Thursday, February 17th, 2011
“You don’t grow up in my family and not be involved in community. At our dinner table in New Orleans, you could find a priest, a rabbi, and a minister. We grew up licking envelopes and passing things out for candidates. That’s just how things were in my house.
“After college, I thought that I was going to be a doctor at Howard Medical School. I just finished pre-med and moved up here into a house with a bunch of dental and medical students. Turns out that medicine didn’t quite work out. After so many amino acids, I didn’t want to do that anymore!
“Instead, I became one of those aerobics instructor ladies at Spa Lady Fitness Center on K St. The job taught me to love and believe in fitness, and I spent the next few years working my way up in the club from being an instructor to selling memberships to managing fitness centers.
“One day, I was selling a membership to this woman who said, ‘Oh my gosh, you are so good at selling things. I work for this organization and we provide curriculum for challenged youth. You should consider coming to work for us.’ As I grew up working in the community and it was a cause I believed in, I took a job with 70,001 Training and Employment Institute. They eventually changed their name to WAVE (Work Achievement Values and Education.)
“After a few years there, I had some major transitions in my family. My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and my mother died while caring for him. I was there when she passed. We were walking down the hall together, and she had a heartache and died right in front of me. It was horrible.
“I decided to stay in New Orleans and take care of my father. After some time, my sister and I realized that one of us had to make some money. I loved D.C. and came back to work with my brother at the Children’s Trust Neighborhood Initiative, a group that works with troubled youth.
“At the time, my then husband, Larry Quick, was an art student at the Corcoran. When he came to pick me up, there would be a group of little boys who were running around doing wild things. Larry was from the community and could relate to them. He started to engage them in art projects. At first, it was two boys, and then three, and it just kept growing. Larry taught the kids his own style, which involves acrylic paint on canvas attached with sewing machines.
“I never made a conscious decision to make a career out of this, but the program just grew and Life Pieces To Masterpieces was born. We had more little boys join, and then the little boys became bigger boys, and now some have been here for 15 years. This isn’t one of the organizations that sends every kid from the projects to Princeton, but we take young men and help them develop their character. We want kids to know that they can control their destiny.
“For me, this job is personal. I am like a mother, or Mamma Mary, to so many of these kids. No matter how long I do this, though, it doesn’t get easier. We work in the center of black poverty in Wards 7 and 8. As the economy gets worse, these children are caught in the middle. That makes our work more important and more fulfilling.
“My big vision is to spread the love. Ultimately, I want world peace. I know it sounds like a pageant thing, but I am serious. If we all do out part, we can do it. Why not?”
Mary Brown is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Life Pieces To Masterpieces. The organization’s continuing goal is to nurture, embrace, encourage, and elevate African American boys and young men. She was also a 2010 Washingtonian of the Year.