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Vol 106 / Issue 20

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PEOPLE MAKING A DIFFERENCE Bob Hansman started an inner-city art program for St. Louis kids that resulted in much more, including an adopted son . By Marjorie Kehe / Staf writer St. LouiS W hen Bob Hansman started a "back porch art club," he says, he viewed it as a small kind- ness to some neighborhood kids. He had no idea that it would change the course of his life. It was the early 1990s and Mr. Hansman, a professor of architecture and design at Washington University, was living uncom- fortably in downtown St. Louis. "The neighborhood was imploding," he recalls, scarred by "drugs and arson." But there was also "a little posse of 8-year-old boys" who used to hang around his house, offering to take his garbage out. One day he invited them in. They saw Hans- man's drawings and were fascinated. So he invited them to come by on Saturday after- noons and take drawing lessons. Occasion- ally he'd also take them to a museum. It was a fun little project, but it didn't last. Neighborhood conditions worsened ("seven of my friends got shot," Hansman says), so he moved to the suburbs. "But I felt guilty about leaving the city," says Hansman, a native of the area. A friend of his with a connection to the arts had a suggestion: How about helping the city – and some children – by running a more formal city-based arts program? Hansman was intrigued by the idea and was eventually led to Peabody-Clinton – one of the city's more notorious public housing projects – where the citizens crime-fighting group the Guardian Angels was looking for someone to run a summer arts program. He signed up. "I really didn't know what I was walking into," Hansman says. His first week at Peabody-Clinton there was a murder on-site. However, that didn't stop a group of kids from wanting to sketch. He kept it informal. "I showed up with dry boards and sat on the curb." Soon, a cluster of would-be young artists was drawing along with him. And so City Faces was launched, with regular drawing classes on Saturdays throughout the summer. The first couple of years attendance varied from a dozen to 20 students. At their core was a dynamic pair of boys: Tito, a teen who showed real talent as a cartoonist, and Jermaine, a natural leader whose seriousness of purpose held the re- spect of his peers. The Guardian Angels were pleased by the degree of student enthusiasm for the classes and offered Hansman an abandoned food pantry to turn into a studio. The program seemed to be settling on solid ground. And then tragedy struck. Tito disap- peared into the world of gang violence at just about the same time that Jermaine – who had kept a diagnosis of sickle cell ane- mia a secret from all – suddenly died. Hansman, distraught, thought the pro- gram might be over. But there was someone else even more devastated. Tito's 15-year-old brother, Jovan, says he spent the night after Jermaine's death walking through some of the city's most dangerous streets in the dark and rain, Marjorie Kehe/the ChriStian SCienCe Monitor Jovan Hansman (l.) and his adoptive father, Bob Hansman, enjoy time together at Bob's apartment in downtown St. Louis. VNEXT PAGE 44 ThE ChRIsTIAN sCIENCE MoNIToR WEEKly | April 7, 2014

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