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What I Learned from Art Leslie (and What You Can Learn, Too)

Last week I lost a friend. Maybe he was your friend, too.

Art Leslie, the founder, visionary and selfless servant of the Huntsville Inner City Learning Center, passed away, unexpectedly. Although he didn’t know it was his last day to live, he lived his last day well.

His mission was simple: to glorify God by helping at-risk children.

I had the privilege of speaking on behalf of Art at the Center’s annual event last March. I was grateful then, but I’m even more grateful now for such a special opportunity.

What I said about Art rings even truer today as I reflect on his meaningful life. That night, I told this story to illustrate the value of what Art did every day:

In 1992, Derek Redmond lined up at the starting blocks of the Olympic 400-meter race. He had been through eight surgeries just to be there, and it was the crowning moment of his life.

After the starting gun fired, he made a fantastic start, but when rounding the first turn, he ruptured a hamstring.

Derek crumpled over on the track in pain, alone and hurting. But after a few minutes, he made a courageous decision. He decided to get up and finish his race.

Holding the back of his leg, he hobbled slowly toward the finish line. And when it seemed like he could not possibly finish, a man from the crowd ran onto the track to help him.

He came alongside Derek and said, “Let’s finish this race together.”

It was Derek’s father. Derek leaned on his father’s arm and then burst into tears. 

“Don’t quit, Derek. I’m going to help you finish,” his father said. 

And he did.

The crowd jumped to their feet in awe as they watched them slowly finish the race together. And when they crossed the finish line, people cried and cheered and hugged each other. It was one of the greatest moments in Olympic history.

No one remembers who won the race that day.

But no one can forget who finished.

When you come alongside to help someone who is struggling, it’s a beautiful thing. It matters. It changes the world, one act of kindness at a time.

This is how Art Leslie lived.

He ran boldly out to the track of life to run alongside struggling children. Art dedicated his life to kids who were hamstrung by tough circumstances. Poverty. Abuse. Neglect.

He put his arm around them, ran alongside them and gave them a shoulder to lean on daily.

Like Derek’s father, Art said, “Don’t quit. I’m going to help you finish your race.”

Art grew up in the housing projects, so he knew what it felt like to be hamstrung in life. As a child, he often felt like a nobody — worthless and trapped — as if no one really cared. Eventually, God enabled him to overcome his tough circumstances and go on to college, have a family and a successful career.

Ten years ago, in the middle of a personal crisis, Art heard God speak to him through this verse: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

Through that verse, he heard God say, “Art, you go take care of my children, and I’ll take care of you.”

So Art accepted his God-given calling and never turned back. And I’m so thankful he did. The Huntsville Inner City Learning Center has now served hundreds of children and their families.

It’s an amazing journey when you think about it: Art worked hard to leave the projects only to choose to return and help children who were just like him. He helped kids get to the finish-line of graduation and adulthood by teaching them how to learn and how to live.

But mostly, he taught the kids this: “God truly loves you.”

You see, we live in a world that celebrates hip-hop stars and the rich and famous. This can make an impoverished child feel like a nobody.

But Art taught children they were valuable and dearly loved by God. He taught them to put their faith not in others or themselves, but in Jesus Christ, the only One who can truly help them.

I am so thankful for Art’s example. And I want so badly to live by it — to come alongside others who are struggling along life’s way. I hope you do, too.

And if I’ve learned anything from Art, it’s this:

Don’t waste a single day of your precious life.

Learn what it means to live for God and for others.

Live as if you are on a special mission, for indeed, you are.

Thank you, Art. Your life touched so many lives. You are greatly loved and will be greatly missed.

Shared from May Patterson’s blog, Along the Way. To see more from May, click here.

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May Patterson

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