A Manistee community project is dedicated to James Earl Jones and mentors
The Arts and Culture Alliance of Manistee County is putting up a statue of James Earl Jones.
The actor grew up in Manistee County, arriving at age 5 when his grandmother moved his family from Mississippi.
He attended Brethren High School and it was there he found a mentor named Donald Crouch. He helped Jones overcome a speech impediment and move toward a career in acting.
That’s why the statue going up in Jones’s honor isn’t just about him. Community members are invited to nominate a mentor whose names will also be included in the monument.
Joyce Smith is with the arts and culture alliance which is raising money for the project. She says James Earl Jones struggled with a stutter in his youth.
"He just stopped talking pretty much altogether," she said. "His english class in 9th grade — that's where he met Donald Crouch."
Crouch assigned the class with a poetry project. Jones based his on "The Song of Hiawatha" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow about a winter grapefruit.
"But Crouch said to him, 'Well, James, this is a fine looking poem. I really can't believe you wrote it yourself. Did somebody help you with this? Did you maybe get this from someplace else?'" Smith said. "And James was really He put off by the idea that, that he was being accused of plagiarism."
So Jones was tasked with reciting the poem in front of his whole class.
Jones' story is told in his memoir "Voices and Silences."
"When the day came to recite it in front of the class, he said it from memory, and found that when he said things from memory, he didn't have a stutter," Smith said.
Jones made a recorded message for the website of the statue project. In it, he says Crouch was an effective mentor that tuned into his needs and fellow classmates at Brethren High School.
"He built enough confidence for me to finish high school and go on to the University of Michigan with a full scholarship," Jones said in his recording.
Crouch was a self-made scholar, Joyce Smith said. He was the poet laureate of Manistee County at point and wrote books of poetry.
"Apparently Crouch was really a beloved teacher at Brethren. He connected with a lot of students," Smith said.
In Jones recording, he said a good mentor takes a "less capable person by building trust and modeling positive behavior. An effective mentor understands that their role is to be dependable, engaged and authentic and tuned into the needs of the student."
And a mentor doesn't have to be a teacher, Smith said.
"It could be an electrician, or a farmer, pastor, a parent or a sibling," Smith said. "In fact, some of the mentors that have been nominated for our mentorship wall are parents, siblings, pastors, and other important figures. I think a mentor makes you feel different about yourself and changes your path."
Hear the full conversation linked at the top of the story.
There's still time to nominate a mentor, the deadline is September 1. Learn more about the project here. The unveiling is tentatively set for the first Saturday in October.
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