BY: KABRENA ROBINSON
A powerful painting done by seventeen-year-old Ricai Kelly depicts a group of ballet dancers. One of the dancers, although in the background distinctly stands out. This dancer has a disability, an amputated leg and arm. The disabled dancer sheds a tear but wears a smile as she dances on. The meaning behind this piece according to Ricai, is that despite any obstacles or disabilities “we can do anything we want to do, we can follow our dreams.”
Ricai Kelly is autistic but despite this challenge, he uses his love and passion for the arts to make a difference in the lives of other autistic and special needs kids. Through a free art class program, Ricai teaches kids between the ages of eight to twelve the artistry of drawing and painting and other art activities to improve their fine motor skills.
“My hope is to become the best artist to teach kids to have fun and make their families proud,” Ricai expressed cheerfully. “These kids can learn to do art. Art keeps everyone calm; when they get angry they can just draw.”
Ricai’s grandmother Margaret Kelly and his parents are the adults responsible for turning his love for the arts into a program to help other kids. Kelly says she initially saw the art class as a great way to keep him active and to help with improving his life skills.
The art class held at The North Kipling Community Centre in Etobicoke has been up and running since April 1st and will go until June 3rd. Kelly says the program has seen great improvements as students have been acquiring a lot of skills from the class. She says that most of the kids already had an idea of how to do basic drawings but what boosted them and their parents’ interest to join the class was their fascination with Ricai and how he does fine arts.
Ricai impressively has become familiar with all of the kids in his class and the different skills that they possess.
“Our student here Kelly is a good kid,” Ricai said while showing a picture of a smiling seven-year-old boy from his class. “He is a good artist. I think he will be a great artist soon; he has the fascination to do art.”
Kelly, Ricai’s grandmother, says although the class has been a success so far, she was hoping to see more children from the black community coming out. She added that it is quite surprising seeing that the center where the class is held is located in a predominately black community.
“I think it could be a stigma but we have come a long way,’ Kelly expressed. “We are living in a diverse society and there might be families who think their children cannot move from the position they are into a next level. My grandson is a fair example to show that it can happen.”
Kelly also believes that a lot can be achieved through partnerships with community groups and organizations to help in the cause to raise awareness. Kelly has managed to successfully make partnerships with the Toronto Police Services (TPS) and McDonalds to raise funds for autism.
A media event and exhibit hosted at the McDonalds on 3929 Keele St on Saturday was the first day for the autism awareness campaign scheduled to be held at seven other McDonald’s locations. The exhibit featured some of the artwork done by Ricai and other autistic and special needs children. Chief of Police for the Toronto Police Service Mark Saunders and other police officials were also in attendance to support the cause.
Ricai has been very active in using his artwork to raise awareness. An upcoming program for him will be working with autistic children of the Westview Centennial Secondary School on a new art project.
Kelly says she hopes that from these activities Ricai will be able to develop more life skills so he can live independently. She is also working on helping him with his confidence and image to maybe someday venture into modeling. She hopes that other parents of autistic and special needs children will be inspired.
“I’m hoping parents are going to be able to look at this and say, why not my child too or my young adult,” she said.