BELLE GLADE, Fla. - A young man from Belle Glade is teaching our community about the art of never giving up. Beyond the smoke stacks and the sugarcane in the often-hardened heart of Belle Glade, wonderful things are just waiting to be discovered.
"To let him slip through the cracks would have been a crime," said Belle Glade artist Lester Finney, who knows something special as soon as he sees it. "I get very emotional when I see talented children end up in trouble and people don't see their beautiful talents."
On a quiet day, quiet kid walked into Finney's art studio. His name was Ezechias Clenor. Clenor's mother died when he was 15 years old. Soon after, his father left town.
"A lot of people dropped the ball when it came to Ezechias," said Finney. At age 19, Clenor's reading ability was that of a third grader. "He was going to be a statistic right along with everybody else," Finney said.
"I did want to learn it but basically, I just started off on the bottom," said Clenor of where he came from years ago.
"He said, 'I can draw'," Finney said of Clenor. "And I said 'Go draw me something. Let me see it'. And what he brought me back floored me."
"When I draw, I feel deeply into art," said Clenor. "I imagine things." Quietly - and masterfully - Ezechias began to make his mark on the world. "Sometimes I like to draw portraits."
With help from his community, Clenor began to thrive. But not being able to read was holding him back. Teacher Elaine Bartlett was enlisted to help. She used the Orton Gillingham Reading Program, a multi-sensory approach. Students are instructed to use their fingers to carve through sand; learning letters and the words.
"Just overlook that you are writing in sand and that it seems babyish," said Barlett. "But it really works."
Clenor kept at it, and in just four months, that third grade reading level - soared - to grade eleven. "I got chills up and down my spine because I knew that he was going to do great things," Bartlett said. "He's awesome and that would have been wasted."
"It just showed me the visual," said Clenor. "How you work with the visual mind."
Clenor began showing his artwork far beyond the Glades. "It feels great when they see me," he said. "It makes me feel great."
Among those who noticed his talents, The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, where Clenor recently earned an Associate's Degree in Graphic Design.
Ms. Bartlett and Mr. Finney attended the graduation ceremony. "The young man that he is now is totally different," said Finney.
"Making everyone around me - for supporting me - proud," said Clenor. "I feel like becoming a great artist."
Clenor is now pursuing his Bachelor's Degree in Graphic Degree.
To contact Clenor's teacher Elaine Bartlett directly, call (561)346-2405.