By Corbin Smith, Intern
For some individuals, incarceration truly reforms them as they reflect on what actions earned them time in the prison system. Lyrik’s Institute founder Kyle Hollins uses himself as an example for those who learned life’s lessons within the confines of metal bars.
Spending a little more than seven years in prison, Hollins learned things he wished he learned before being locked away. His critical thinking skills are what got him through those long years and helped him restart his life once his time was done.
“Everything I’m doing are things that I learned over the years,” Hollins said. “It just hit me like, ‘Why do I have to go to jail? Why do I have to have a prison ID number to start working on these critical thinking skills that could’ve saved my life?’ Since I came home, I’ve been on this pursuit to make sure [students] have the information they need.”
His nonprofit organization focuses on helping Kansas City’s youth find an interest in creative arts and steer them away from destructive behaviors. He partnered with the Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) to give students better learning experiences.
Northeast High School rising junior Danely Torres was skeptical about joining the program, but after some persuasion from teachers, she decided to take a chance on it.
“Coming here really helps a lot with opening my imagination,” Torres said. “I know I’m getting a lot better at drawing, painting and sketching. At home I usually draw but I’ve been kind of slacking on it.”
Torres found her passion for art in the classroom of her former private school. Once she learned how to shade and other techniques, her interest sprouted. The program helped with her patience, as the art she’s interested in takes time to develop and perfect.
Despite her interest in art, Torres’ dream job lies in the medical field. She explained that she wants to become a doctor but can’t quite find the confidence to commit to the career path.
“My family never really graduated anything, so I guess I would be the first to finally actually become somebody,” Torres said. “I want to become a doctor, but a lot of people don’t really want me to become a doctor, so I don’t know. I feel like being a doctor is a high-top goal that I could do to make my family happy.”
Hollins hopes students learn not to be discouraged by their situation because he also experienced what it’s like to build his life on a rocky foundation. His summer program focuses heavily on cognitive behavior to help students handle real life situations better.
“A lot of times what happens is they put lids on themselves and they think, ‘I can’t get out, it’s just the way it is,’” Hollins said. “So, what we do is examine some mitigating factors that make these things happen to us. Once we get those cultural norms, we challenge them.”
The first part of the program works on examining students’ thought processes and changing them to be more productive and healthy in today’s society. The second part is dedicated to exploring students’ creative interests.
Hollins said he focuses on the “surviving and living theory” to help students understand the best way to navigate their current status in the world. The survival part of the theory is doing whatever it takes for someone to survive in that moment. The living part is how someone acts in order to set themselves up to live a year from that moment.
For the first six weeks of the program, he uses this theory and other critical thinking curriculum to reshape how students think and behave for the betterment of their future.
The Lyrik’s Institute partnered with KCAI to provide students with not only art studios, but recording studios for those interested in music. Hollins also acknowledged that not all students would be interested in creative arts, so he reached out to truck companies and printing companies to appeal to interests in the marketing realm.
For University Academy rising junior Jaquez Jackson, the program gave him the opportunity to learn from experienced artists and hone his own skills. After he graduates, Jackson wants to find work as a car designer or work in animation.
“This was an amazing opportunity I had to jump on,” Jackson said. “I learned more skills to better my career as an artist and I hope to come away with a few friends, or people in general, I can call up and ask for help.”
Jackson learned much of his early skills from a cousin who introduced him to art. Now, he’s inspired by many of his favorite anime shows like Naruto and Dragon-ball Z, and has drawn portraits of his favorite characters.
On July 23, a gala was held to honor the alumni of the summer program, like Jackson and Torres, and showcase how much they’ve grown through it. In its first year the program was able to reach a wide range of youth from around the Kansas City area, and Hollins plans to continue offering opportunities for students to better themselves and explore their creative interests.
“The biggest thing I want students to walk away with is that they are not their circumstances,” Hollins said. “Your circumstances make you more powerful. They’re equipped with experience and education. If you combine those two things, the world is at your feet. You can do anything.”
More information on the Lyrik’s Institute and its mission to help the Kansas City youth can be found at https://www.lyriksinstitute.com/