Life Pieces to Masterpieces Creates Opportunities for Young Men

Shevry Lassiter | 10/12/2011, 1:53 p.m.

The District of Columbia faces a number of social challenges for young African American men. According to the Children's Defense Fund, one of those challenges is to prevent the "cradle-to- prison" pipeline that puts young African American males at a 1 in 3 lifetime risk of going to jail. For young Latino men, the figure in 1 in 6.

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

At the Willard Hotel recently, LPTM hosted a gala and presented the 2011 "Strong Men ... Stronger" award to NBC4 news anchor Jim Vance, Hogan and Lovell attorney Howard Rosenstock, and LPTM operations and program director, William 'Elder Bill' Pitts.

The gala featured actor Wendell Pierce who can be seen on HBO's The Wire and Treme. Pierce served as master of ceremonies for the event which included an art auction of eight paintings by LPTM's apprentices.

A co-founder of the program, Larry Quick, 40, who grew up in Ward 7, is a co-founder of the program. Quick got kicked out of his neighborhood school and finished at Cardoza Senior High School. After a military tour , he enrolled in the Corcoran College of Art and Design 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 designed a decision making tool called The Shield of Faith.

"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," he said. "My value system has taught me to be creative."

The Shield of Faith focuses on spirituality, meditation, loving, giving, language, arts, discipline, and leadership.

Through the value system modeled by Quick, LPTM teaches the young men or apprentices how to make healthy choices at home, in their neighborhood and at school. The young men consistently improve their school attendance and performance, improve their social and life skills and avoid involvement with gangs, the juvenile system, and teen pregnancy.

Several of the directors in the program 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 so he became a mentor. DeBrew helps the youngest, ages 3-7, with homework and forming their own masterpieces.

"I want to say that they [LPTM] have definitely helped me find my own expression." DeBrew is the creator of a web-based television talk program.

William "Elder Bill" Pitts has worked with LPTM providing counseling services for the young men, staff and parents. "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. He feels that it is his charge to engage the young men and let them know their self worth.

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

The LPTM is also supported by several local businesses. Lamell McMorris, 38, owner of Perennial Sports and Entertainment in Northwest supports LPTM and brings professional athletes in to speak to the young men in the program.

"I fell in love when I saw the sacrifices being made to help these young men take the fractured broken life pieces and have them channel all of their energy, concerns, passions, hurts, anger into art and create masterpieces."