James Earl Jones was a stutterer who barely talked as a young man. He found his voice with a little push from his English teacher. Now he is an internationally-known actor and to some, nothing short of an American hero. The county's arts group is raising funds to honor the two men - and Mentorship, in general - with a bronze statue near the school he attended.
James Earl was born in Mississippi. When he was young, he came to live with his grandparents near Brethren, Michigan in rural Manistee County. There he attended Dickson School, and in high school attended Mr. Donald Crouch's English class.
And this is how it happened: Mr. Crouch taught a unit on the great poets, giving an assignment to write a poem in the form of one the masters, James Earl wrote and turned in "Ode to a Winter Grapefruit" in the style of "Hiawatha". Mr. Crouch told him he wouldn't believe he wrote it unless he could recite it.
Perhaps Mr. Crouch was curious as to whether James Earl could be brought out of his shell. There were, in fact, other cases of special mentorship by this teacher, who was honored in the school yearbook for the great effect he had on his students. James Earl succeeded in his recitation, and Mr. Crouch asked him what he had done to achieve this feat, considering his reticence to speak. James Earl said that by memorizing the poem, he could speak without stuttering. In many interviews, and in his book, Voices and Silences, he credits "Professor" Crouch with helping him find his "Voice".
Mr. Crouch invited him to be a part of the forensics team, and soon James Earl was acting onstage at the Ramsdell Theater in nearby Manistee. By taking roles in Shakespearean plays and many movies, James Earl Jones has become an icon of stage and screen, one who can bring us to heights and depths of human emotion, who can even kindle a spiritual flame within us.
The Arts and Culture Alliance of Manistee County is in the process of placing bronze statues of the two men in front of the school in Brethren. "Mentorship Can Be Life-Changing" is the theme of the work. Although Professor Donald Crouch has passed on, James Earl Jones is fully aware of this project and has given it his blessing.
Our sculptor is Bernadette Zachara-Marcos, a Michigan woman chosen for her experience and skill with depicting character and expression. More
The total cost of this Sculpture Project is $110,000. This includes the statues as well as a $10,000 fund to allow area students to attend an event at the Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts. This Go Fund Me page will help us raise $50,000 and local funds will complete the drive.
We of the ACA are excited to be able to honor these kind and capable men who have each effected positive change in the lives of others. Several of our board members are retired teachers from Brethren Schools and all have a lifelong engagement with the arts. For more information, please visit allartsmanistee.com.