Reflections of My Father and A More Creative Future

My dad and niece dancing a few years back.

As 2015 comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on all that has come to pass. Personally, I lost my father to a debilitating disease that slowly robbed him of fine motor skills and eventually put him in a wheel chair. Needless to say it was tough watching my namesake and idol, come to an untimely end.

I’m still processing it. He often appears in my dreams. I wake up and have to remind myself that he is indeed gone. I expect to see him when we drive home. I tear up about seemingly trivial things and I’m more aware of my own mortality. I wonder how much time do I have left. All these things make me appreciate what and who I do have still in my life.

I have a beautiful wife who loves me. My mother, brother and his family. I get to do what I love for a living with people I enjoy being around. I’m lucky and yet I’m heart broken. It’s the grieving process, I guess.

It’s bittersweet, but I’m not complaining. A lot of good things have happened this year. The non-profit I founded, E4 Youth (Experience for Creative Youth), is growing. We are successfully making the transition from just a guy with a dream to a real organization that is making an impact on hundreds and soon to be thousands of creative youth each year. It’s taken eight years to get to this point and I’m truly excited to wake up each day and continue this journey.

My dad and niece dancing a few years back.

Young creatives are often ignored in our schools, especially young creatives of color. They don’t feel as though school is interested in them. So, why should they be interested in school? Whether or not they ultimately go on to a creative career, the opportunity to pursue their passion is of the utmost importance. More affluent students get these opportunities through things like private lessons, school programs, extended family or social networks.

These experiences fuel their confidence, teach resiliency and help them build a lifelong network of peers and mentors. They are more likely to become a part of the creative class and thus drive innovation in our economy. So, it’s not really about talent as much as it is access to opportunity. That is something that my father taught me.

He was born and raised in the 5th Ward of Houston, TX. His family didn’t have a lot of money. As a child, he was a boy soprano in his father’s Church of Christ choir. They called him the “the boy with the golden voice”. He took the confidence he gained with music and applied it to basketball in junior high and then high school. He won a state championship at Phyllis Wheatley high school in that same neighborhood. In the late 60’s, he went to college on a basketball scholarship at Prairie View A&M University, a historically black college (HBCU).

My dad and niece dancing a few years back.

He later earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Texas at Austin at a time when the school and the city of Austin were not particularly welcoming to black folks. He went on to join the military as a commissioned officer, worked for a U.S. Senator at the Pentagon and eventually retired as a Colonel in the U.S. Army. After retirement, he ran his own private counseling practice.

My dad and niece dancing a few years back.

Was all that success due to his exposure to the arts at an early age? Certainly not entirely but I believe at least in part. We do know that students exposed to the arts get better grades, are more likely to graduate from college and get better jobs. Despite this evidence, access to the arts is in continual decline for students like my dad once was (Americans for the Arts, 2012).

Today, skills and business models can quickly become obsolete (think Blockbuster vs Netflix). The ability to look at problems in new ways is essential. Young creatives of color are a drastically underutilized resource in that they reflect the fastest growing segments of the marketplace. Their fresh perspectives coupled with the right types of exposure and experiences can play a key role in fueling economic growth.

Through our outreach, E4 Youth is helping these students identify and nurture their creative interests with a combination of in school curriculum, mentor led after school enrichment, summer shadowing and internship opportunities at some of Austin’s premiere creative companies. Alumni have gone on to earn portfolio scholarships, internships and full time employment at places like the Austin Creative Department, McGarrah Jessee ad agency and the local PBS station KLRU. Other alumni have are now college graduates and playing key roles in non-profits and small businesses around the country.

My dad and niece dancing a few years back.

Is their success due solely to E4 Youth? Probably not but I am confident that we helped increase their odds of success. All creative kids deserve a shot at pursuing their passions. You never know where a little encouragement can take them. I am so thankful and proud to provide these opportunities.

It’s been a difficult year but a damn good life. Here’s to an even better 2016!

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