Everybody Has Choices - Not Everybody Has Options
Kevin Banks is a remarkable young man. A graduate of Lincoln High School in south east San Diego, Banks has seen and done much in his 18 years.
“My mom became a mother at age 14,” recounted Banks. “She never really had a chance to have a life.”
Kevin counts himself lucky. In addition to having a mother, he also had his father in his life until he was eight years old. That puts him in a higher percentile than most of his peers in life.
Banks credits his grandfather for being a male figure that he could look up to.
“He taught me all my 50 states and capitals. All my Presidents as well,” recalls Banks with a wistful smile on his face.
Banks may consider himself fortunate to have been raised in a two-parent house for the earliest years of his life, but he also has a very realistic understanding of his environment.
“It’s a good place,” he explained, speaking about south east San Diego where he was raised.
“People who come from La Jolla and stuff, they look at us different, but we’re a unique group. We have a bit of everything here. Business folks. Bad people. Everything in between.”
Kevin considers himself as one of those everyday guys in between but acknowledges that his chosen path isn’t the most popular.
“Some of my friends have chosen the gang lifestyle path. Some have chosen the football path. I’ve chosen education and college. It’s a free country though. I respect the decisions that people make. A lot of my friends grew up in a situation where their parents weren’t really involved. My cousin for example was one of those types. That’s just the way he grew up.”
“My dad came up in that gang lifestyle. My whole dad’s side of the family is tied up in that life. My mom’s side are all teachers and educators. My grandfather was a professor at SDSU for a time. My great-uncle was in Mr. Brunker’s place before Mr. Brunker.”
That’s Mr. Michael Brunker he’s referring to. Director of the Jackie Robinson Family YMCA in San Diego. See, I first met Kevin Banks at the 22nd Annual JRYMCA Gala on April 14th where he had been awarded the Jerry Coleman Perpetual Award scholarship. That night he caught my attention when, during his speech, he said that “everyone has choices in life, but not everybody has options.”
I asked him to clarify what he meant when we caught up a few weeks later.
“Growing up without parents you don’t really have options,” he explained. “It’s hard to grow up good when you’re out here running in these streets by yourself.”
As the oldest child in his family that includes 5 younger brothers, it is clear to see where Kevin’s mature take on life comes from. He’s been the man of the house since he was eight years old.
Banks passed on offers to play D2 college football in favor of focusing on an architecture degree at the University of Arizona where he’ll begin his freshman year in the Fall of 2018. From there he intends to focus on inner-city redevelopment and revitalization.
“Giving back to the community is a big thing for me. A lot of people don’t do it, but I love where I come from.”
Banks has been inspired to pursue a career in architecture since his sophomore year of high school.
“That was the year I really buckled down and got serious with school,” he explained. “I’ve always been into art. I can really draw. Every time I clean my room it doesn’t look clean to me unless I rearrange something.”
Inner-city redevelopment is a very specific calling, even within the world of architecture. As we discussed what prompted that specific focus, Banks used the newly built Jackie Robinson YMCA as an example of what good development looks like and how the right project in the right neighborhood can carry a massive impact.
“This building was not what it is now. It was basically one basketball gym with a little room where people huddled up. Now it’s a full-blown facility. It’s crazy. I think if we were to see this same kind of transformation around the rest of San Diego, people would be a lot more appreciative of what we have.”
Banks himself is certainly appreciative.
“I want to be able to give back to my mom especially. If I get a good job as an architect that’d be the first person I look to give to. I didn’t feel like I was good at public speaking. I didn’t have the confidence to speak at the Jackie Robinson gala. When they called me to ask, and I told them I’d get back to them. They called my mom and she said, ‘oh yea he’s doing it.’”
“She was like ‘you don’t pass up opportunity.’ That’s one thing I learned from the scholarship opportunity. That and you never know who is watching. You found me from that. There are some other people who reached out after that.”
Kid has a point. Kid also has a good head on his shoulders. Most importantly, the kid has the entire world at his feet.