About Lewis Keys
Lewis Keys (@thejoelkeyssr) is a Texas native that comes with over 10 years of experience working as a Youth Development Professional. He specializes in the areas of teen engagement, family enrichment, and activities programming.
Now a resident of Sacramento, CA, he serves in a senior-level leadership position providing resources and programming to military families throughout the State of California. Lewis truly believes that “connection with today’s youth is built by healthy transparency from those who lead them”.
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today I have the awesome privilege of interviewing Lewis Keys. I had the amazing opportunity to work with him and his youth over at the California national guard for a six week program over the summertime. And he actually, you know, was open to the idea of coming on the show to share a little bit about his own experiences working with young people and his journey in a leadership position working with youth. Lewis is a Texas native that comes with over 10 years of experience working as a youth development professional.
Sam Demma (01:10):
He specializes in the areas of teen engagement, family enrichment and activities programming. Now a resident of Sacramento, California, he serves in a senior level leadership position providing resources and programming to families throughout the state of California. Lewis truly believes that connection with today’s youth is built by healthy transparency from those who lead them. For more information, I’ll drop Lewis’ contact information in the bio of this episode so stay tuned for that, but enjoy the episode and I will see you on the other side. Lewis, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show all the way from California . Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit behind your own journey and how you got into the work you’re doing today with young people?
Lewis Keys (01:56):
Well, right on man. Well, Sam, first off, man, it’s a pleasure man to be here. I’m excited to have gotten to, to have known you so far, man, and, and an honor to be here on this podcast. But man, how I got started, it started back in 2010, and I was working with a program called upward bound in back in college. It was a summer program for high schoolers; well, middle schoolers and high schoolers who wanted to get, you know, 6-8 weeks of the college experience per se on campus and stuff like that. And so, you know, I worked that I was a, a activity leader for, for that, and that was fun. It was great and I realized like, you know, I had a knack for, you know, reaching young people, you know, and talking to them and meeting them right where they were and understanding that they aren’t, that they aren’t, you know, just troubled kids per se, but they are young people that need older guidance.
Lewis Keys (02:59):
and so I, I came to realize that and again, over the years I’ve worked with various youth organizations, the boys and girls clubs, great organization. I worked with other smaller organizations I’m originally from Texas. So I worked in community organizations in Dallas. So that was fun obviously. And then I made a move here to California continued to work the boys and girls club. And now I work with military youth. And so it’s been a journey it’s been good. So that’s kind of how I got my start.
Sam Demma (03:32):
Did someone inspire you when you were a young person or did some, did you have an older human being that gave you wisdom when you were a young person?
Lewis Keys (03:42):
You know, it was, it was a lot of different people from football coaches, baseball coaches family, friends relatives, you know men, men that I looked up to that were really encouraging, even women, you know, who were super encouraging and, and saw potential and said, Hey, you, you have something great. You know, don’t lose it. But I think the most pivotal inspiration was my aunt. She told me I was probably about 14 and I was sitting in my, my, I was at my grandfather’s house and I was in the back room and I was watching TV and she said, come here. And I walked over to, but I walked over there with my head kind of slumped down, you know, head down, just kind of slow, whatever she said, stop. She said, pick your head up. And I said, okay. She said, pick your head up. She said one, we don’t walk with our head down. We’re not gonna walk with our head down. We want you to see where you’re going. Right. And she was speaking obviously with vision and stuff like that for the future, but she was like, you know, pick your head up. But then the next thing she said, I want you to tell you, I wanna tell you something. She said, never forget your influence.
Sam Demma (04:48):
Lewis Keys (04:49):
And she told me that and I never forgot it. And I remember, and I always keep that with me that no matter who I’m talking to or whether it be young, you know, young kids or whether it be, you know, adults, other adults, no matter I go, I always remember her words, you know, remember your influence. And so that is that, that I would say that’s the one person who really inspired me a lot.
Sam Demma (05:14):
Speaking in front of any group of people, young or old is a huge responsibility because of that fact you have influence or over them, you know, how do you make sure that your messaging and your programs that you have run are helping students and influencing them in, in positive ways?
Lewis Keys (05:34):
I look at it I’ll be honest. I, I take a look and I say, what would I have wanted when I was their age? Hmm. You know, I put myself back in their shoes and say, what would I have wanted and also needed. Right. for example, you know, I, we try to do, I try to make sure we do career prep, college prep, things, also exposing them to entrepreneurship. I try to make sure we expose them to financial literacy, you know, things like that. I, cause I say to myself again, what would I have? What did I need at that age? And what would I have wanted?
Sam Demma (06:07):
Mm that’s a really good way to look at it. And you know, I want to go back to 10 years ago when you first initially started I’m sure like, like yourself and anyone who does something new for the first time, it’s a little bit challenging and it’s a little bit different. Did you have any experiences or road bumps along the way that you really learned from as a youth worker?
Lewis Keys (06:27):
Yeah. Yes. And that, that particular challenge came in the form of you can’t beat too familiar with those you lead. And so I had to understand that though, I though I had enjoyed having fun with the kids and we played and we did different activities and games. They had to still view me as a, an authority figure as a leader. Right. And I had to mature as a leader. So that definitely a roadblock that I, that I had to grow into that I had to learn and I had to develop that skill.
Sam Demma (07:05):
Yeah. Well, could you, if you don’t mind, if it isn’t too much to ask, can you tell me a little more about the experience or and if it’s you know, some names you can change the names or, you know, just to keep it private
Lewis Keys (07:16):
Of course. No, no, of course, man. I was, I know, especially really I’d say, I, I didn’t, I didn’t catch it about 20, about 2010, but it really caught up to me about 2012 or 2013. When I worked the boys and girls club, I was in Dallas and worked at a particular club down there and I’d gotten to know the youth, you know, I, I had probably out of college graduating under undergrad, maybe a few months. Yeah. You know, so I wasn’t too far removed from still being a student. Right. And I was a graduate student at the time. And so I was only five, six years, you know, separated from some of these kids in aged. And so I found myself doing activities that were fun with them. And I remember doing some activities that were really fun and we had days and days out where I would joke with some of the kids and, and laugh and we’d play.
Lewis Keys (08:11):
And I remember one time where I knew that there had to be a line to be drawn. We were on our way to a, a, a program that evening could all collegiate steps. And that’s where you take some of your older high school seniors, or your whole older high school kids, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and you get them exposed to different things, preparing them for college. Mm. And I remember that evening on the way there having one young man, I won’t say his name, but having one young man, he just, you know, he was one of the ones that I would always joke with laugh and he would go back and forth. But this particular night he was, he was being a little bit extra, as we would say, he was doing a little bit more than, than most. Yeah. cause he just, you know, he saw me as a friend, so he just kept going and kept going. And even while we were there collegiate steps, I’m like, Hey, stop talking. You’re playing too much. He would dismiss me, man, whatever, whatever, whatever. Mm. And I remember, I remember that night I had to have a very good, good, good, good talk. A very good talk. And I’m to said like that, I had to have a very stern talking to with him and letting him know like the way you acted tonight was completely outta bounds. Mm.
Lewis Keys (09:25):
You were completely outta line. You, you were, you weren’t listening to nobody, you know, you weren’t doing any of this and it wouldn’t be, I would be well within my right to suspend you from the club or whatever. And then he said something to me. He said, well, it’s not my fault that you act like one of us.
Sam Demma (09:43):
Lewis Keys (09:44):
And it was, it was a chin check. I had to take it Sam. Honestly, I had to take it right on the chin because it was it right. Then it taught me that you can’t lead them and also be a among them. Mm. And so I had to take that into consideration. And then from that moment on, I changed the way I approached programming, the way I approached leadership, the way I approached getting to know kids. And I learned that you have to establish a boundary up front of, I am in charge and I’m here to, to encourage you and lead you. Right. But I am not one to be messed with. I am not your friend. Right. I am one to help to the next level. And so that was definitely an experience I had to I had to take you with me. I went home that night, not, I mean, it was in my mind, just replant and replant to grow from that experience. I had to learn from it.
Sam Demma (10:40):
Thank you for sharing. First of all, and being vulnerable to share the whole story. I appreciate it. And I’m sure all the educators listening right now. Appreciate it also. And you know, being 21 myself, I sometimes feel like students might feel as though I’m just like them. And there might be a blurring of boundaries in certain situations. So hearing you say this now is kind of making me think how I can apply it to my own situations when I’m working with young people as well. So I, I appreciate you sharing. How do you think we bridge that gap between being relatable, but also being the leader? You know, like those are, they seem like they’re two separate things, but I feel like we can bridge them. Like how do we actually practically do that?
Lewis Keys (11:18):
It’s one, one word transparency.
Sam Demma (11:21):
Lewis Keys (11:23):
It’s one word transparency. You have to be obviously have boundaries, obviously. Well, two words, boundaries and transparency. One, you set boundaries, which you do at the beginning. You say, Hey, I am, I am here to lead. I’m here to encourage, I’m here to help push you to the next level. But also people don’t con connect with someone they aren’t, they don’t feel connected to, they won’t connect unless they feel like you can relate to me. And how can, how can I, as a I’m I’m, I’m 32, right. As you consider, you know? Right. but I’m , but I’m, I’m 32. Yeah. And how can a 17 year old feel connected to a 32 year old through experiences? Mm. Me being vulnerable about and, and transparent about my experiences. You may have experienced, you know, you may be that 17 year old may be experiencing a time where they’re ensuring themselves.
Lewis Keys (12:17):
They’re not confident as whether it be as a athlete or as a singer, as a writer, as a, a, a musician or whatever as a leader. Well, I can take you back to what, 2006, when I felt UN not confident as a athlete when I had scholarships, but I wasn’t what I wanted to take. When I felt, when I dropped the ball, you know, all these different things, sharing our transparent stories, right. Because stories are what connects us. Right. If you think, look at human history, everything we know most of what we know about human history is passed down through stories. Yeah. And so I think it’s a, it’s being trans parent about our stories, right. Within the bounds of obviously keeping it appropriate of course, by being transparent about our stories and seeing how we can encourage them and bridge that gap so that they can say so that that young person can say, wow, okay. Yeah, they may be older, but that here it is. But they understand
Sam Demma (13:13):
Story are universal. Right. I, I think that’s why it’s so important that we share them. You know, if a teacher’s listening right now, how would you recommend they share their stories with their kids? Like how do you usually share your personal experiences with your programs and with your students to make sure they can build that relatability?
Lewis Keys (13:31):
Of course. I, if anybody’s listening, if you, you wondering how, how you can set that up, I would say it starts with environment first with the setting. You, I wouldn’t say, try to try to share your stories while they’re taking a standardized test. Yeah.
Sam Demma (13:45):
not the sound,
Lewis Keys (13:47):
Not really the, not really the moment. Yeah. But set it up, set up your environment, set up the setting where it’s comfortable letting some boundaries be known saying, Hey, we’re gonna keep this thing appropriate, but Hey, I want us to have an open space today. I want us to have some free talk today. Right. Cause a lot of times, you know, we say, okay, well we have to get the programming done. We have to get the lesson in or whatever, but it’s okay to pause for about 45 minutes and say, Hey, let’s, let’s have some moments to share. You can set it up. It can be something that is on go. It could be twice a week. You know, things like that, setting up moments and times where they can share and, and what they’re going through. And of course with teenagers and even with younger kids, they’re not gonna tell you everything that’s going on.
Lewis Keys (14:30):
Right. But asking those filler questions, how you, how you guys feeling what’s been going on with you guys, what’s happening. I do a thing. Something that I do is called high, low time. And so we do high, low time. I do with some I I’ll I’ll ask, Hey, we’re gonna do some high, low time. And what high, low time is, is that tell us some highs from your week, some positive things, some great things, some good things that happened. Some things that you saw or you were like, yo I’m I really, I was really appreciating that, but then tell us some lows, some things that you didn’t like, some things that happened that weren’t so positive. Right? And so what that does is that begins to open up, right? The can so that they can begin to, you know, start to unpack some things. And you’ll be surprised how many kids will start to look forward to high, low time, because they’ll get a chance to unpack stuff.
Sam Demma (15:16):
And other people in their life might not be asking them those same questions or willing to hear it or not even be aware of it. Whereas when it’s an outside source, it’s almost like a strange ally, right? They they’re, you’re there to support, but you’re not a family member or a friend. And I think that makes a huge difference. You do this in class, like during the sessions we do on Friday at the beginning of the last one you asked, tell us some highs, tell us some lows and students are sharing question for you. Why military youth now you’ve progressed in, you know, worked with many different young people. Now you’re with the California guard, what’s brought you to, to this specific, or what’s called you to this specific group of kids.
Lewis Keys (15:57):
You know, I honestly think that there is a need and I think there’s one a need. But also I think that powers beyond myself understood that COVID was coming and that, you know, I, I think we’re all called for a certain time and for a certain season and certain places. Yeah. And I believe that where I am now I was needed here for this particular time for COVID happening, right. For pre COVID because here I am, you know, this guy that used to work with, with, with and girls club youth and, and you know, kids in impoverished neighborhoods and, you know, coming from, you know, an impoverished neighborhood myself relating to that, to now working with military youth, you know, some of these youth, they, they may not even understand like, wait, what, I don’t, I don’t get this. I don’t get that.
Lewis Keys (16:50):
What are you talking about? And I think it is been, it’s been a, a good experience, but I think being here now what’s brought, it, brought me here. Now it is opening up perspectives mm. For our kids opening up perspectives. Because a lot of times, you know, depending on where we’re brought up, where we’re raised, what we do, we see the world one way mm-hmm . And I think that I have been privileged since being here to expose our military youth here statewide to things that that are different than their surroundings, different than their, what they’re used to. Right. They see things differently. And I think exposing them to some, some, some realities and, and some different things here of, of the, not just the state, but in the world. And I think it’s been a, it’s been an encouragement. It’s been a benefit, not only to our youth, but not only to our program, but even to some of our leaders, you know, they tell us, thank you just for what you share and what you offer. So yeah,
Sam Demma (17:50):
Love that. Love that. Thank you so much for sharing a little more about the program and what brought you here now? Where do you see yourself in like five or 10 years? , it’s a, sometimes it’s a tough question, but where, where do you see yourself in five, 10 years,
Lewis Keys (18:05):
Man? I, I honestly see. I, you know, I truly see that, you know, I’ll progress in other ways, whether it be speaking abroad in different places. I, I definitely see myself leading leading a, whether it be a, in a church setting, whether it be a, a, like I said, religious setting in that, in that aspect, but then also, but I also see myself obviously, different business ventures, all these different things, but I above all, I see myself taking care and loving on people still. I see myself to love on people.
Sam Demma (18:42):
I love that. That’s awesome. Cool. Lewis, thank you so much for taking the time today to come on the show and just chat a little bit about your philosophies and how you approach your programming with these young people in these programs. If someone wants to reach out to you and have a conversation, what would be an email they could, you know, reach you at or the best way to get in touch?
Lewis Keys (19:04):
Sure, sure. If you guys reach out to me, you can reach out to my personal email; it’s firstname.lastname@example.org. So reach out, love to hear from you.
Sam Demma (19:32):
Lewis, thank you so much again for coming on the show. I can’t wait for the next week session and we’ll talk soon.
Lewis Keys (19:39):
All right, Sam. Much appreciated, thank you brother.
Sam Demma (19:41):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.
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