In 2017, two men from Pontiac, Michigan, ran into each other 200 miles away in Cleveland, Ohio. They had grown up in the same neighborhood and played basketball, but attended rival high schools. It was pleasing to run into a familiar face in a new town, but there was still so much to catch up on.
After that first run-in, Michael C. Russell II and Antwoine Washington scheduled a proper meeting that bubbled into more frequent conversations where they discovered that they had similar interests. Washington (an artist and educator) and Russell (an artist and a former youth advisor and coach with the school district) were both driven by the positive impacts of art and mentorship they had experienced first-hand or were inspired by growing up.
A few years later, Rusell and Washington brought their shared passions together and founded the Museum of Creative Human Art (MOCHA) at the intersection of art education and personal development for underserved youth.
“We grew up in Pontiac around Black doctors, lawyers, firemen and police. So it was a Black city, it was a village. We grew up around those types of men and women helping to build up this community. We figure, anywhere we go, we have to do the same thing,” said Russell. “That’s the reason why we do the work that we do, because it was instilled in us to not just come somewhere and extract, but to give.”
With a special focus on supporting Black youth, MOCHA creates space for hands-on learning and designs environments that move away from the “school after school” model.
“That becomes therapeutic, because (participants) can share things that bother them or make them happy through their artwork,” Washington said in an interview with WOSU Public Media. “So I start with those things and build from there and find out if art is something they want to do.”
As a community-centric organization, MOCHA educates young artists while helping them build “soft skills” through coaching. Fine arts and graphic design classes become a conduit to explore deeper questions about character development and responsibility.
MICHAEL C. RUSSELL II, CO-FOUNDER, MUSEUM OF CREATIVE HUMAN ART
“We grew up around those types of men and women helping to build up this community. We figure, anywhere we go, we have to do the same thing.”
MOCHA also showcases emerging artists in the Cleveland area, presenting solo exhibitions across town. “We’re all walking museums. Everybody that you see can be a capsule or an exhibit of some sort because they have a story to tell,” said Washington.
Through MOCHA and their individual creative practices, Washington and Russell are showing youth in their communities to lead with generosity, explore with imagination, and do with intention—skills that have a deep impact well beyond an artistic practice.