By Jim Drevescraft, Volunteer Writer
A recent article in the New York Times about the opening of a new facility in Pine Ridge that aims to offer a space where members of the Oglala Lakota oyate can pursue interests in art, decoration, music, and the like got me thinking.
While it is wonderful that another space for Lakota creativity has arrived, I wonder if the writer was aware that, among other locations on the Rez where art has already been encouraged for Lakota, especially young people, the One Spirit Allen Youth/Community Center has been offering classes and materials for creativity for years, thanks to donors’ support. Recently, Kevin Poor Bear, who I featured some months ago, has begun offering once-weekly painting lessons to young Allen residents at the Youth/Community Center, thanks to a generous donor who has singly been providing funding for Kevin’s salary and for art materials such as charcoal, pastels, and paper.
Permanently wheelchair-bound since 1989 due to a double amputation resulting from paralysis caused by a spider bite, Kevin earns his way by selling paintings outside Buche Foods in Pine Ridge, but wanted to return to his birthplace and give something back to the community. Besides classes, he and his young students will be creating a mural for the wall of the food pantry this Spring. He is still selling his art outside the grocery store, but was eager to offer support and diversion to the youth of Allen, which is the poorest community in the country, and lacks much in the way of positive experiences to the young residents.
Kevin does this out of his essential kindness and love for his people, even while dealing with his own situation without complaint, and with a relentlessly positive outlook on life.
Recently I had the chance to talk with Kevin about his life and interest in art and giving back to his home. Despite some youthful misadventures, he began to express himself though art at the age of eight. Kevin felt expressing his hopes and dreams through painting, when he would pray as he worked, would lead to positive achievements in life—and it did. Thus, it seemed only natural for him to express having, as he says, “art in your heart,” and using art to empower his spirit to succeed.
Kevin hopes that his efforts will help One Spirit expand our outreach to the Oglala Lakota. He hopes that his work with the youth of Allen will make it possible to establish more youth centers like the Allen facility (created by One Spirit) across the Pine Ridge Rez, with more classes in other media such as pottery, beadwork, and more. This writer finds his story moving and wonderful—just the sort of results that good people can achieve if they are determined enough and can find the support.
Recently, when a volunteer was driving Kevin from Buche Foods in Pine Ridge to Allen for the weekly art class he teaches, as if he does not face enough in the way of challenges, his wheelchair fell out of the vehicle. As a result, he is waiting hopefully for a replacement from the hospital, but is still working and helping the young of Allen, albeit in a bent-up chair! Eventually he would like to have a van equipped for him to drive on his own. If any of our readers know of an organization that provides such vans, please email Jeri with the information.
In addition, we would like to ask our generous supporters for your help in funding Kevin’s work at the Allen Youth/Community Center. Currently, one generous person is providing the financial support needed for Kevin’s compensation, art materials (including the 8x30 foot mural he and the kids will be painting on the side of the food pantry), and the continuation of art outreach by the Allen Center. Some earmarked donations to help underwrite this wonderful opportunity would be greatly appreciated.
In closing, Kevin Poor Bear is an exceptional spirit, with talent, determination, resilience, and a love of his people and his art. Everything considered, he is someone we can all admire.