Corny as it might sound, some people are just born to give. They have a big hearts that way, and a big heart appears to be what draws Kelechi Javaaid to work with youngsters. “Kids,” he says, “need a role model. They need somebody to kind of give them some wits about life. It’s a great pleasure to help out in that way.”
As a consultant to the Minneapolis Public Schools system and charter institutions over the past seven years, including Dunwoody Academy High School, Edison High School and North High, Javaaid has conducted creative writing classes and workshops utilizing poetry and spoken word, encouraging students to express themselves a bit more constructively than they may be used to.
He’s often called in to handle classes where the kids don’t customarily gravitate to academics and, in fact, can be quite a challenge. “At one school, it was nothing to be breaking up fist fights on a regular basis. I’m not a small guy, so my size comes in handy. But sometimes they’ve taken a swing at me, too.”
At which point, swinging back would invite a lawsuit, so he has to be careful to restrain the youngster while not dealing out any damage. “It’s not easy. A lot of these kids can take care of themselves, you know? They good with their hands. If you don’t know what you’re doing, they’ll take care of you, too.
“I don’t try to be anyone’s tough guy,” Javaaid says, “but fortunately, yeah, I do know what I’m doing.” Why bother? With the experience he has under his belt, couldn’t Javaaid do his best to avoid such troublesome conditions? “Sure, I could. Then, I’d be like everybody else who turns their back on kids just because they act like knuckleheads.
“Who hasn’t acted like a knucklehead sometime when they were young? Besides, in this economy, it’s stupid to not take the job somebody else is scared to do. Bottom line, though, all children count. Not just the ones who behave nice.”
Accordingly, Javaaid has signed on to consult at Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center, helping in an effort to turn teenagers in the right direction and hopefully steering them off roads to a dead-end future of revolving door recidivism. And he is looking forward to it.
“Yeah, I welcome the chance. Not that I mind the paycheck — it’s an opportunity to make some money. You have to understand, though, it’s a way to reach these kids who, really, are our future.
“It’s a chance to maybe help them make a better decision in life. To let them understand that hey, everybody make mistakes. There’s an opportunity out there for you. It’s not going to be easy. You still have to be willing to try, be willing to apply yourself and turn it around. You can’t change your mistakes, can’t go back and do it over. That don’t mean you can’t have as good a chance as anybody.”
You have to believe that a good piece of why his message resonates with youngsters, especially those designated as being “at risk,” is that Javaaid doesn’t come into their environment as some sort of social-working stranger in a strange land. “I’ve had it tough myself and pulled myself up. So, that makes for a common ground.
“In a way, you could say we speak the same language. You can’t fool young people. They know if you understand what they dealing with or if you just up there in front of them, well, frontin’. They can tell the difference.”
As for his caring nature, he says, “If you don’t care about nobody else, who will care about you? It doesn’t cost you anything to give a damn about the next person. And you never know when you’ll need the next person to want to help you out.”
At 6’-6”, it’s no surprise he loves to play basketball and can be found any afternoon he’s not minding a classroom racing up and down the court shooting hoops at a community recreation center. “It helps me stay in shape. That and going to the gym. Keeps me in good shape, and it’s fun.”
Fun is another key aspect to Kelechi Javaaid: He loves to kid around and has a way with telling stories. Put the two together and you have his true dream — to prevail as a professional comic. Pursuant to which, every chance he gets away from working his day job, Javaaid, going by the stage name K Jay, is hard at it, hitting the open mics and hustling up gigs. And doesn’t do badly at it as the opening act at shows and headlining now and then.
It helps pay the bills. Speaking of which, how does he feel President Barack Obama is doing in terms of fixing the economic mess America is in? “You can’t ask the man to walk on water,” says Javaaid. “Even if he did, the Republicans would find something wrong with that. He got handed a shovelful of s**t and people think he can make it smell like roses in just four years. Give him a chance.”
Is he going to vote to re-elect Obama? “That’s not really anybody’s business. When you go into the voting booth, that’s private. What I will tell you is that I’ll vote my conscience.”
Meanwhile, Kelechi Javaaid is glad to be working when a lot of people can only wish they had jobs. “I’m fortunate. Both in teaching kids and doing comedy, I earn a living doing something I believe in. And something I love. Not many, can say that. Really, I am blessed.”
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.