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Program in Ward 7 Helps Young Black Males Overcome Challenges

Shevry Lassiter | , WI Staff Writer | 10/8/2011, 9:42 p.m.
Christopher Stevens, 21 (right), speaks with D.C. Public Schools chancellor Kaya Henderson (left) and Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander (middle) at the Life Pieces to Masterpieces Strong Man awards gala held at the Willard Hotel in Northwest on Thurs., Oct. 6, 2011.//Photo by Shevry Lassiter

The District of Columbia faces several challenges when it comes helping many of its young African-American males become productive members of society. According to the Children's Defense Fund, one challenge is to prevent the cradle-to-prison pipeline that puts young black males at a 1 in 3 lifetime risk of going to jail, as well as Latino boys, whose risk for the same fate is 1 in 6.

Life Pieces to Masterpieces (LPTM), a program in Ward 7 that's housed at Charles Drew Elementary School, is helping young men turn challenges into possibilities.

Larry Quick, 40, an LPTM co-founder, grew up in Ward 7. He was kicked out of his neighborhood school before graduating from Cardoza Sr. High School in Northwest. After a stint in the military, Quick enrolled in Corcoran College of Art and Design in Northwest and began painting.

Quick's paintings represent the men he wished he had in his life while growing up and a value system he decided to live by. He also designed a decision-making tool called The Shield of Faith, which focuses on ideals such as spirituality, meditation, discipline, and leadership.

"We take our hard life experiences that you may not want to talk about, and we rebuild them, we repair them by stitching them back together our way," Quick said. "My value system has taught me to be creative."

Through Quick's value system, LPTM teaches the young men -- called apprentices -- how to make healthy choices at home, in their neighborhood and at school. While consistently improving their school attendance and performance and social and life skills, they avoid involvement with gangs, the juvenile system and teen pregnancy.

Several of the program's directors made such an impression on Omar DeBrew, 20, who has been with the program since he was 9 years old, that he wanted to give back by becoming a mentor. In doing so, DeBrew helps the youngest participants, ages 3 to 7, with homework and forming their own masterpieces.{gallery}/11-10-10-web-ltm{/gallery}

"I want to say that they (LPTM) have definitely helped me find my own expression," said DeBrew, who is the creator of a web-based TV talk program called "OutofSkool TV."

William "Elder Bill" Pitts works with LPTM providing counseling services. He feels his charge is to engage his young proteges and to help them discover their self-worth.

"My role with the young men is to be a positive example because it is very important for young men -- young boys, to have elders who are not insane," Pitts said.

"I let them know that even though there are challenges out here that [they] are going to face as black men, they are nothing new," he continued. "I faced them, my father faced them, my grandfather faced them, so we can change some of these impossibilities if [they are willing to] accept the LPTM development system."