A Northwest Indiana Life in the Spotlight: Leon Kendrick

Leon-KendrickCall it paranormal, plain old luck or a coincidence, but when it comes to the number 13, Leon Kendrick believes that this is the number that directed his path in life. Kendrick was born on the 26th day of July 1955 in Gary, Indiana. He is soft-spoken, humble, patient, wears the biggest smile and is very passionate about the arts and the children he teaches. Kendrick retired from the East Chicago Public School system in 2013 after 36 years.

Kendrick says his musical career began around age eleven because of motivation from his grandmother. He recalls that she was a great cook and she would sit in the kitchen with her while she cooked and bang on the table as if he was playing a piano. At Christmas when she grew tired of him banging on the table, she purchased a piano for him. By the age of 13, he had only learned to play one song. One day while he was playing in church someone heard him from the basement and asked if he would become the director of the choir. It worked out, but he says he does not know if was because he could not play well or because they could not sing very well.

After graduation from Horace Mann High School, Kendrick attended Columbia College, in Columbia, Missouri, studying Music Education. Kendrick said that college was not difficult for him because he already knew the instruction. Returning home from college he decided to put his Music degree to work. He initially put in for a position in Gary, but all positions were filled at that time. His mentor and teacher from Horace Mann recommended him for a position in East Chicago. Because his credentials were so impressive, Kendrick was hired immediately.

His first teaching position was at St. Mary's Elementary School where he taught fifth graders. The principal told him that the students were among the worst students and if he could get them to stay, she would shake my hand. Kendrick said that upon entering the classroom he noted that they students were all bent over, slumped in their chairs, uninterested and not paying attention. He said the first thing he did after introducing himself was to say that he had been sent to teach them because everyone had said such good things about them, and that they all were doing such a wonderful job. From that point on he gained their respect and attention.

Kendrick attributes his success in handling the students to the example he followed from one of his prior teachers. At age 29, the teacher had two children and was suffering from cancer. When she would come to school daily, he noticed that as she touched her hair, it would fall out. One day the kids in class asked her what was wrong. She was beautiful inside and out, but in spite of her suffering she remained positive, kind and nothing bothered her as long as she could get there to teach those kids. Ultimately she died and Kendrick sang at her funeral. He said that when he entered that classroom he remembered her example and what others had told him – speak what he wanted to happen. Kendrick says positive motivation is what works. It gives children positive motivation. He says you have to let the students know that someone not only wants to teach them but also cares about them. Upon stopping by to do an evaluation, he was told by the principal that he did not know what powers he had because the same students that pulled their pants up and were quiet in the classroom were the same students with their pants sagging, removed their identification tags and were noisy in the hallway.

At Central Kendrick organized and directed the web and computer labs, boys/girl chorus, concert choir, plays, concerts and more. His students participated in many competitions. Kendrick said he chose to stop entering his songs into competitions that required knowing the music because it was too easy and only entered them in organizational competitions because it required them to also be able to read music. Every other year the students would put on a wedding at an outdoor music theater that included a wedding ceremony. The entire production was in a 1920's setting completed under tents with a reception that included ice sculptures. The symbolization was joining music friends for life.

Kendrick has written a book entitled, "Time Signatures Directed By The Mistro." As was mentioned at the outset, Kendrick connects his life to the number 13 – his classroom was Central M139. The M is the thirteenth letter in the alphabet. Add the numbers 1 + 3 +9 equals 13. Kendrick's book was completed May 8 (5 + 8 = 13). The book took thirteen months to complete. There is surrealism about him as he weaves through the metrics that equals thirteen. Kendrick said he did not notice the numerical correlation until he had written his book.

Kendrick retired in 2013 and confirms that there was no reason for him to retire. He said that Billy Reed, his fifth grade student, now in his forties, came from Boston to attend the retirement concert. Reed was so amazed by what he saw and after returning to Boston contacted Kendrick and told him that he was filming a documentary. "This is amazing. The world needs to see this," Reed said. The filming of the first segment of "Kendrick's Kids," has been completed.

After his retirement, Kendrick said he and his wife were at a parade in East Chicago when they ran into Mayor Copeland. Kendrick's wife told Copeland how he wanted to start his own visual arts school, but did not have a building. Copeland told him "I have one for you." The building is the old library, now known as Carnegie Hall, located at 3605 Grand Blvd. in East Chicago. The building opened in 1913 (Kendrick again noted the number 13). It was redone or revamped in 1931. In 1970's the building and the community died. The building renovation is complete and the grand opening will be held in the near future.

Kendrick's production entitled, "A City Resurrected," is complete and will be scheduled following the grand opening. The idea resurrected to impact on the children's minds that through performing arts and music you can realize how a city that was dead can come back to life and be positive for the for the community, city and the world.

Kendrick says he did not come from a musical family. He reunited with his absent father at a family reunion and learned that he is related to Eddie Kendrick, Ella Fitzgerald and others. His students call him their "school daddy." Because of his father's absence in his life he became dedicated to young people. He was always hearing stories from their backgrounds talking about the pain they had to deal with. He said he loves family and wanted to make sure that he was there for every kid and every person. Even now kids stop by his house asking if he needs anything or the snow shoveled. The reward to him is knowing that he can give them assistance and be a positive role model.

Kendrick says that his students tell him that his classroom was home away from home. As adults they tell him that it was their safe place and a place of peace that would carry and motivate them throughout the week. "Discipline with love is not discipline, Kendrick said. You have to be positive. He said he felt his students deserved respect and that was what he gave them. Laughingly he added, "people think I am soft spoken. I don't take crazy or foolishness. I do speak out when it's time to get down to business."

Kendrick believes the key to being successful is to continue to positively motivate our children by finding the smallest thing to compliment them on. Little can become much. There is a life there that we can save. Pull the clouds back so that we can see the light of their heart so that light can illuminate the world.