Inspiring Moment in Community Education
By Mike Looby
The beginning of Community Education in the United States has generally been associated with Mott and Manley in Flint, Michigan in the 1930’s. Charles Stewart Mott was an original partner in the creation of General Motors in 1908 and was considered the wealthy industrialist with philanthropic interests. Frank J. Manley was the Physical Education Teacher in the Flint Public Schools with a passion for learning who saw the need to keep the schools open well beyond the traditional school day and school year, providing a safe place for children and as a community learning center for people of all ages.
In the fall of 2011, I had the opportunity to travel to Flint, MI as the Foundation for Community Education hosted a very special event to “Honor the Past, Celebrate the Present, and Launch the Future.” I had the privilege of traveling with two of my colleagues, Carrie Larson and Lisa Green. As part of this event we had an opportunity to visit the Mott Foundation, and also take a Community Education archives tour.
Even though I have been in Flint a number of times throughout my career, this was my first trip to the Mott Foundation building. It was built in 1930, was the first skyscraper built in the heart of downtown Flint measuring 16 stories & 226 feet, and had the Mott name prominently carved in stone on the front of the beautiful art deco building.
The archives experience was very different than a trip to a museum. In a museum, all of the materials are chosen for you to view and many times presented behind roped off areas or in glass enclosures. In the Mott archives, Carrie, Lisa, and I were set free to explore. It was a large, warm room filled with six foot high shelves, holding hundreds of clearly marked boxes.
I began on a shelf marked movies, and in that box was the original 35 mm film of “To Touch A Child,” the story of how Community Education began in Flint. Within a few minutes of exploring, Carrie and Lisa discovered a leather bound scrapbook, with tooled printing carved in the leather cover with the words: Frank Manley. They called me over to look at it … and to hold it … the same scrapbook held by Frank J. Manley … a piece of his life. There were many interesting items in his scrapbook, but the most moving was a page in the scrapbook with a black and white photo of Mott and Manley with their wives on the tennis court conceiving Community Education. (A copy of that photo follows this article.) All of a sudden, I felt a huge swell of emotion as my eyes began to tear, feeling so close to the national movement. It was truly the most inspiring moment of my professional career in Community Education.
If you ever travel to Michigan and end up anywhere near Flint, I encourage you to call the Mott Foundation and request to visit the Community Education archives room. You too, will likely be overcome with emotions and leave feeling inspired to continue your important life’s work.