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Infusing Creativity into Mentorship for Youth in Cleveland 

by Imani Mixon

A person of medium dark skin tone hunches over to help a student with work on their laptop.
Photo Credit: Museum of Human Creative Art
Co founder Michael Russell II assisting student at MOCHA Introduction to graphic design workshop at Stella Walsh Recreation Center, Cleveland OH.

The founders of the Museum of Creative Human Art are driven by their own experiences at the intersection of art and community as Black artists and educators.

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. 

Two people of medium dark skin tone standing in front of a large painting.
Photo Credit: MOCHA / Lynn Rodemann
Co-founders Antwoine Washington (right) and Michael Russell II at the “Art History” exhibition at SPACES, in Cleveland, OH. Bringing together two artist Davon Brantley and Asmaa Walton Jointly, these projects re-envision an archival narrative that has historically excluded Black artists, Black subjects, and Black art history.

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. 

“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.