Faith’s Place director sees kids’ futures in terms of love
By Eliot Kleinberg - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
At the West Palm Beach City commission’s Aug. 18 meeting, the panel agreed to continue a lease at Pleasant City center for three more years. Its director, Noble Lockhart-Mays, brought about 30 of the children, ranging in age from 4 to 18, to serenade commissioners, singing, “We appreciate you; yes we doooo!”
Then they were off to a performance at Harriet Himmel Theater in CityPlace.
Lockhart-Mays, 37, a West Palm Beach native, is married with three small children.
Question: How did you get started with this?
Answer: I was teaching for 12 years in the Palm Beach County public schools. I was always getting “teacher of the year” and getting nominated for the Dwyer Award for being creative and encouraging my students to learn lesson concepts through the arts. I always taught in the inner city. So I had to capture their attention and engage the students through something they were familiar with, like stepping and rapping and dancing.
Q: You’re competing with a lot of a negative influence in the media, in their neighborhoods. That’s a tall order.
A:We’re in the thick of it. Public housing is surrounding us. But at the same time, I think children crave direction. When you give them respect, they give it right back. You give me the most challenging student, and if you give me 24 hours with that child you’ll see a turnaround.
Q: How far have you come in two years?
A: We started with 12 students. We’re now at 90.
Q: How important is it to show the community that often all a kid needs is a little help?
A: The children would not be on the street, we would not have high-school children dropouts, if we just showed them a little love. They come from homes where they don’t get a lot of love. A lot of my students, they look for love in gangs. I had a student last year. He hasn’t come back yet. I saw him when I was driving. It broke my heart. He just ran up to my van. He told me last week that he’s coming back. The street is calling him. They’re calling his name. He thinks that that’s love. But it’s not.
Q: Is this something other groups could emulate?
A: Absolutely. I believe that there are other groups that have done it. But you have to really stick to it. There’s no money in nonprofits. But I did it so people who want to donate, they can.
Q: Are you going to do this for a while?
A: I have no interest in going back to the school district. We’re gaining momentum.