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Art helped heal teacher and now his students

By Janiya Battle and Ashanea Parker

September 2017

Carmen Garner turns to art to cope with his traumatic past and show kids going through similar situations how to cope positively through art and art therapy.

“As a child, I thought things were normal (when) I’d come home and see my mom shooting heroin, (and) I saw my uncles and aunts smoking crack,” says the now-Washington, D.C. elementary school art teacher and author. “I lived with rapists, murderers and drug dealers and gangsters. So I thought that was normal.”

Growing up in Southeast D.C. nearly 40 years ago, meant being raised in a community saturated with alcoholism, drug addiction and violence. So much so that, coming home and seeing his own mother shooting up was a norm.

Garner really didn’t have much motivation growing up because no one was really there for him.

He constantly sought escape from the pain, from his surroundings, from himself. Garner says he turned to friends’ parents or community members that “weren’t like everyone else” for help and motivation. He was always alone in the world, but as he got older he found a way to cope.

Art wasn’t his first form of therapy, that did not come until he was a junior in college. He tried talking about it and going to a traditional therapist but was never taken seriously because of how he carried himself in his day to day life.

“People would never know that I’ve been through what I’ve been through because of how I present myself,” says the author of the artistic memoir From This to That.

The therapist questioned whether he had what he believes is post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and said “you seemed to be handling your situation better than other people had. You’re fine.”

“I ended my services with her,” he says.

His students are his motivation. When they show their pain through their work, he sees himself making a difference. The bandage tattoo on his wrist represents that he’s ok and he came a long way.

“It was a reminder that I’m healed,” says Garner.


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