One entrepreneur hopes to educate, another to be educated

April 1, 2013

130327Quisenberry-TE0081

Rosetta Lucas Quisenberry just published her fifth black history book. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Not all entrepreneurs are in it for the money. As two very different entrepreneurs from Lexington show, business can be a good way to achieve personal and social goals as well as financial ones.

Rosetta Lucas Quisenberry, a retired Fayette County Public Schools teacher, just published the fifth book in her Black Saga series: Things, People and Places We Must Always Remember.

Like her first four books, this one has a fascinating collection of images of racist postcards, advertisements, coin banks and other ephemera from the 1890s to the 1940s, followed by images from that period that show a more positive reality of black Americans.

Quisenberry was a 24-year-old graduate student at the University of Kentucky in 1975 when she went to Turfland Mall to look at a visiting antique show. She noticed a couple of white women giggling at old postcards.

After they moved on, she walked over to see what was so funny. What she found shocked her: depictions of black people eating watermelon, picking cotton, posing as “alligator bait” and otherwise being made objects of ridicule.

“Nobody had ever told me this material even existed,” she said, adding that she bought every one of the postcards “to take them off the market. I was ashamed of it.”

Collecting such artifacts became an obsession with Quisenberry, who went to antique shows all over the country and accumulated more than 1,000 of them.

After a few years, though, she realized that rather than being hidden and forgotten, these racist relics should be seen and remembered. Only then, she thought, would black and white people understand the depth of past racism and how it continues to affect society in subtle ways.

130401Eblen-Book001Quisenberry photographed a sampling of her collection of negative and positive images and published her first book, A Saga of the Black Man, in 2003. Over the years, she came out with three more similar books, focusing on black women, children and families. The new book ties them all together.

The former teacher would like to see her books used in public school history classes, but she doubts it will happen.

Modern parents might be offended by what were once commonplace examples of racist humor, she said, and school systems themselves were once complicit. For example, the new book’s images include the program from a black-face “minstrel show” put on by students of Lexington’s all-white Picadome Elementary in 1947.

Quisenberry’s books cost $15 each and are available in many Central Kentucky bookstores or directly from her: (859) 299-7258.

Kids for Kids

Logan Gardner, a senior at Henry Clay High School’s Liberal Arts Academy, has known since he was little that he wanted to go into business. He figured one good way to learn about business would be to start one.

130401Eblen-LoganGardner realized that few adults might be willing to do business with a kid. But he saw an opportunity in the charity projects many of his friends were involved with. He created Kids for Kids Youth Social Ventures, a nonprofit organization that would teach him business skills and help his friends jump-start their fundraising efforts.

“Running a charity is similar to running a business,” he said. “It’s a lot of the same skills.”

Gardner, 18, wrote a business plan, filled out the voluminous paperwork to seek nonprofit tax status, created a website (Kidsforkidsysv.org) and set up a presence on social media. Then he partnered with the crowd-funding site Rockethub.com.

Gardner got mentoring along the way from his father, John Gardner, a financial advisor for Wells Fargo Advisors, and Erin Budde, who leads Wells Fargo’s national charity efforts and will soon become executive director of stl250, the group planning St. Louis’ 250th anniversary celebration in 2014.

Kids for Kids’ first project raised $2,000 to help Ellen Hardcastle, 17, a family friend in Nashville, produce a CD of her piano solos. The CDs will be sold to raise almost $5,800 to build a new well for Ulongwe Model School in Malawi.

Kids for Kids’ current project on Rockethub.com is halfway toward its goal of raising $900 by April 17 for Lusi Lukova, a Henry Clay junior, to help the Lexington-based International Book Project ship textbooks to schools in Uganda.

Gardner soon will be turning over Kids for Kids to his brother, Austin, 17, as he heads this fall to the University of Pennsylvania, where he has been accepted into the prestigious Wharton School of Business. Did starting Kids for Kids give him an edge?

“Absolutely,” Gardner said. “I think that’s what got me into Penn.”


Pittsburgh’s Strickland inspires Lexington efforts

May 5, 2010

Organizers of Lexington’s Creative Cities Summit last month made Bill Strickland the last speaker for good reason: he’s a tough act to follow.

By the time the president of Pittsburgh’s Manchester Bidwell Corp. had finished, the audience was on its feet. Everyone was applauding. Some were almost crying.

The MacArthur Foundation “genius award” winner and his work are likely to have a similar effect on many of the Kentuckians who visit Manchester Bidwell on Tuesday as part of a trip to Pittsburgh by Commerce Lexington and Greater Louisville Inc.

Strickland, 62, grew up in Pittsburgh’s inner-city Manchester neighborhood. At age 16, his life was changed by a high school ceramics teacher and a visit to Fallingwater, the iconic Pennsylvania home designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Art’s transformative effect on his life inspired Strickland to start the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, an after-school arts program for youth, while still a student at the University of Pittsburgh.

Success there led him to be asked in 1971 to run the Bidwell Training Center for displaced and unemployed workers in what was then a steel-mill city in decline. (He also became an airline pilot, flying Boeing 727s for Braniff Airways in 1980-81. In 2007, he co-wrote the book, Making the Impossible Possible.)

Manchester Bidwell now teaches ceramics, photography, digital imaging and graphic design to about 3,900 youth each year. An offshoot, MCG Jazz, brings in some of jazz’s greatest musicians to perform in its concert hall and record on its label which has won four Grammys. The center also trains unemployed adults to raise commercial orchids, and it works with local employers to prepare them for jobs as gourmet cooks and pharmaceutical technicians.

Strickland’s philosophy, which appeals to both liberals and conservatives, challenges conventional wisdom about what poor people can achieve. It focuses on excellence, personal responsibility, entrepreneurship and good design.

“If you don’t remember anything else I say today, remember that environment drives behavior,” he told those at the Creative Cities Summit. “If you build world-class environments you get world-class performers.”

He showed photographs of Manchester Bidwell’s inspiring architecture, filled with natural light. The center is decorated with fresh flowers and serves students gourmet food prepared by its chefs-in-training.

“Sunshine and good food are for everybody on the planet, not just rich people,” Strickland said. “Children deserve fresh flowers in their life. The cost is incidental.”

Strickland said he has never had vandalism at Manchester Bidwell, even though it “is the same neighborhood as my old high school, which is in lockdown most of the time.”

But sunlight, gourmet food and fresh flowers are merely symbols of Strickland’s guiding principle: that everyone has value and potential.

“The only thing we have determined about poor people is that they don’t have any money, and that is a curable condition,” he said. “We have to turn liabilities into assets. All these millions of people who are on public assistance could be doing things for this country.”

Strickland sees the arts as a tool to spark young people’s imaginations and inspire them to succeed.

“There’s nothing wrong with poor kids that sunlight and good food and affection can’t cure,” he said. “We have to make schools exciting, because if kids are excited there you can teach them something.”

Strickland is trying to replicate Manchester Bidwell’s success in other cities, including Cincinnati. There were efforts to start one in Lexington a couple of years ago, but money couldn’t be found. Since the Creative Cities Summit, those efforts have resumed — and next week’s trip to Pittsburgh just may fuel them.

Anthony Wright, the city’s economic development director, was part of a lively discussion on that idea at the Now What, Lexington? follow-up conference.  Community garden activists in the East End think a Manchester Bidwell-like program in Lexington could focus on training people for jobs in local food production and processing.

Developer Phil Holoubek, who has been part of those discussions, likes the concept, as well as the Kentucky Conference for Community and Justice’s plan to create a social innovation center for fledgling non-profit groups. “I think it all could morph into something great,” he said.

Replicating Manchester Bidwell in Lexington will require money. More importantly, though, it will require committed individuals with the vision Bill Strickland expressed so well: “I think we have the ability to save this world while we’re in it. We can cure the cancer of the spirit.”