Marcus Lewis, referring to himself as one of the “originals,” has been part of the Brightmoor Makers program since he was 16 years old. At the ripe old age of 22 years old now, he helps to lead the woodworking students at the makerspace. He surprised himself when I asked how long he’d been working with the Brightmoor Makers, realizing he’d been doing this work for nearly 8 years. “Dang, have I really been here that long? Ha!” His laugh is infectious, and his sense of humor has become something the woodworking students look forward to when they come into work.
Marcus began to learn woodworking skills with the small group of high school students who made up the first cohort of Brightmoor Makers, just before his sophomore year of high school, in the summer of 2011. He speaks candidly about joining the program at 16 because “there were a lot of girls there, and a lot of my friends were there,” but he quickly learned that there was a lot more to be gained from his work in the woodshop.
The students in the Brightmoor Makers program are paid for their work, through a variety of grant funding and sales of the pieces that they handcraft in the woodshop, screenprinting studio, and bike shop. When Marcus became homeless later in his sophomore year, he says his work in the woodshop, “became a lot more serious. It wasn’t just a job anymore, it was how I survived outside of school. I stopped goofing off as much then, and started to really care about it.”
Nowadays, Marcus helps to lead students in their work in the woodshop. He worked with the program throughout high school and after, advancing his woodworking craftmanship as many of the other original students moved on to other extracurriculars, jobs, or college after graduation. When he was the last original student left, he began “checking in on everyone, making sure everyone in woodworking knew where their tools were, knew how to do everything.” He says that his growth into a position of leadership in the woodshop was “natural – it wasn’t like I was put in charge, like it was handed to me or anything. I had been there the longest, so it just made sense for me to make sure everybody was good.” During the school year, Marcus works with woodworking students every Saturday, and 5 days per week during the summer. He continues to learn from the program director, Bart Eddy, but his growth is undeniable.
Marcus has accompanied Mr. Eddy and the other Brightmoor Makers instructors on several trips outside of the woodshop to share and exchange their skills with likeminded people around the world, who also appreciate working with their hands. He has travelled to North Carolina, Chicago, and Japan on these adventures, saying that, “each trip was life changing; I came back a better person, every time.” The trip to North Carolina to meet some other woodworkers left an especially big impression on him; these woodworkers had designed and built their entire house out of wood, as well as a large display table with no metal fasteners or glue. Seeing the work of other people so far from his home in Detroit is what got him really excited about making furniture for the first time.
Marcus is especially proud to have built a table while in Japan that is still in use today. His excitement and pride is apparent when he talks about the projects he’s worked on, from the forty stools he helped to build in just two weeks, or the fact that he had a hand in putting together every piece of wooden furniture standing in the Brightmoor Makerspace today. “It’s really cool to see all these tables and stools and everything I helped create being used and respected by everyone,” he says, gesturing throughout the Makerspace, which is humming with voices, drills, chisels, and music as the students work.
What’s next for Marcus? Well, in the immediate future, he says he’s very excited to “work on building another table, but this time with epoxy. I think epoxy is the coolest thing you can use with wood, there is just so much you can do with it.” After that, he’s bound for Kenya in April of 2019 with a few of the other instructors, to collaborate on a woodworking project for a school there.