If you think your day is busy, try keeping up with Keynon Lake. The Asheville native is an author, mentor, social worker, radio host and public speaker. And while these ventures are varied, they all share a common thread: working to better the community that Lake calls home.
“One of the biggest issues I’d noticed from being a Child Protective Services social worker was … all the single moms,” he says. In 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 13.7 million single-parent families in America, with 84 percent headed by single moms. “It really bothered me because, as a social worker going from home to home, it didn’t matter where I was. I could have been in Lee Walker Heights in the city of Asheville, or in Barnardsville or Alexander — I was seeing the same thing.”
He adds, “It wasn’t a race problem, it was a human problem. Where are these fathers?”
A North Carolina Central University alumnus, Lake parlayed his pro basketball and sports medicine experience into a career with Buncombe County Health and Human Services, where he is a community service navigator and prevention social worker. Driven to address the questions raised by his line of work, Lake penned the book My Daddy Taught Me That.
While the book deals with social issues, it also pays tribute to Bennie Lake, the author’s father, who was very much present in the household. Bennie Lake played basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters, worked for the Swannanoa Valley Development Center, was vice president of the Stephens-Lee Alumni Association and co-wrote Stephens-Lee Bears Sports Heroes. The elder Lake passed away in 2010, and his obituary read: “He would go out of his way to help anyone in the community and really liked working with children, trying his best to keep them out of trouble.”
“He was my best friend,” says the younger Lake. My Daddy Taught Me That was originally intended as a tribute, he explains. The book evolved to challenge men of all ages to become better role models for the next generation of marginalized youths, as Lake’s website explains. A friend of the author pointed out tha while the book was a good start, its audience is men “and men don’t read.” So in 2012 Lake put his philosophy into practice, launching the My Daddy Taught Me That youth program.
“For the first year and a half, it was all me,” Lake says. He started with eight young men and invested $15,000 of his own savings into the program. These days, 35 kids, ages 12-19, have attended the program. On Mondays and Wednesdays they meet from 6-8 p.m. for a discussion group. Topics range from prison to test scores to politics to how to tie a necktie. And, to broaden young horizons, My Daddy Taught Me That introduces kids to activities outside the area, such as a Charlotte Hornets game or a battle of the bands in Atlanta.
In the near future, Echo Mountain is sponsoring a music program where the kids enrolled in My Daddy Taught Me That can learn everything from production to engineering. Possibilities for a more promising future are introduced to the kids, and “they’re able to have their voices heard,” says Lake. “It’s not just older men lecturing to them.”
He adds, “They’re learning things they would never learn in school — things geared toward helping them be uplifted not only for now, but for the future.”
Thanks to a few donors, My Daddy Taught Me That has been able to expand, adding a focus on employment (with support from Ingles and Bojangles). Two potential funders are on board to offer college scholarships. Still, as with many nonprofits, the financial struggle looms large. “The greatest need is always funding,” says Lake. “But also people who have skills — grant writers and those who can help with the program’s infrastructure.”