When you meet Edward McLaurin, one of the first things you notice, besides his neatness, is his reserved disposition. The 23-year-old Sharon, Miss. native looks you straight in the eye and doesn't look off. The Millsaps graduate is an artist, teacher and student.
McLaurin's experiences with Operation Shoestring began his freshman year at Millsaps as a work-study student. Six months after he graduated, he returned to the nonprofit organization as a fifth-grade art teacher.
"I don't want kids right now" is his immediate response to what he's learned about himself since working with the young students at the organization. "Working with kids takes patience. … To teach some of the things I learned in college about art is a challenge."
The students, he says, have also taught him how to be a teacher. "You have to listen to their needs and understand them before you can teach them. You have to see things through their eyes," he says.
This, McLaurin says, is one of the most difficult trials. The artist says he's never questioned his talent. If there was something he wanted to draw, he was going to draw it. Kids these days, however, don't have as much confidence as young McLaurin did. Lots of children come to him with a defeated attitude.
"I have to tell them constantly, 'That's not ugly.' Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. (Some students) come in on the first day and tell me, 'I can't draw," he says, adding that he's slowly trying to teach the budding artists that people see the world differently.
"Every community starts with the kids. In order to spark a change, start with the things that are easy to bend—the kids."
Places for youth to go to express themselves in a constructive manner are important. Children in the metro, he says, need more activities than going to the mall. "That only gives another opportunity to get in trouble. I could have probably been a lot further along than I am now, if I would have taken school seriously earlier, instead of trying to be in a gang," he says. If youth aren't given things to do, they will create them.
McLaurin admits that he doesn't want to live in Jackson all his life. He intends to leave for a while and then return. "There's just something about D.C. and New York City that draw me. … I want to understand what they have so I can further understand what this city needs," he says.
One thing McLaurin believes the city needs is more beautification. "Without that, people won't come. … There are lots of good people, not just visual artists, in the community who are willing to (help)." Edward McLaurin is one of them.