Rashad Glover, an Oak Park and River Forest High School graduate, is an industrial designer by profession. His passion, though, is making arms on a 3-D printer for disabled people who most need them.
“We pretty much find people who need arms in the ‘urban’ environment, 3-D scan them, then 3-D print custom prosthetics for recipients at no cost to them,” Glover said in a recent interview.
It costs between $300 and $500 to buy the materials to produce each arm, which can take more than a month to make and features a range of bells and whistles like flashlights and cellphone holders. The cost of labor is incalculable, measured mainly in love.
Glover, 35, said his South Side church, New Deliverance, provides him with space and funds to make the prosthetics through a program they’ve been developing for nearly two years. He just delivered the first prosthetic he’s completed through the program to a recipient in Chicago.
Now he wants to bring young people in the western suburbs, and on Chicago’s West and South sides, into the fold. Glover recently partnered with the Oak Park Public Library on a project that will allow him to teach area young people how to make the 3-D prosthetics.
“There are a lot of open-source arm projects out there where people just print the arm without making it fit the person,” Glover said. “My kids will learn how to draw, modify, sand — they’ll be creative. In the process, I’ll be teaching them STEM, reading and other fundamental skills, as well as mentoring them.”
The point of origin for Rashad Glover’s big idea — to help young people, particularly the most vulnerable, learn valuable skills by making free bionic arms for those who have lost limbs — might have been inside a Barnes & Noble in Beaver Creek, Ohio, sometime in the mid-2000s.
That’s when Glover, 35, was able to pick the brain of comedian Dave Chappelle, who had formed a bond with the OPRF graduate while inside a Starbucks in the Beaver Creek bookstore.
He had caught Chappelle’s eye because the two were among the only black people to regularly frequent the store, said Glover, who had been studying for his master’s in business management at Antioch University in nearby Yellow Springs at the time.
“We just struck up a bond,” Glover recalled in a recent interview. “We’d just be sitting there, talking about life and family. One of the last times I saw him before I moved back to Chicago, I told myself I’d have this great question for him.”
When the time came, Glover said, he asked the comedian, “What did you do that took you from where you were before, with your early movies, until now?
“He paused for a second and said, ‘Let me get some cookies and stuff,’ and I’m thinking he’s going to blow me off and sneak out of the store,” Glover recalled. “But he actually found me and said, ‘Always keep good people around you.’ He said the key was 100 percent the circle he was in.”
That moment, for Glover, was both revelatory and prescriptive. It explained a lot of his own success up until then. After all, he said, he had been raised by a village of supporters both within OPRF and the larger Oak Park community.
Glover was a senior in high school, living on his own and working three jobs when Dr. Austin Harton — who along with his wife, Michelle Harton, headed Black Organization Student Support (BOSS) — took him to Radio Shack.
BOSS was a support system that the Hartons ran for their own children, as well as for dozens of African American children at Oak Park schools who needed the kind of nudge the Hartons would give Glover after the teenager told them he wanted to build something special for his friend, Ben Adelman, who had cerebral palsy.
“I showed Dr. Harton what I wanted to do and he said, ‘OK, let’s go get you some supplies,'” Glover recalled. “So he took me to Radio Shack on Madison Street in Oak Park and told me to get whatever I want. I said, ‘What’s my limit?’ He said, ‘There is no limit.'”
Glover took that equipment and made a special contraption that fit over one of Adelman’s hands, allowing him to operate an electric car. One day, Glover pulled his friend out of class to test the finished prototype.
“He slides it on and starts touching his fingers and the toy car zips down the hallway,” Glover said. “Ben starts crying, so security comes toward us because they’re thinking I’m hurting him. At this point, I think I’m going to jail and will get kicked out of school. [Former District 200 superintendent] Sue Bridge even comes to see what’s happening.”
But Adelman, who Glover said had never played a video game or operated a toy car, was crying tears of joy.
“He was like, ‘This is the happiest day of my life,'” Glover recalled, adding that high school officials alerted Wednesday Journal of Glover’s act of kindness. Glover’s aunt sent the subsequent article to Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. Glover credits the article for getting him into college.
Now, fueled by Chappelle’s advice, Glover is intent on recreating the kind of community that helped raise him for the benefit of young people growing up today. Along with the Oak Park library, he also plans to partner with Chicago-based After School Matters to teach 3-D prosthetic production to kids in Chicago.
He said he’s looking to grow his nonprofit, Global Glover Technologies, inside of a three-story building owned by his church.
“My goal is to create a village of entrepreneurial kids in various communities,” he said. “Most people with 3-D printers are printing toys and just wasting plastic. We can be printing stuff that people can use and that makes their lives better.”