The Art of Healing: Antavious Morgan's Story
Art classes at Shepherd Center offered a new outlet for Antavious Morgan and his creativity.
Antavious Morgan does not shy away from hard work. Before his spinal cord injury, the Atlanta resident renovated houses, installed appliances, and drove trucks for a living. The schedule was often grueling, and the hours were long.
To refuel his own tank, Antavious, 32, kept up a passion project, one that allowed him to tap into his creative side.
“I love hip-hop,” he says. “I performed, I recorded, I did it as much as I could. That was my thing.”
The music stopped on the morning of June 13, 2019. Antavious was out on a delivery driving through Mt. Airy, Georgia, when the brakes in his box truck went out. The truck ran off the road, struck a ditch, and shot down an embankment, coming to a stop on a parallel parkway only after running through a power pole with enough steam to pull the pole right out of the ground.
First responders transported Antavious to Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, where he was told he had a C-6-to-C-7 spinal cord injury. About three weeks later, he made it to Shepherd Center, where he started physical and occupational therapy in the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program.
“I was pretty down and stressed about what I could do moving forward,” Antavious says. Because of his injury, he is unable to walk and has minimal ability to move his hands and arms.
Antavious credits his case manager, Brandi Milford, and his occupational therapist, Abby Baker, MOT, OTL, CAPS, with helping him look ahead — and for pointing him toward recreational therapy options. Shepherd Center’s recreational therapy programs, which are donor-funded, help patients regain skills and confidence, and discover new interests, too. Antavious learned to play quad rugby, took horticulture classes, and worked out in the ProMotionFitness Center.
He also signed up for a painting class taught by Shepherd Center Arts Specialist Alexandra Chukabarah, MS. Little did he know just how life-changing that decision would be.
“Alex was awesome,” Antavious says. “If you don’t think you can do something, she can bring it out of you. She’s got that skill. If it wasn’t for her, I probably wouldn’t be into art like I am now.”
Painting allowed Antavious to challenge himself physically while healing emotionally.
It’s therapeutic in both ways,” he says. “Physically, it works my muscles, helps my hands and fingers. Mentally, it’s an escape. Art real quickly gave me a sense of peace. It relieved my stress, increased my focus. It was a new creative outlet for me, beyond music."
As Antavious continues his physical therapy, he’s sustained his artistry, too. After returning home, one of his first purchases was for canvases, paintbrushes, and paint.
“The more I paint, the more I feel like I can really see a vision for what I’m creating,” Antavious says. “I can sit down, sketch something out, and start painting what I seein my mind.”
His pursuit of art also gives him the confidence to reconsider his future. He’s thinking about art school, where he could combine his longtime love of music and his newfound passion for art. He’s happy his nieces and nephews see the work he’s putting in, too, and the new dreams he’s cultivating.
Antavious also has a secret wish up his sleeve. At Shepherd Center, he recalls that one of the things that motivated him was the artwork in the buildings.
"You look all around, even up at the ceilings while you’re working out, and there are motivational drawings and motivational messages everywhere,” he says. “Those were really touching. They make you want to keep going, keep pushing. To be honest, seeing all those is what made me get into the art classes.
“I’d love to contribute something up on the walls or ceiling at Shepherd Center someday. Help someone else to keep pushing. Inspire them to get in touch with their creative side. Even if you don’t do great at art, trying won’t hurt. And you never know what it might stir inside.”
Written by Phillip Jordan
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neurological conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.