Seventeen-year-old Dean Watson was hunting in the woods of Georgetown, Ga., with several friends Dec. 22, 1972, when his life took an unexpected turn.
Dean Watson, the pastor of Harlem's Bethesda Baptist Church, learned to paint while recovering from a gunshot to the head. After being injured at age 17, Watson used his drawings to express himself.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Watson lay motionless, going in and out of consciousness, in his friend's car after he was accidentally shot in the back of the head by a hunting companion.
"We spotted a deer, and everyone got out of the car except me,'' Watson, now 60, said. "I was in the back seat of the car. When the young boy laid the rifle on top of the car, looking through the scope, he didn't realize the barrel was pointed toward the top of the car.
"He pulled the trigger, and the bullet ripped through the top and hit me right in the top of the head."
Watson said his first thought was that he had suffered a stroke, but his friends realized what happened when they opened the car door and saw Watson fall to the floor.
Watson survived, but life as he knew it had changed.
"I couldn't read, write, talk, or walk," Watson said of the damages he incurred from the gunshot to the head. "I knew what I wanted to say, but I couldn't express it. I had to relearn how to do things all over again, like a little child.''
Today, he is the pastor of Bethesda Baptist Church in Harlem. He said he still suffers from a speech impairment and paralysis on the right side of his body, but he is able to preach, although occasionally he has problems expressing an idea.
After the injury, Watson had difficulty expressing himself, so he decided to take up what is now his favorite pastime, art, after meeting a quadraplegic woman who was an artist and teacher.
"I said to myself, 'If she can paint with no hands, I can learn how to paint with my left hand,'" he said, adding that before being shot he was right-handed. "I said, 'I'm going to learn how to express myself through art.' I started learning how to do chalk-talk.
"A picture is worth a thousand words.''
It was his experience with art that Watson said helped him realize a calling from God. He said his evangelism began with him performing chalk-talk demonstrations and encouraging others with his testimony.
"I illustrate my messages through art," he said.
Since then, Watson said, he has gone on to make the most of his situation, having attended several seminary schools, where he earned bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees. He also has published two books, called He Sees An Eagle in You and From Tragedy to Triumph.
These days, Watson said he wants to continue to share his message of hope through art.
"When you go through difficult situations, you can relate to it and you can have more of a compassion for others,'' he said. "God may allow you to go through some storms and hardships of life, but the purpose of it is to become better, not bitter."
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