Mary Brown Creates a Safe Space Where Her “Family” Learns Through Artistic Expression

For 24 years, Mary has led the charge at Life Pieces To Masterpieces, an organization for African American boys in Wards 7 and 8

For many, career paths are linear — they follow a seemingly set course starting from college and moving into a career. That, though, wasn’t the case for Mary Brown. After graduating with a degree in biology and chemistry, she went to work in clinical pharmacology and toxicology. But, years in, she had a change of heart. Something, she explains, was fundamentally missing from her otherwise successful professional life.

“I decided that I didn’t want to be in the medical field,” she says. “I wanted to heal hearts and minds rather than physical bodies. It really is serendipitous.” 

Identifying a need — and finding her purpose
With that realization front-and-center, Mary worked at a number of organizations including Children’s Trust Neighborhood Initiative, NeighborWorks Initiative and DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative, where she served as executive director. Then, in 1996, she and her co-founders launched Washington, D.C.-based Life Pieces To Masterpieces (LPTM). The goal: use artistic expression to help to develop character, unlock potential, and prepare African American boys and young men to transform their lives and their communities. For the last 24 years, Mary has served as the organization’s executive director.  

“It’s unfortunate, but I do find it’s rare for organizations founded by women of color to sustain over time — I’m extremely proud that LPTM continues to grow and thrive,” says Mary. But the work, she says, keeps her motivated and moving ahead. ”I see it in the boys. I see it in their eyes. After twenty-four years, I’ve had the joy of seeing boys growing into men with wonderful families — and armed with the tools they need to navigate the madness.”

This year, though, has been challenging. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, LPTM has gone to great lengths to ensure program participants — her “family,” as she calls them — continue to receive the support in a safe environment.

“I’m really proud — we’ve been able to be extraordinarily innovative at a time when most people would probably have given up,” Mary says. “You never give up if you are truly standing on principles and values that you believe can assist in navigating challenges. When you do that, you can turn obstacles into opportunities. That’s what we did for our beloved community and for the highest good of the whole.”

Despite these hurdles, LPTM continues to be a safe space — exactly what Mary envisioned 24 years ago. 

“I was raised to care about preservation,” she says. “I was really clear about what was happening in our community. Today, I feel really good about the work I do. This is what I was meant to do in life. It’s my purpose. I feel like I’m living my purpose.” She’s also confident that, together, more women of color can live their purpose. “We need to encourage and support more women of color in leading social entrepreneur endeavors — that’s so, so important.”