Experts say it takes ten years to master something — four years to learn the basics and six years to experiment. Four years into his career at HCZ, Seg Murray thought he knew the basics of being a teaching artist. That is, until a student announced to him:
“I’m going to stop coming here.”
At the time, Murray taught graphic design at an HCZ Beacon. There, teaching artists offered students a variety of courses, facilitated large-scale challenges and encouraged them in local competitions. When the student told him that she was bored and the program had nothing for her, Murray was shocked.
“I looked around and said, ‘What!? This program is amazing,’” said Murray. “But as teaching artists, you have to market to the students. I asked her what she wanted to do.”
Now was the time for experimentation. Murray used his education in animation and character design and the design principles he’d already been teaching to create a new class tailored to this student’s passion.
The fashion design course was born. The student, along with several of her peers, loved it. Years later, she invited Murray to her first post-collegiate fashion show.
Today, as a program coordinator, Murray supports the staff at HCZ’s Countee Cullen Community Center to create engaging courses. His objective is that every student can pursue his or her passions no matter how unattainable they might seem today.
“People in our community are always being told what they can and can’t do. Sometimes, you must be confident enough to think around things and use failure as teachable moments,” said Murray.
Working to master confidence is something Murray knows well. His family was among just a few African families in the Bronx neighborhood where he grew up. His parents were proud of their Sierra Leonean heritage, but he and his brother were often teased.
“There were a lot of misconceptions because of how people saw Africans at the time. What people thought African culture was made things difficult,” said Murray. “What helped was the fact I had such strong role models.”
Murray’s parents constantly reaffirmed his confidence. They motivated him to give his very best. They also guided him to see that his culture was a source of strength, pride and courage — if he allowed it to be.
Murray’s parents also taught him the importance of mentorship. After he’d been invited to tour HCZ’s Employment and Technology Center, it was this strong belief in mentorship that pushed him to join HCZ.
“At the time, you saw very few young African-Americans in production roles in the media. They were taking the arts out of the schools,” said Murray. “It was just amazing to see kids being engaged with the arts [at HCZ].”
After ten years at HCZ, while Murray is still learning how to cater to every student’s interests, he has certainly mastered a commitment to doing whatever it takes to that end. What he is most proud of is his ability to create opportunities for students to discover their talents, hone their skills and learn the power of their artistic process.
“You need to listen to the students, build their confidence and get them to understand the process,” said Murray. “You need them to know things might not look good at first but understanding the process is what allows you to master something.”
And, as Murray knows, a little experimenting along the way never hurts.