Feeling inspired by Katharina Walsh and our visit to the Brightmoor community meeting, we set out to meet with Bart Eddy at Detroit Community High School where he is a founding teacher. This school sits in a pretty challenged area, and to consider that it was chosen by friends of Waldorf Education as a place to develop such an initiative is greatly inspiring to our own work in the world. Bart is also an experienced Waldorf teacher and is now bringing the gift of woodworking to youth in inner city Detroit through the charter school.
Bart had been involved with Theosophy in the late 60s in Colorado and was aware of biodynamics. He was later working in Portland machine shops and moved into a house with people who had been connected to Kimberton. He heard of the Waldorf teacher training in Detroit in 1979, the Waldorf Institute of Southeastern Michigan. Initially, Bart had no desire to be a teacher. His interest was clearly in the social challenges of the times, and he felt called to meet with the youth in economically and socially disadvantaged neighborhoods.
In 1983, Bart helped found the Barnabas Youth Opportunities Center in Detroit. Through this project, he was able to build a program for the youth where they were able to experience hands-on woodworking and gardening, thereby opening possibilities future work. Practical work was an ongoing theme in our meeting with Bart: Throughout his life, he has been bringing forth real practical hands-on work where young people can carve out a way to support themselves financially and creatively.
There was a young man named Orlando, who was the first young person Bart really worked deeply with. At a very early age this young man met two tragic deaths in his family a few months before meeting Bart: his brother had been shot and killed and then another brother killed soon afterward. Truly the lives of these young people are hard for many of us to imagine.
Bart sought to show Orlando that he would stand beside him if he would show up for his life as well. Bart’s gesture is to keep standing with the youth. They will then show you how much they wish to be a part of their own becoming. He continues to create opportunities for them to step into. Orlando shared with Bart as they worked side by side at the biodynamic garden that he continued to hear his brother speaking to him. The tragedy of the situation was that this young man, Orlando, died at the age of 17 of a massive heart attack: he had succumbed to dealing and doing drugs. This situation touched Bart deeply, and he continued to carry Orlando in his heart.
Finally, with a daughter on the way, Bart knew it was time to get serious about his own family’s needs. At the moment of facing this decision, he received a phone call and was offered a position of teaching the first grade class at the Waldorf School. Before answering, he took three days to consider. He bumped into a woman who was a weaver at the school. Bart had wanted to start in the high school, but she suggested that he teach grades1-8 first. This meeting was at the corner of the streets, Cass and Warren, truly a day of destiny. Bart took the job and taught the full cycle of grades one to eight at the Detroit Waldorf School.
With his heart still wanting to find a way to work with those more economically and educationally challenged, an opportunity presented itself to Bart and a few colleagues that allowed them to form a new school inspired by their experience in Waldorf Education but created in the heart of a most depleted area of Detroit: The Detroit Community Schools system (DCS). They wrote the application, and in 1996 were approved for a K-12 charter school. They first rented an old school building, which quickly outgrew its capacity. Due to the overwhelming desire for positive educational choices, they were fortunate enough to find a 120,000 square foot former industrial building situated on 9 acres of land on Burt Road where they still operate to this day.
That first young man who would continue to walk with Bart in his heart, Orlando, was not forgotten. The verse used for the school’s founding was for him. It happened to be that Orland Bishop of Shade Tree Foundation walked through the doors as Bart was reading the verse he had created for the young man. Looking back after the many years of working alongside Orland, Bart sees this point as an incredible moment speaking to the unseen deeper connections and rhythms in our lives. Orland blessed and opened the school alongside Bart with a ceremony in 1997. Their shared love for work in communities devastated by dwindling job opportunities and for healthy social forms continues to this day. A deep and abiding brotherhood developed between Bart and Orland, who is also on board of Sunbridge International Collaborative (not to be confused with Sunbridge Institute), which Bart also helped found.
The motto of the Sunbridge International Collaborative is “I will be changed by the world; and the world will be changed by me.” This group holds the intention to develop “living thinking” and the capacity to take initiative within the global community.
The work that is now coming into being is entrepreneurship in action: a program that can employ 30 kids with screen-printing, bike building, gardening, and woodworking. Bart sees that kids are having to hustle, and he wants to forge pathways out of violence. In Brightmoor, we see a threefold impulse living amongst the community. Bart suggested that people need to let loose of institutional egotism. He would like to take the kids into other neighborhoods in the community. There must be an antidote to violence. In Detroit, Bart sees that there are no jobs, but there is no end to the work to be done. The place is so fertile. Where does renewal start?
Always looking for opportunities for the youth, Bart was able to receive a grant to refurbish old tricycles that had been used by the Ford Motor Company. This same company has been helpful with a grant to develop a structure in the back of the school into a full-blown woodworking establishment that would not only train but also sustain the youth in employment. To date, the Brightmoor Woodworkers have created over 50 signs in their community and also the greater Detroit area. These signs are incredible, and a Waldorf student would easily recognize the form! Bart led us on a trek through the deep, deep snow to this enormous structure of open space. He expressed hope to receive further funding for its development. He has received a good portion so far, and we have just heard that indeed he has acquired further financial commitment to bring this initiative forward.
Through the Sunbridge International Collaborative, there is now a hope to create a pathway for four of the woodworkers, alongside Bart and Orland, to travel to Beijing, China in a work/share experience with the China National Children’s Center (CNCC) where they will participate in a landscape design project, sharing their woodworking skills with a group of teenagers. This opportunity came about through a woodworking collaboration with some youth from China who had visited Detroit in 2011. Although they have raised the funds for the travel, they are now seeking support for the basic necessities for that journey. Bart never stops thinking of ways to uplift the youth in his community!
Bart spent a year at the Social Development Centre in England and 11 days at ARTA in Holland, which is an anthroposophical residential addiction treatment center. These experiences inspired Bart in his understanding of youth employment and also curative education. Treatment at ARTA involves healing through the sheaths, working through the understanding of the seven-year stages of human development.
Bart described an artistic project in which Johannes Matthiessen took the grid of the city of Detroit and moved it into a spiral, a breaking of the grid. The project took three weeks. They built a spiral bench, a picture of working in the etheric when the imagination is developed. In this work, we can see pathways into the community. The work on the astral level is bringing a diverse community together, which is connected to the work of Orland Bishop. If we take the image of a vacant lot, we can see how something new rises up. The city is a living being. What will we see there? What wants to incarnate?
For Bart, the essence of Rudolf Steiner’s work rang true when he had an understanding of how the sheaths work in a social sense. This is the bedrock of his work out of anthroposophy in a specific way. Out of experience in Waldorf Education and an understanding of the threefold human being, he is able to use the educational archetypes of Rudolf Steiner in the charter school.
Bart described the way that he works with the teenagers: They had conversation and established the way the class would be. The kids really wanted to be able to have music on while they worked, but they also agreed that there should be no cell phones in use. Here we have a picture of engagement – from observation to creation. The emerging future is like a wave rolling in.
He sees work as a developmental pathway. We need to build a hands-on educational system. A recapitulation is needed of historical epochs of work. There must be a full moral impulse in the broader questions of technology. The stages of apprentice, journeyman, and entrepreneur can be achieved in sign making. This is living anthroposophy.
Seven years into the high school initiative, Bart is the last of the original teachers remaining. It seemed a pivotal moment to meet with him in his consideration of what could come forward. There was a recognition in the air of endings and new beginnings met with joy and courage. When considering what next steps are needed in our times, Bart said resilience, a stepping into one’s selfhood. True education is awakening a sense of mission and vision.
While we were meeting with Bart, a young man walked into his office carrying a new woodworking tool that he had managed to buy. He was proud to show it to Bart, who asked him where he planned to keep it. The young man responded joyfully, “In here!” with a clear trust living between them. He reached for the bottom drawer of Bart’s file cabinet where his new tool would be secure. We could seem him making his way into the future with all of the inspiration and hope Bart has helped cultivate.
As we were walking the snowy grounds with Bart, the snow began to fall more and more. Bart calmly said there was a bit of a storm expected. We asked if he knew when it was going to hit. He said, “About now.” With a clap of thunder, we knew we had to be on our way. Our time in Detroit had come to an end, and we were soon back on the road southbound. One final question as we made our exit: What does Bart love? “Everything!”
You can see Bart and the Brightmoor Woodworkers in action here: http://vimeo.com/33687365