Lashay can be found holding a chisel like an extension of her own hand, working away at carving the letters on wooden sign after wooden sign, in the bustling Brightmoor Makerspace each Saturday morning. “I really like working on the small signs, the ones that we get to be a little more creative with, that we can choose the colors for the finish or add a little woodburning design to,” she says, referring to the wooden signs that she and the other woodworkers create by hand for community members and organizations. Her technical skills are so well developed that she’s able to experiment with colors and designs in between commissioned projects.
The Brightmoor Makers program began in 2011, and Lashay was there from the start. The program began as a “neighborhood clean-up project, cleaning up vacant lots and things like that,” as an extra curricular project for Detroit Community High School students like Lashay. “But when we finished that work, Mr. Eddy said he was going to teach some of us woodworking. So that’s how I got started,” Lashay recounts. She’s talking about Bart Eddy, who is now the program director of the Brightmoor Makers program. Lashay was one of the original students to learn woodworking from him, in a small extracurricular group that blossomed over the years into what is now known as the Brightmoor Makerspace.
“I did it all throughout high school, and then went away to college after graduating in 2013. But I transferred to Eastern, so I’m close enough now to work here again,” Lashay says, at 23 years old, having returned to work with the makerspace after a few years away at school. She has taken on a leadership role among the high school woodworkers, helping to teach them the craftsmanship she has spent years improving. “At the beginning, a lot of the students say they can’t do it, they’re not creative enough, they really don’t want to try. But after a while they really get into it, and see how they can be creative with it.”
Lashay works with two other woodshop instructors, who both began the program as students back in 2011 as well. Not only do they help to teach the younger woodworkers how to join boards, round the corners of wooden signs, chisel letters into wood, safely explore their creativity with the woodburner, and evenly coat a sign with finish – they also exemplify the idea that the skills the students are learning in the makerspace can be carried with them past their high school graduation.
“This program is helping a lot of students get opportunities that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” she says, laughing at the students chattering while they work at the table beside her. “Without it, I wouldn’t have this thing I have such a passion for.”
Lashay has travelled with the other makerspace instructors in the program to collaborate with partner organizations, such as the National Children Center in China in 2014. “The culture shock was huge when we got there, but we got to spend a whole week doing woodworking with the kids there.” They weren’t able to bring their tools with them on the trip, so they had to improvise with the 10 – 15 kids that they worked with, making wooden animals. “After we finished our projects with them, we taught the kids games, and then got to travel for a few days just making connections with people. It was a great experience.” She’s looking forward to visiting Kenya for a similar trip in just a few weeks, and then continuing to work and instruct in the woodshop throughout the summer program.