Recommended Reading: Return to the Beginnings of a Renaissance Man
Get to know Antonio Howard today by returning to his first book
Antonio Howard is many things. If you ask him, he'll first tell you he's Peggy's son. He'll explain that he introduces himself as such "to invoke her name in spaces where my behavior is one she can be proud of."
What's not to be proud of? He's an accomplished autodidactic artist with impressive murals best observed slowly with feet firmly planted on the ground rather than strolling by, and he's skilled in other media smaller in size and scope but equally impressive and captivating.
Antonio Howard is a community leader — having earned a Public Service Award for his service as a Youth Leadership of Erie instructor — and he's an American Bar Endowment Pardon Fellow, an organizing member of the Erie County Pardon Project, and a graduate of the Jefferson Educational Society's Civic Leadership Academy.
He's a dynamic, powerful public speaker. He is a teacher, and was the first Teaching Artist with Erie Arts & Culture in 2021, working with SafeNet and the Pennsylvania Art Education Association Counsel.
Antonio Howard is the author of three self-published books, the first of which, When A Child Is Worth More Than the Worst Mistake He Ever Made: A Juvenile Lifer Story, takes us back to being Peggy's son. At the age of 15, Antonio Howard was incarcerated and sentenced to life in prison. Today, he still wrestles with the impact his life, behavior, and choices have had on his mother. To make her proud of who he is today, he tells everyone: Antonio Howard, Peggy's son.
I revisited Howard's first book, published in 2012, after attending a presentation he offered on it on a snowy, cold December night at the Erie Center for Arts and Technology. The final event hosted by the Jefferson Educational Society in 2022, the video is available on the think tank's website, which, whether you were in the audience, watching via live stream, or missed it, I encourage you to watch.
I say that in full transparency that one of the several hats I wear is for the JES. I say that, too, because of the scores of programs I've seen, it's one that's left an indelible impression on me. I've been a part of, facilitated, and attended myriad events. I have never seen one like that. Co-presented with his wife Sarah, they offered a dynamic back-and-forth, with Sarah reading passages from When A Child and Antonio unpacking them for the audience.
The passages, and much of the book, is heavy, then light. It's sad, then joyous. It's a complicated story, but told simply and powerfully. Real, raw, and riveting, When A Child presents the man and his journey midstream, between his growth and his struggles, both of the past and in that moment. Of its many strengths (and reasons to read) is its length. Upon a second reading, the careful choosing of each word becomes more apparent. A man with time and his thoughts — the book was published six years before Howard's sentence would be commuted — can take the time to be reflective, to turn over any given word again and again, to write them with real purpose.
Airing dirty family laundry? One might think that. But Howard's account — told in 153 pages, epilogue and acknowledgments included — presents more of an authentic reflection and meditative processing — trauma and healing by the paragraph down to the period, the man come alive on the page.
Antonio Howard is many things. An artist; a teacher; a community leader; a writer; a person formerly incarcerated with a second chance. He's today's Renaissance Man and his first book remains just as powerful and captivating 11 years later.
Ben Speggen can be reached at bSpeggen@ErieReader.com and you can follow him on Twitter @BenSpeggen. He is also the Vice President of the Jefferson Educational Society.