‘Rewriting the narrative’: Kyle Lackey among St. Louis students featured in KNOW US display

by | Apr 21, 2020

Despite obstacles, graduate student Kyle Lackey pursued a college degree and now strives to give back to others in the St. Louis community.
Kyle Lackey, graduate student

Kyle Lackey’s participation in the Active Advocacy Council gave him the opportunity to advocate for need-based scholarships and grants and factored into his selection as a featured student in the KNOW US display. The exhibit celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis and featured the stories of nine students supported by the foundation. (Photo provided by Kyle Lackey)

Kyle Lackey stood in front of 300 people gathered in the Missouri History Museum. The spotlight shown on him as a February snowstorm raged outside. Lackey’s task was to finish these statements: “I am” and “I will.”

“I am a son, uncle, brother, friend, student, scholar, co-worker and change agent,” he began. “I will not stop advocating for change in our education system until the St. Louis question of ‘where did you go to high school?’ becomes obsolete.”

The University of Missouri–St. Louis College of Education graduate student wasn’t supposed to be pursuing a master’s in adult and higher education. He wasn’t supposed to go to college at all. At least, that’s what the voices around him said.

Lackey was diagnosed with a learning disability at an early age and felt disconnected from education. Coming from a low-income family made a college degree seem even more out of reach.

But Lackey wasn’t willing to follow the path that had been set for him. He was determined to write his own story.

That story led him back to his hometown of Florissant, Missouri, after spending part of his childhood in Wisconsin. Once home, he earned an associate degree at St. Louis Community College in Florissant Valley and a bachelor’s in business administration from UMSL. Now pursuing a master’s in adult and higher education, his story is inspiring other St. Louis students.

“I had to unlearn that I had a learning disability, that I wouldn’t be able to accomplish college,” Lackey said. “That narrative was written for me. I needed to figure out what was my truth, not the truth that was given to me.”

His journey is chronicled in “KNOW US: Stories of St. Louis students finding their way,” a digital storytelling display created by the Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis. The exhibit celebrates the organization’s 100th anniversary by highlighting nine students supported by the foundation.

Lackey was chosen in part due to his participation in the Active Advocacy Coalition, which provided him the opportunity to visit Jefferson City and advocate to reallocate funds to need-based grants and scholarships.

The students featured in the display showcased their creative talents in their stories. Formats included photographs, paintings, poetry and songs. Lackey incorporated video into his narrative.

“They put us in contact with authors, like Junot Díaz, to talk about writing our stories,” Lackey said. “I wanted to cover everything, and I learned that you have to pick parts of your story to tell. You need to control your narrative. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I want them to be inspired to think about the future.”

The KNOW US exhibit consisted of two interactive kiosks located in the Missouri History Museum entrance, where visitors were invited to click on and view the stories. Lackey’s niece visited the museum for the first time to see the display, and she saw herself featured in her uncle’s story.

Lackey’s participation in the project gave him the opportunity to show his gratitude for the Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis, which provided financial support for him to pursue a degree and advocate for need-based student support. He also embraced sharing his story as a way to connect with others.

“We all know what it’s like to be hurt,” he said. “We all know what it’s like to be happy. Sharing my story and hearing other people share their stories provided a common ground. Growing up poor and labeled with a learning disability, you feel like you’re secluded in your own bubble. That’s not the case. We’re in this together.”

That sense of community drew Lackey to UMSL. He felt at home among the nontraditional student population and was inspired by the university’s mission to support St. Louis and transform lives through upward social mobility.

Lackey channels UMSL’s mission in his graduate assistant position at the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and he serves on the Chancellor’s Cultural Diversity Council, Access and Advocacy Council and the University of Missouri System’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Council.

His experiences at UMSL and growing up in Florissant have inspired a passion for a career in diversity, equity and inclusion. Lackey’s ultimate goal is to work in the Promise Zone, areas designated due to their high unemployment, high crime and mortality rates, significant numbers of vacant lots and abandoned buildings and homelessness. He hopes to create a workshop to educate the community’s youth about opportunities to fund higher education.

To reach that goal, he’s participating in the Neighborhood Leadership Fellows program – a collaboration between UMSL, University of Missouri Extension and St. Louis Promise Zone-St. Louis Economic Development Partnership – to learn strategies for increasing social mobility in his community.

“There’s a lot of good things here,” he said. “I just want to shine light on our community, because it is beautiful in all the brokenness. My purpose in telling my story is so that maybe a gem can be dropped and picked up from someone who can relate, and the seed is planted. My life has transformed from attending UMSL. I want others to experience that same type of transformation.”

View Lackey and other students’ stories in the online KNOW US display.

Karen Holman

Karen Holman

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