PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — CBS3 is celebrating Black History Month. We are sharing stories about the unsung heroes who make the ordinary extraordinary, including a father of two autistic children who embraced the challenge of finding their hidden gifts. Now that he knows it is possible, he opened a space in Northern Liberties for other members of the autistic community to do the same.
A man and his work, Kembel Smith is a published author and contemporary artist with pieces displayed in galleries and museums in the United States and abroad.READ MORE: Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade, Allowing States To Ban Abortion
“There’s a real hunger for great work so regardless of the maker, I think, but I was very impressed,” contemporary art curator Chris Byrne said.
The 35-year-old star has come a long way from an uncontrollable teenager with intense anger.
“The doctor told me electroshock therapy would fix him,” Lonnie Smith, Kembel’s father, said.
But dad Lonnie canceled that appointment. He soon learned his non-verbal son was autistic, and one day, inside a half-open vent, he found crumpled pieces of paper.
“I couldn’t believe how beautiful the drawings were,” Lonnie said.
Those drawing are now sold on the Metaverse for thousands of dollars.
Back then while creating new characters, Kembel uttered his first words.
“I was shocked at first, then that kind of opened me up. I knew I had him,” Lonnie said.
Before you knew it, the self-taught artist graduated to creating iconic pieces from cardboard boxes.
“I never take a break. I just kept on moving,” Kembel said.READ MORE: Philadelphia School Of Circus Arts In West Mounty Airy Kicks Off Summer Camp
His younger brother Kantai is also autistic, mute until the third grade. His superpower? Numbers.
“I wanted to make it real good and make my dad real proud of me,” Kantai said.
He’s talking about the game he created using his brother’s characters. Due to non-traditional grades, Kantai was denied entry to college. So, dad went out and got a degree in coding.
“I had to really dig in because I wanted him to be really good without that degree,” Lonnie said.
Inspired by the brilliance of his sons, Lonnie created a virtual reality space for others in the community with autism to have a safe haven.
“I know for a fact that results are instantaneous,” Lonnie said.
They’re now working with Jefferson University to build a network of health professionals that can tap into the virtual reality space.
“They have really good people over there,” Lonnie said.
They call themselves “Autisarians,” a place where autism is a gift.
The single father is devoted to helping those living with autism discover their hidden talents.MORE NEWS: Roe v. Wade Overturned: Here's What It Means For Residents In Pennsylvania, New Jersey And Delaware
While cultivating his sons’ talents, he’s also teaching them life skills so they can one day venture out and live on their own.