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Who Are Your Teachers?: Sherry Hazel


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My parents, James & Sherry Hazel, are my first and continue to be, by far, my most influential and consistent teachers. What can I say about them? As a sometimes…

My parents, James & Sherry Hazel, are my first and continue to be, by far, my most influential and consistent teachers. What can I say about them? As a sometimes strange, incredibly sensitive, introverted, and creative child, I wasn’t the easiest one to parent. I was (and in many ways still am) stubborn, emotional, inward-focused, and constantly questioning everything–all traits that I undoubtedly got from my parents and also traits that can cause many sparks.

But in addition to my inherited Hazel quirks, I also inherited all of my foundational strengths from these two–some born out of the fire of the child/parent head-bumping, but mostly born out of a deep, unwavering, and persistent love that they modeled for me and my siblings–love for friends, family, life, and work. I could write a book, paint the sky, and fill the ocean with the lessons I’ve learned and continue to learn from my parents, and all of the loving wisdom they hold.

But for now I’ll let my mother, a.k.a. Momma Hazel or Newma, tell you about her teachers. This response has been edited for clarity and length.

During a mom and daughters trip to Miami in 2009, at the 30 Americans exhibition at the Rubell Family Collection Museum. She’s walking around the sculpture Untitled #25 (1992) by Leonardo Drew.

Sherry Hazel

My first teachers were my Mom and Dad, Bethenia and Sam Dixson. Their love for each other, their family, and their faith had significant impact on me. My parents instilled strong value in me. I always said, “Mom was my heart.” She always greeted me with a smile. You felt love whenever you were around Mom. She took care of everything while dad worked and she sometimes held a job herself. My Dad showed me the your word is your bond (What you say, do!) and your name must stand for something. He was a hard working man and Godly. I feared my parents and as I grew up I realized that fear was LOVE. They had an iron fist when needed, but with love. We had everything we needed and lived in a happy home. We always had a roof over our heads, food to eat, and laughter. My parents were loving, powerful, spiritual, effective and strong. My life with my parents was everything I needed to be who I am today.

Mrs. Timmes was a teacher at Manual High School in Peoria, Illinois. Being in class with Mrs. Timmes was like having your auntie conducting class. In other words, she had you in a family setting that made you want to learn. She made learning fun and school a place I wanted to be.

Another teacher is my husband, James Hazel. I admire him for his gentle heart, understanding and respect/love for others. He’s my teacher for how to love the right way. James would talk to me with a kind of love and understanding that allowed my maturity to take the right path for growth. He gave me happiness with few frowns, and makes me wake up with a smile for life. He completes me in the ways that we’re alike–he completes my sentences and knows what I am thinking. He also completes me in the ways we are not alike.

I refer to James as A “Dangerous” Educated Black Man. He can hold a discussion on any level. He is very aware of what’s going on around him. I have learned so much about life and love with him.

Lessons Learned:
My parents instilled in me lessons that they knew would help me to succeed in both faith and life. Here are some: Put God first. Love like God and God loves everyone. Take care of family. Do what you say you’re going to do. If you sign for it, you do it. But once I became older and educated, I added this: “Read before you sign.”

Mrs. Timmes taught me that education is the key to what you want to do and where you want to go. Without education, you can’t do what you want. Also, doing what you like and getting paid for it happens by getting an education. Education is what we pushed our kids to strive for. And in doing so, our kids are doing the same with our grandchildren.

And finally, I first want to thank God for putting my husband, James Hazel, in my life. God knew what I needed and that was to be shown what love is. James has been my life partner for the past 36 years. My husband added calm to my personality shortly after we met, which I greatly needed. He also taught me to listen to our kids. I grew up Old School and back then there was no discussion between parents and kids. What the parent said was what it was. He also taught me to plan for the future–for the kids, savings, and retirement–in order to enjoy life.

Me and mom in Peoria, shortly after I moved to Chicago in 2007. Photo by a Hazel.Me and mom in Peoria, shortly after I moved to Chicago in 2007. Photo by a Hazel.

This article is part of a larger article called Who Are Your Teachers?: After Richard Hunt at the Koehnline Museum of Art, which features several Chicago artists and workers who have been influential in the life and work of Sixty co-founder Tempestt Hazel.

This article is presented in collaboration with Art Design Chicago, an initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art exploring Chicago’s art and design legacy through more than 30 exhibitions, as well as hundreds of talks, tours and special events in 2018.

Featured Image: Me and my mother, Sherry Hazel, after attending a comedy show in Lincoln Park in November 2017. Photo by Tempestt Hazel. The image is of the two of us, seen from the chest up, standing on a street at night.



37361153_1704341052955038_2242317393479073792_nTempestt Hazel is a curator, writer, and co-founder of Sixty Inches From Center. Her writing has been published by Hyde Park Art Center the Broad Museum (Lansing), in Support Networks: Chicago Social Practice History Series, Contact Sheet: Light Work Annual, Unfurling: Explorations In Art, Activism and Archiving, on Artslant, as well as various monographs of artists, including Cecil McDonald, Jr.’s In the Company of Black published by Candor Arts. You can also read her writing in the upcoming Art AIDS America catalogue for Chicago and the online journal Exhibitions on the Cusp by Tremaine Foundation. Find more of her work at Photo by Darryl DeAngelo Terrell.


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