Sunbridge International Collaborative founder Bart Eddy promotes Right Livelihood through craftwork, creative economy, and the arts – opening possibilities to young people in Detroit where ‘no child is left behind.’ (NA)
Article and Photos by Bart Eddy (Sunbridge International Collaborative, USA)
In 1997, Candyce Sweda and I became the co-founders of Detroit Community Schools, a K-12 public school charter on the northwest side of Detroit. Our intention was to bring the educational archetypes as given to us by Rudolf Steiner into the public domain so that we would be able to serve the children who lived in high-poverty neighbourhoods with a holistic form of education.
Little did we know that over the ensuing years we would be challenged with the ‘high stakes testing’ of “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top” from the Bush and Obama administrations. This meant that the school was forced to turn all of its focus on “academic achievement” to the exclusion of the arts and the crafts.
With the threat of closure looming large, we had to abandon our woodworking, ceramics, metalwork and extensive arts programs. By 2009, our original vision of holistic education was in peril. However, we made the decision to keep it alive by engaging with community-based organizations and youth employment initiatives.
We began our first youth employment initiative in the summer of 2009 by creating a sacred landscape on vacant land for Leland Missionary Baptist Church in Brightmoor, along with our friend and partner from Germany, Johannes Mattheissen. We continued these projects through the summer of 2011, and on one of the sites in Brightmoor, we took over an abandoned garage and turned it into a woodshop. It was here that we began to produce handcrafted signs for installation in the community for which we lovingly coined the name “Curbside Economics and Entrepreneurship”.
When I asked Kyle Baker – a junior at Detroit Community High School – what he thought we were doing in the neighbourhood, he answered: “We are taking something hideous and making it beautiful.”
With that community spirit in heart and mind, Kyle, Mariah, Lashay and Tanay became the original Brightmoor Woodworkers who began to make community signage for sale out of the old woodshop at DCHS in the fall of 2011. We also added a bike repair studio, a screen-printing shop, gardening-landscape and a building construction program.
Having worked with many young people for multiple years, I would say that the following are some of the standout lessons:
- Young people have a yearning for the arts and crafts as a form of creative self-expression. Arts and crafts are powerful antidotes and healing forces to destructive behaviour and life trauma.
- There is a willingness to work, even when the funding is short. It is possible to create a ‘sanctuary space’ of teamwork and community building among all participants and young people taking pride in transforming their community.
We have also launched an Action Research centred around the theme of Right Livelihood – with its three roots of Community Wellness, Social Entrepreneurship and Economic Possibility.
Right Livelihood is about preparing our young people to step into the world, embrace new challenges on a personal and cultural level and discover what their “good work” is to become. Right Livelihood leads to an awakening of one’s true vocation in light of the understanding that we all have a “calling”. Right Livelihood creates a “sanctuary space” where work may be achieved at a higher level and where everything is possible.
Community Wellness provides local solutions for the systemic problems that have plagued the health and wellbeing of communities for decades. These communities have been traumatized by racism, poverty and the lack of basic human rights such as health care, employment, decent education, transportation and housing. Yet, there is a powerful, resilient kernel within its core that can be tapped into and quickened through experiential learning, the healing power of craftwork and creative economy.
Social Entrepreneurship embraces possibilities for social healing and economic progress exemplified in the urban gardening movement and community production initiatives. The ‘collective impact’ of community collaboration serves as a guide towards creative solutions in the midst of chaos and calamity, while legitimate economic possibilities arise as the result of community groups and organizations working together. For example, the Brightmoor Maker Space is currently producing bookcases, study desks, stools and outdoor learning spaces for neighbourhood groups and children.
Economic Possibility becomes a means to engage community youth in a line of products that have been locally produced. These functionally practical products with a signature of quality craftwork become a secondary source of income and a stepping stone towards economic sustainability.
From my vantage point as a founding member, I have come to appreciate how the mission and vision evolve over a period of many years without losing their essence. Its ‘eternal spark’ is kept alive by the many young people who have entered and will continue to enter our sanctuary space. Please join us!
About the Pioneer Bart Eddy is a social entrepreneur and community transformation advocate who has worked in Detroit for 37 years. He was a class teacher at the Detroit Waldorf School from 1988-1996. The initiatives he co-founded are the Barnabas Youth Opportunities Center (1983), Detroit Community Schools (1997), and the Sunbridge International Collaborative (2011).