When Willie Austin II graduated from Troy University, he left with a desire to give back to his alma mater.
Recently, the 2017 graduate did just that by gifting TROY a hand-painted portrait of the late Congressman John Lewis, a work will soon be displayed in John Robert Lewis Hall.
Austin, who majored in computer science, currently works as a software engineer for the Naval Oceanographic Office at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.
However, his passion is art.
“During the quarantine, I had wanted to just get creative, and my dad had been doing art since I was young — I always saw him draw and things like that,” Austin said. “Moving to Louisiana and seeing the art culture out here, it’s something I started picking up and doing. It turned into this whole thing with me showing my work on Instagram and Facebook, and people encouraging me to keep going. One thing led to another, and I’m having fun with it expressing myself.”
When Austin heard of TROY’s memorial service for Lewis, he became inspired by his roots and the congressman’s life story.
“Knowing I graduated from TROY and I’m from Selma, the heart of the civil rights movement, I saw a chance to show a piece of myself, my outlook of John Lewis, onto a canvas, so that somebody else can see how I saw [him],” he said. “I painted that, and I thought it would be the perfect fit for Troy University, knowing they just named an entire building for John Lewis.”
The decision to donate the work to the university was an easy one.
“I was glad to donate it and for them to have it,” he said. “It means so much. It’s really a part of me making my mark at Troy University. I feel TROY embedded in all of us to try to leave our mark. This was a way I wanted to make my mark on TROY, so people can see my artwork and give back in whatever way they want to give. For all the stuff they’ve done for us over the years, I feel it was only right to give back.”
Austin plans to continue pursuing his art in the coming years.
“Hopefully long-term I can do this full-time and keep going at it,” he said. “For now, it’s part-time, but I put just as much time as I do in my regular job into my artwork.”
Austin’s art can be seen on his Instagram account.