by Kristin Arzt

Since Ledora Hightower first encountered The Crucible at Fire Arts Festival back in 2008, she has become an integral part of our community, encouraging her family and neighbors to come in, take classes, and gain lifelong skills in welding, blacksmithing, glass blowing, and more. An Oakland native who lives just a few blocks away, Ledora Hightower has been The Crucible’s ambassador, directly facilitating scholarships for free Crucible classes for our neighborhood’s youth, adults, seniors, and many more. After working in the East Bay Conservation Corps and driving for AC Transit, Ledora started working as our custodian and as an instructor in our Woodworking Department. We have Ledora to thank for many of the youth who started taking classes at The Crucible on scholarship, and are now lead instructors in their departments.

How did you first find out about The Crucible?

The Crucible had a Fire Arts Festival, and I could hear and see the fire from my patio. My uncle was driving AC Transit, and he kept encouraging me to check it out around the corner. I finally walked over, and beyond being hypnotized by the fire, I started talking to someone about scholarships and volunteering. They encouraged me to get my daughter into summer classes.

When did your daughter get involved?

In 2008, I brought Reginae to take her first class. From the time she was seven years old until she graduated high school, Reginae spent every summer here in youth camps for ten years. With her being here, she missed the street life that we have over in Acorn. A lot of kids end up in jail. For me, The Crucible has been a lifesaver. It’s been a daycare, a safe haven. It’s been everything for me. I knew when I brought my daughter here that she would be safe. I discovered it was a hidden treasure that we had in West Oakland.

I was able to tell people in the community what The Crucible was really about. You know how people talk about church? I’m not religious, but I can talk about The Crucible, and what I know your kid is gonna get out of it. No one can take these skills away.

Once you brought your daughter for classes, how did you encourage other kids to come to The Crucible?

I brought them myself, and got them scholarships. In 2009, I started working at the Acorn Recreation Center with kids. Acorn didn’t have a lot of resources—a basketball or a couple little tools—and I knew what The Crucible had. I knew where the treasure was. Once I gained the trust of Acorn, I asked for more youth scholarships at The Crucible, and started walking kids from Acorn over to The Crucible for classes.

I started bringing Abdollah Hamdan when he was twelve. He ended up taking Blacksmithing, becoming a lead instructor, and now, ten years later, he has a job. YES! He sure does. Let your kids come here, and no one will be able to take away the skills they’ll learn. We’re the bomb. That’s just it. What they learn here will guarantee work in their life.

Ledora working with youth from Martin Luther King Elementary School to build a totem pole for their school.

Ledora leads youth in a wood carving demonstration on Field Trip Day.

The totem pole built by youth from Martin Luther King Elementary in our Ceramics studio.

What other outreach programs did you facilitate?

I saw a need for class offerings for younger kids, so we set up a workshop in ceramics for the kindergarten class at Martin Luther King Elementary to make a totem pole for their school. And we made that totem pole! I made the Mickey Mouse! Then I asked, “How can we give incarcerated people classes?” The Crucible told me if I got a group of them to sign on to come, they could take a free class. I do the outreach because I believe in saving the community and I believe in The Crucible. It ain’t church, but if you come here, you are gonna have your life changed.

What is one word you would use to describe The Crucible?

A hidden treasure. That’s what it is. The people that you meet here are dedicated. If you take your kids to summer programs, your kid is safe. And the thing is, The Crucible is lovely—we don’t choose the people that come. We let everybody come. It’s diverse. Some people don’t have the chance to be around different nationalities. At the end of the day, that’s your friend.

Youth Profile of Reginae Hightower, Ledora’s Daughter

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