Michelangelo once said of his sculpture, "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."
I, most definitely, am not Michelangelo. I have not sculpted a David nor painted a Sistine Chapel ceiling, nor do I aspire to do so. I just like to draw, to paint…to create. But what I love more is showing kids, especially inner-city kids, that they can tap into their potential. They need someone to believe that they can do it, especially when they don't believe it themselves.
I’m sure he thought it was just another program for kids at the local library. He probably would rather be playing on the computer instead of listening to me talk about the traditions and techniques of Chinese brush painting. He chuckled and joked with his friend sitting next to him. He wasn’t interested in listening too much.
He wasn’t much interested in following directions. He didn’t care about how to hold the brush, how much ink to use, or what we were trying to paint. At least, he acted like he didn’t care. The program was ending, and the other kids were leaving, one by one. I once again stopped and showed him and his friend how to hold the brush and how to apply the stroke. He wasn’t joking or saying much at this point. He wanted to do what I showed him. I told him that he can do it. He just needed to try. And he did it.
“What else can you do with this?” he asked. The program was over, and the other children had left.
I showed him how to paint a panda, with simple strokes. “It doesn’t take much. It just takes patience and practice,” I tell him and his friend. Their works weren’t bad at all. They did a good job, and I praise them for not giving up. But it was time for me to go.
They helped clean a bit, but they made sure to gather all their work, even the practice strokes we did on the thin newsprint.
“Thanks for coming, guys,” I said. “You know, once you really concentrated and followed directions, you did some pretty good work there.”
They smiled and mumbled, “Thank you, ma’am.” A pause.
“Do you need something, baby?” I asked. Perhaps I’ve lived in the South too long. I call all children “baby.”
“Um,” he began, “it’d be nice to have something like this more often for us.”
I stop gathering my things. I get some brushes and give it to him and his friend. “That would be nice. But until then, get yourself watercolors. You can get them anywhere. Use these brushes, because those don’t come with good brushes. And practice. You did great work today.”
So, maybe I didn’t see an angel in a marble. But I saw something better. I saw pride, not the “goeth before a fall” type of pride. It was kind of pride you see on someone’s face when they overcome an obstacle…when they realize that they have the potential to do whatever they put their minds to do. It didn’t take thousands of scrapings to carve it out. It took four words: “You can do it.”