” she says. “I was starting from nothing. But I just had a desire to learn more.” So Alicia got to work. She reached out to the missions director at her church to learn more about the program and enrolled in a course in Africana studies at a local university. She also took to the internet to find opportunities to be of service.

“I got online and began researching charities that worked in Kenya. I wanted to make sure the charity I went with was trustworthy, so I did some comparisons, and I was most impressed with ChildFund. That’s how I became a sponsor.”

The more that Alicia learned about Kenya, the more it began to influence every aspect of her life – including her art. As her relationship with her sponsored children deepened, she began to recreate the scenery of their lives in vivid color.

Cover art of a graphic novel shows a young African girl gazing at a glowing flower

Cover art for Alicia’s latest graphic novel, Jaydi’s Story, which follows a young girl in East Africa trying to make sense of her faith amidst religious tension in her village.

 

“After researching and learning more and more about our [African] history, it is very clear to me that the greed of a few has led to the poverty of many,” she says. “We cannot change history, but we can absolutely change our future. The first step is educating ourselves. Many miss this step. The next is to make sure that our children get educated and have a heart for giving. And the only way that happens is by them seeing for themselves that someone cares enough.”

From sadness to sparkle

Alicia planned to take her first trip to Kenya in June 2020. The pandemic has since foiled those plans, but she still hopes to make it in fall 2021 or 2022 and meet her sponsored girls in person. Until then, the many letters and photos they exchange will have to do.

“I ask them about all the things they are doing in school and for fun,” she says. “And I tell them about my family, my home and my hobbies. It is especially nice to send gifts for special occasions.”

But the very best part of sponsorship, Alicia says, is watching the girls grow up before her eyes.

“One thing that is really special to me is seeing my oldest sponsored child, Jepkurui, develop into a young woman. She’s 17 now,” Alicia says. “The first photo I saw of her, she had such a sadness in her eyes – like a girl that has had to endure much more than she should have to at her age.

“Over the last few years, she has gained a sparkle in her eyes. I see a genuine smile in the photos I get from her. She’s in school, she plays sports, she’s healthy. I feel great joy in seeing her potential to have an amazing life.” 

Because if there’s anything Alicia knows for a fact, it’s that childhood can be tough – and she wants to make it less so.

“We can hear so many negative things around us as children. Criticisms and put-downs, even bullying,” she says. “Children can’t become the leaders of tomorrow if their most basic needs aren’t met today. 

“I don’t pretend to be anyone’s saving grace, but why not try to be a glimmer of hope for someone? I think my sponsorship is part of that. Every person who sponsors or mentors one child, or gives back in some way, contributes more and more to the healing we so greatly need. Every life matters, and every person can do something.”


 

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