By Paulo Nzambi
The MCG Youth & Arts design studio is a sight to behold: Lightweight sculptures hang from 20-foot ceilings, paintings and drawings adorn the walls, the metallic arms of silk-screening equipment gleam. On this particular day, students from a group home, bathed in the midmorning sun, presented their artwork. I watched a few speak with obvious pride about their finished projects. Just as I was about to return to my office, I stopped short.
A young African American man -- let's call him "TJ" -- began presenting his silkscreen. As he spoke about his creation, his voice never raised above a whisper. Students and staff stood silently, straining just to make out his voice, but no one asked him to speak up. He gazed at the ground, only looking up in fleeting glances as he discussed his work. When he finished, I joined in the applause.
As I began to leave, one of the group-home staff members stopped me. "I want to thank you," she said. "This program is amazing for our kids -- especially TJ."
I smiled and began to thank her for her commitment when she interrupted me, tears in her eyes. "I don't think you understand. TJ never spoke in high school... at all. When he started at MCG, he had support staff who spoke for him. To see him now a year later, with no support staff, speaking to a room full of people is nothing short of amazing."
To me, encounters like this make the work we do here at MCG worth doing. As I returned to my desk, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude that Manchester Craftsmen's Guild helped TJ find his voice. The model that helped TJ is steadily expanding to cities across the U.S. and the world through the efforts of the National Center for Arts and Technology.