GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (GRPS) — The day before he won the Contemporary Black Art Award at ArtPrize, William Davis was at the Grand Rapids Learning Center doing poetry on demand on his vintage typewriter for the school’s students and staff.

"That’s no accident," said school principal Rodney Brown.

“We always appreciate the opportunity to see and hear from people who have overcome challenges,” he said. “It’s part of our culture. We want to expose our students to a variety of careers and a variety of people in those careers who have beat the odds. They can see themselves in these people, and we always say here that you cannot be what you cannot see.”

Davis’ ArtPrize entry also was what he brought to Brown’s students. Each day he set up at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, and he wrote personalized poems for people based on one-word prompts. View the ArtPrize entry, Poetry on Demand - My Poem, Your Topic.

The ArtPrize presence gave Davis credibility with his students, Brown said, as did Davis’ many other credentials, including being the Hillsborough Poet Laureate for 2016-2018, several published books of poetry, and even the difficult circumstances in which he grew up. View Davis' work on his website.

“William is a poet with Grand Rapids roots who attended GRPS schools and graduated from Baldwin,” Brown said. “He was able to talk about some of his trials and travails that he was able to overcome, and to be able to connect with a poet was really amazing for our students.”

Mark Jones agreed.

A first-year student at the Learning Center, Jones said he was impressed with Davis and his story.

“I loved what he was doing (at the Learning Center) but also in the community and at other schools in the city,” Jones said.

He also has come to appreciate the Learning Center in the short time he’s been a student there.

“It’s in a college environment and the staff here help get us ready for that transition,” he said. “They have so many things to offer.

The Grand Rapids Learning Center is a partnership between the Grand Rapids Public Schools and Grand Rapids Community College, a high school developed to re-engage 16- to 19-year-olds seeking to obtain a high school diploma or looking for an alternative option to a traditional high school.

Brown noted that “every school has students who for different reasons have fallen behind and because we are a credit-recovery high school, we fill an important role.”

Now in his 26th year as an educator, including the last 18 as a building administrator with GRPS, Brown is also a former GRCC adjunct professor and a GRPS graduate whose wardrobe often includes a John Ball Zoo School hoodie.

“I am a proud alum, a Zooey,” he said with a big grin. “I’m also a big fan and advocate of community colleges and the opportunities they create. Because we’re the only high school on a college campus in all of West Michigan, we know there are students out there who will find us of interest.”

The Learning Center takes advantage of its location on the GRCC campus.

“We take students to different departments on campus,” Brown said. “They visit (the GRCC) M-TEC Center. Our students here blend in with the college students. Many might not even realize that they are high school students. That’s a big boost to our students. It makes them feel good.

Currently, the Learning Center has just over 40 students, and Brown said there is room for more with maximum enrollment being approximately 80 students.

“We want to get our story out there,” he said.