We all know the saying: It takes a village to raise a child. The village varies — you might find one resident or thousands, endless resources or a scant few. Sometimes the village raises children by sheer force of will, and sometimes children raise the village.
Elevated Thought, a Lawrence-based art and social justice nonprofit, is a village unto itself, one with a youth-driven philosophy. President and Executive Director Marquis Victor isn’t just raising children. He is, as he puts it, “building human beings.”
The organization, which offers arts workshops to middle school and high school students, funds an annual college art scholarship and undertakes beautification projects. It has two distinct branches: a “What is Education?” campaign and a “Nature of Home” project. The former is rooted in education activism; the latter in shaping a new narrative of Lawrence. Creative. Community. Change., or C3, is the central program binding it all together: Students address a theme through creative writing and receive help from mentors to translate their work in a visual way.
If the programs verge on miscellany, it’s a tribute to their origin. Victor got the idea for Elevated Thought in 2008 from Associate Art Director and muralist Alex Brien’s senior thesis, but first it was an idea for a scholarship, then a society-conscious book of art, then a cluttered website. It took its present form when Victor, then a sixth-grade teacher in Revere, enlisted Brien’s help in teaching a social justice curriculum at the school through graffiti.
“The fact that [the kids] got to try something new, have these conversations …,” Victor says. “There was something there that was like, oh, I think maybe this is where we should go.” Victor, 32, spent much of his childhood in North Andover before moving to Methuen at the age of 14. He is starting his doctorate in education at Northeastern University this September and currently resides in Methuen with his wife and daughter.
With a background as both a teacher and administrator, Victor saw an opportunity to patch public education’s most gaping holes. Class size: only 12-15 students in an Elevated Thought workshop. Teachers: Victor seeks to promote the hiring of teachers from the Lawrence community. “What if you have kids that are really fulfilled? What’s the chance that they’ll be like, I want to be an educator. … Eventually I want to come back to my city and serve.” And, crucially, introducing a youth-based arts curriculum: “[In public education] there might be glimmers here and there, a cool class here, a cool teacher there, but we can do more as a community, and the youth need to be at the table when these decisions are made.”
Victor calls himself an adopted son of Lawrence and insists that the organization could not exist elsewhere. “There’s an arts and cultural renaissance happening in the city,” he says.
Meanwhile, Elevated Thought is undergoing its own renaissance. The headquarters show signs of a recent trip to Washington, D.C. Six youths presented their “What is Education?” campaign to Department of Education representatives who offered feedback. Now Elevated Thought is asking the Lawrence community to answer the same question.
As for why that matters? “Creative youth development equals human development,” Victor says. “It’s like looking at the world through a prism, where it’s these different colors, these different shapes. It might not make sense right away, but eventually through that abstraction you might see some truth.”