Matrix Theatre Company recently brought together local youth, community residents, disability leaders and volunteers to learn about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as they put the finishing touches on Matrix’s newest giant puppet, Justin Dart, a pioneer of the ADA.

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the passage of the act, they visited Detroit on June 22.

One of only a handful of theatre arts organizations in the country to create giant puppets, Justin Dart took its place among Matrix’s collection of historically significant “hero” puppets, which include figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, Mother Jones and Ella Baker.

The Matrix way of collaborative creation has been especially successful with this project. Calls went out to community members, college students and disability rights activists to help with the development of this historic work of art.

“It was inspiring to watch as this diverse group of people worked together to bring the puppet to life,” said Matrix Executive Director Shaun Nethercott.

As the volunteers worked under the guidance of sculptor Carl Goines and Matrix Community Puppets Manager Megan Harris, curious youth wandered into the City of Detroit’s Roberto Clemente Recreation Center to see what was going on.

Matrix partner and project co-organizer Janice Fialka explained the history of the ADA to the children who then shared their own stories about loved ones with disabilities.

“My Uncle Sam is in a wheelchair, and he sometimes gets real mad because he can’t get though a door,” said Kyle.

“Interest is nationwide,” said Volunteer Coordinator Ken Srdjak. “Donations have come in from all over the country. We have even received money from Justin’s wife, family and friends. If this continues, I am confident that we can reach our fundraising goal which will allow us to tour the puppet throughout the country this summer.”

“It’s time that Justin Dart and his ideas become visible to all,” said Rich Feldman, Matrix partner and project co-organizer. “It’s time that disability is recognized as a natural and beautiful part of human diversity.”

“Sometimes it happens that an image or a piece of art can reconnect a community with a fallen soldier’s classic one liners that ‘lead us on’ to commit ourselves to ‘the revolution of empowerment.’  The Justin Puppet will be looming in streets shouting out the words, ‘I am with you, I love you, Lead on,’  for the ‘solidarity among all who love justice,” said Tom Olin, social documentarian and photojournalist for disability rights.

The Justin Dart puppet is funded, in part, by Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), Michigan Disabilities Rights Coalition, the United Auto Workers (UAW), and many donors from across the country.

Matrix Theatre Company is a non-profit community-based theatre located in Southwest Detroit.

For further information, visit www.matrixtheatre.org.

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