The Liberty Theatre and Cultural Center is launching a new arts immersion initiative for young men in Columbus.
The Robert Lamar Anderson Academy of Excellence is an after-school program open to 50 male eighth graders at Baker Middle School this year.
The RLA Academy has been named after longtime Liberty Theatre Board Chairman Robert Lamar Anderson. Anderson has served on the board of the Liberty for 12 years. Shae Anderson, the Liberty’s executive director and founder of the RLA Academy, is Robert Anderson’s daughter.
Arts reporter Carrie Beth Wallace recently corresponded with Shae Anderson to discuss her motivation for founding the Academy, why her father was chosen as the Academy’s namesake, the initiative’s proposed programming, their target population, and their goals for the program’s future development.
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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What is the new initiative officially called?
A: The Robert Lamar Anderson Academy of Excellence.
Q: How did this idea begin?
A: The idea stems from some of my dissertation research that developed during my time as a teacher at G.W. Carver High School. In light of the recent spike in crime in the area, I think there is a great need to reach our young men, so that motivated me to act on something I’ve been thinking about for quite some time.
Q: It is named after your father. Please describe why he was chosen as the academy’s namesake.
A: Ultimately, students who participate might not necessarily become entertainers or artists. However, they will have increased confidence, leadership skills and even better self-esteem. We just want them to see that they, too, have everything they need to be the type of man he is — an everyday working citizen, husband, father and servant leader who loves his city and the people in it.
Q: What else can you tell me about Robert Anderson?
A: Robert L. Anderson, a Spencer High graduate, earned his bachelor’s degree in education from Fort Valley State University, his M.S. in Education from Georgia State University and attended the Stonier Graduate School of Banking at Rutgers University. Anderson spent two years as a high school science teacher before pursuing a career in banking. He retired from Columbus Bank and Trust as the senior vice president of governmental affairs after 36 years of service. He then spent two years working as the regional president of Citizens Trust Bank here in Columbus. He currently works as a substitute teacher for the Muscogee County School District. He has been an active member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity for 54 years, and is still extremely active with the Lambda Iota Chapter here in Columbus.
He is an active member of South Columbus United Methodist Church where he is a certified lay leader, and he also serves as district lay leader for the Northwest District of the South Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. He is a former MCSD school board member and has served on a variety of boards throughout the city over the years. He is a lover/supporter of the arts, has served as board chairman of the Liberty Theatre for 12 years and has given selflessly of his time, talents and network over the years to help keep the doors of the theater open.
Anderson has been married for 35 years, has four daughters, and two grandchildren whose lives he also plays a very active role in. He exemplifies the type of man we want our young men to aspire to be: hardworking, God fearing, family oriented, kind-hearted, consistent and loyal — all traits the program seeks to strengthen in its participants. It is for these reasons, the arts-based, after-school program for males will be called the Robert Lamar Anderson Academy of Excellence.
Q: How do you see our Columbus youth benefiting from this educational initiative?
A: Our hope is that we can, in partnership with Baker, support the hard work they are already doing there and see improved grades and discipline records for the students who participate in the program. Long term, we hope that the program will grow and eventually become a school with single gender classrooms for boys and girls.
Q: What types of programs are offered?
A: The program will work with approximately 50 minority male students who are entering eighth grade via placement in an arts based after school program in partnership with the Liberty Theatre. The program will provide fine and performing arts training, intensive academic support, male mentoring, counseling and ongoing exposure to cultural activities. The first group of students will be rising eighth-grade boys from Baker Middle School.
The program’s target population is students with behavioral/discipline challenges and/or poor academic performance. The academic portion of the program will provide support/assistance with school work as well as additional support and skill building; it will convene Monday through Thursday from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and sometimes on weekends. A snack and dinner will be provided each day for all participants.
Q: Can you share the amount that was given to start this program?
A: Not enough just yet. I’ve covered the initial expenses of copying, etc. However, we still need donations in order to purchase instruments (keyboard, drum sets, etc.) art supplies, and other items needed for the program.
Q: Who will be in charge of implementing the program?
A: Our Leadership Team is comprised of the following people: I will serve as the RLA Academy founder, as well as being the executive director of the Liberty Theatre. We also have Pastor Javon Jackson serving as deputy director. He is the pastor at Holsey Chapel CME and he is also a certified math teacher. Next, we have Latasha Jones Adams who will be our training and professional development director. Adams works with Dominion Education Consulting. Then, Stephen Muhammad will serve as our mentoring director and school liaison. We are also thrilled to be working with Lamont Sheffield, assistant principal at Baker Middle School. Our program coordinator is Ta’Varis Wilson of BB Artistic Productions. Finally, Ish Harris will serve as our artistic director and administrative support. Harris also works with BB Artistic Direction.
Q: What are the guidelines for who can enroll in this program?
A: For the pilot program, we would like to have 50 eighth grade boys from Baker Middle School, and any remaining slots will be available for seventh graders. The program will be held on site at Baker.
Q: When does the program start?
A: We’ll be on site during the month of August talking to parents and students about the program, and the program will kick off after Labor Day.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like for our readers to know about the Robert Lamar Anderson Academy of Excellence?
Yes. Volunteer inquiries can be sent and/or donations can be made to the program by visiting www.libertycolumbusga.org.
More to know
For more information about the Liberty Theatre visit https://www.libertycolumbusga.org. To access further information about the Robert Lamar Anderson Academy of Excellence, or to make a donation to the program, click on “RLA Academy” on the Liberty Theatre’s website.
Name: Shae Anderson
Education: Undergraduate degree from Bennett College, master’s and doctorate from Georgia State University
Occupation: Executive director of the Liberty Theatre, founder of RLA Academy