Passion, persistence and flexibility — three core values strongly embodied by Life Pieces to Masterpieces (LPTM) and its Co-Founder and Executive Director, Mary Brown. Foundation partner LPTM is an arts-based program that serves Black boys and young men from age 3 to young adulthood who live in Wards 7 and 8 of the District of Columbia.
“Black men growing up in the marginalized pockets of the nation’s capital face incredibly painful experiences and systemic issues like generational poverty and racism,” says Brown. “But with academic support, mentoring and ample opportunities for creative self-expression, we believe these boys and young men can take ownership of their experiences and turn them into masterpieces. And we see this happen in our work every single day.”
LPTM was founded by Brown, Ben Johnson and Larry Quick. Each played a unique and imperative role in the organization’s journey, but it was Larry Quick and his life experience that inspired both the name and the heart of LPTM. According to Brown, art was Quick’s salvation — and it helped him manage his mental health and persevere through the difficult days.
The foundation has supported LPTM for about 15 years, initially through the Community Assistance Program (which was sunsetted in 2016) and now with a grant through the Family Fund program as well as the Generational Giving program — both of which are part of our Family Philanthropy Initiative.
“The support system that Life Pieces to Masterpieces provides … the safe space they create where Black boys and young men feel truly loved and cared for … this organization is nothing short of phenomenal,” says Virg Gentilcore, Director, Family Philanthropy and Events at the Bainum Family Foundation.
According to Brown, LPTM has needed to “hold on over the years.” From 2017 to 2018, LPTM wasn’t receiving adequate financial support to sustain the organization, but the staff continued to work — even if that meant delayed paychecks or, in several cases like Brown’s, working pro bono. LPTM’s passion was abundantly clear during that time, as the staff stood together and shouldered the hardships to ensure families had sustained support (and remained unaware of the financial hardship LPTM was facing). While the organization recovered in 2019 with support from many funders, including the foundation, 2020 brought with it a slew of new challenges. But after all LPTM had been through, the team’s dedication was unstoppable — and in 2020 and 2021, their operations never slowed down, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Black men growing up in the marginalized pockets of the nation’s capital face incredibly painful experiences and systemic issues like generational poverty and racism. But with academic support, mentoring and ample opportunities for creative self-expression, we believe these boys and young men can take ownership of their experiences and turn them into masterpieces. And we see this happen in our work every single day.”
“We didn’t close our doors one day,” says Brown. “When COVID first hit, we immediately went door to door making sure families were okay. We got everyone set up on Zoom; we got computers to them; we made sure they knew how to handle themselves on Zoom and had good lighting for calls. We offered outdoor programs whenever possible and figured out how to rent tents and partner with the rec department (DC Parks and Recreation) to find locations where we could space out. We started running hybrid programming too, and we’re continuing that to this day. Through the pandemic and the challenges that came with it, we’ve really demonstrated our acumen for resilience. And we were thrilled that we weathered the tough times leading up to 2020, because if we hadn’t, COVID-19 could have been devastating for us.”
In August 2021, LPTM began a 10-year pilot of its Human Development System (HDS) in school settings for boys and girls in third, fourth and fifth grades. The HDS is a social-emotional tool that was originally created to address the challenges faced by Black males as well as their families through artistic expression, increased self-awareness and positive decision-making. The tool was developed 25 years ago, and it has been a cornerstone of LPTM’s after-school programming ever since. This new pilot of the HDS will follow participating students from elementary school through middle and high school to examine the long-term impact of the program in a broader group of students.
From surviving to thriving, Brown and her team are now determined to turn LPTM’s mission into a movement where everyone — Black boys and men in particular — knows the value of who they are and the emotions they experience. “Collectively, our pain has purpose — I firmly believe that,” Brown states. “Our organization has been to hell and back — and the boys and families we support have been to hell and back many times, both during the pandemic and long before any of us ever heard the word COVID-19. But our work is meaningful, and every step of this journey has been and will continue to be worth every single hardship.”