Black Belt masters help Black Belt resident

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Alspice Road in Greensboro looked like an episode of Extreme Home Makeover Saturday as a team of black belts from across the country joined students from Auburn University’s Rural Studios and local residents to build a home for Henry Lawson.

Lawson, 78, lost his home to fire in the early 1990s and has spent the last decade living in a single-wide mobile home that he has been unable to maintain over the years.

Henry Lawson … lives alone after raising nine children in Greensboro. He is trying to get by on Social Security and lives in an old trailer he purchased for $1,000,” explained team leader Tom Callos, director of the Ultimate Black Belt Test (UBBT). “The trailer has broken windows, broken doors, a leaking roof, a rotting subfloor and rotting porch.”

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In January, Lawson’s home health nurse contacted Auburn’s Rural Studios because she was concerned about the conditions he was living in and was trying to find help for the elderly man.

As God’s will would have it, Callos was preparing the second UBBT, one of the requirements of which is participation in a special Masters Training Event.

“The UBBT is not a standardized test, but an individual journey created by and for each participant,” Callos explained. As part of that journey, participants are required to log personal victories and accomplish 1,000 acts of kindness. Additionally, they must spend one day in a wheelchair, one day blind and one day mute.

It is that philosophy that Callos incorporates into the special Masters Training Event with each test, choosing projects that not only serve to bring students together but to fulfill a purpose as well.

That purpose brought Callos to Auburn University’s Rural Studios and to Henry Lawson.

“Going to the Rural Studio is about being with and learning from masters outside the martial arts world,” he explains on his UBBT Web site, “Samuel Mockbee, the co-founder of the Rural Studio, is part Frank Lloyd Wright and part Rosa Parks. His program represents the kind of thinking we need to apply to our schools and our own lives.”

Before Callos and his crew of more than 30 black belts even set foot in Greensboro, they had already worked to raise the $5,000 needed for supplies. All labor was donated by the black belts, Rural Studio students, and volunteers from Friends of Hale County, Pine Grove Baptist Church, where Lawson is a member, and Lawson’s own family members.

Saturday morning, under a bright blue sky and full sun, the team set forth on an empty space between Lawson’s current trailer and his daughter’s next door. By early afternoon, much of the frame was up.

Lawson sat on his daughter’s porch taking it all in as the sound of hammers and saws echoed through the neighborhood.

“I’ve never seen anything like it in all my life,” Lawson said. “That’s so wonderful, it’s just fine.”

Lawson said what amazed him more was the number of young people working on the one-bedroom home.

“There’s so many young people out here working so hard,” he said. “Nowadays you can’t hardly get young people to do anything.”

As one looked out over the structure going up, it was easy to see what he was talking about. Not only were students from Auburn University, most in their 20s or thereabouts, working on the project, but many young children – ranging in age from about 10 to early teens – wielded hammers and nails or helped to hold boards straight and tight for other workers.

The project was scheduled to be completed by the end of the weekend.

The building was designed by the Auburn Rural Studios students, and was designed to be built – labor and all – for $20,000.

“The design is intended for someone who is on a fixed income,” Callos said. “There is some special funding available so that they can get the loan for the home and end up paying something like $60 a month.”

Callos applauded the forward-thinking objectives of the Rural Studio.

“This is not just a house, but a concept that could serve many others,” he said. “This is just the prototype.”

The prototype in the end though would include a few features most other homes like it probably won’t – features that Callos and his group were hoping to incorporate.

“One of the interior windows, between the panes, will be 1,000 acts of kindness done by karate students across the country,” Callos said. “We’ve also asked the art team to somehow incorporate acts of kindness into other aspects of the home, like on the wallpaper or things like that.”

So what does building a home for an elderly man in Greensboro, Alabama, have to do with martial arts?

“It’s my philosophy that the kindness is the ultimate form of self-defense,” Callos said.