For Keynon Lake’s My Daddy Taught Me That program, youth are our greatest resource.
As a kid, Asheville’s Keynon Lake had basketball in his DNA. His father, Bennie, was a professional player with the Harlem Globetrotters from 1968 to 1972, and Keynon, a high school star, would play for both the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and North Carolina Central University, later playing professionally overseas.
But there was more than just sports in Lake’s DNA. His father was also a social worker at the Juvenile Evaluation Center, additionally mentoring sports-inclined youth and emphasizing the need for an education. He told his son about an opening at the Buncombe County Department of Social Services, and it was there that the younger Lake would have the proverbial lightbulb moment: At work he began noticing that kids coming from Child Protective Services were typically being raised by single mothers. The realization was all the more jarring when he considered how fortunate he was to have been raised by a pair of devoted, hard-working parents, both exemplary role models.
When Bennie Lake passed away in 2010, Keynon Lake resolved to pay tribute to his father and what he had meant to his family and community, first with an article in the local newspaper, and later in a book, My Daddy Taught Me That.
“As I was writing,” recalls Lake, “it hit me to do something that he would do, which is to help people. I wanted to talk about the biggest issues and problems I was witnessing in our communities and neighborhoods. My social work experience gave me a front row seat at the current state of our communities locally and across the country. Going in and out of homes on a daily basis, I saw this strange, crazy pattern of no men in the home. When positive male role models are not prevalent in the home, or in the lives of the youth, it causes a lasting effect. And there are also many systematic structures intentionally put in place to target and derail our youth. I felt like creating a program that would concentrate on mentoring, education, job skills, creating self-hope, building confidence, and exposing our youth to mindset-changing events and activities that would break the cycles and obstacles they face in their day-to-day lives.”
The lightbulb had flashed on again. And in July of 2012, the program My Daddy Taught Me That was born.
The mission of My Daddy Taught Me That (MDTMT), originally funded directly from Lake’s pocket and now a nonprofit, is straightforward: It is “designed to support the development, uplift, and education of youth and young males [and teach] how to transition from the young teen adolescent time in their lives into responsible young men; focusing on good decision making, accepting responsibility, and being accountable for their actions.” To that end, Lake and his fellow mentors offer twice-weekly meetings and weekend events, focusing primarily upon ages 12 to 19.
Explains Lake, “What we do differently in our program than other youth mentoring is dedicating the time and exposure for our youth. Building real organic relationships with youth is key. Teenagers have a tendency to see through all the phony/fake falsehoods and see you for what you are. Our program has been a catalyst and model for many other programs in the Asheville area. We provide an atmosphere where youth can not only feel safe, but also know they are not being judged or looked down on no matter what the situation may be.”
He acknowledges there have been hurdles to overcome, including the type most nonprofits struggle with (funding—and there is a waiting list of youth wanting to get into the program), as well as establishing a permanent space or home where youth can have a reliable daily safe haven. But the successes have been joyous ones.
“Where do I start? For one, I am super excited that the youth continue to show up and are eager to learn, grow, and become better. MDTMT has blossomed into an amazing program that is helping almost 50 young men. [There is also] a sister program, My Sistah Taught Me That, working with almost 68 young women.
“What I think I’m most proud about is that we have created one of Asheville’s leading youth programs with little to no major resources or funding. We have been able to accomplish so much with so little.”
Long-term, Lake wants MDTMT to have its own facility, and to eventually expand the program regionally, statewide, even nationwide. “We know that this program works and is changing the youth that attend. We want to be the organization who leads the country in how to change, teach, train, heal, and advocate for our youth everywhere. To truly give the phrase ‘I believe the children are our future’ true meaning by doing the work, and being diligent and dedicated to seeing the change that we want to see and that so many talk about.”
For more info on the program, a schedule of events, videos and a documentary, and how to donate: www.MyDaddyTaughtMeThat.org
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