Resilience and Rural Life with Dawayne Kirkman
Lorilee sits down with longtime friend Dawayne Kirkman to talk all about resilience, family, their shared rural upbringing, and much more. Dawayne is the Vice President of Student Affairs at Clark State College where he works with students to overcome challenges and find success. His role has given him insight into the incredible power of mentorship and why it’s so important to “pay it forward.”
- On Dawayne’s playlist: “All I Want for Christmas is You” – Mariah Carey
- Owning where you come from
- Witnessing alcoholism as a child
- The power of forgiveness
- How Dawayne found peace and healing for himself
- Bringing purpose and passion into work
- The importance of mentorship
- Positive affirmations and being the best version of yourself
- One tool for our G&G toolbox
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Episode 5 – Dawayne Kirkman
[00:00:00] Lorilee Rager: Hey, I am Lorilee Rager and this is Ground and Gratitude. It is a podcast about designing the life you want, one that not only grows but also gives.
Before today’s episode, we have a message from our sponsor. The Ground and Gratitude podcast is sponsored by Her Bank. Her Bank by Legends Bank knows that women are busy being the CEOs of their lives and their time is valuable. So Her Bank was designed to offer a banking experience that provides flexibility and convenience with care. This is why I value them as a partner of the Ground and Gratitude podcast. So check out Her-Bank.com online to learn more. Her Bank is a brand of Legends Bank. Legends Bank is member FDIC equal housing lender.
My guest today is a lifelong friend of mine, Dawayne Kirkman. From the day I met him in middle school, he has always had an infectious smile and joy beaming from all around him. He is a resilient, kind, and brilliant person. I am so very happy to call him a friend. He’s the Vice President of Student Affairs at Clark State College. Today, we are going to be talking all about resilience and family, and so very much more. You are in for a treat.
[00:01:47] Dawayne Kirkman: I love it. I’m so excited to be here. And I love that Dolly Parton’s in the background.
[00:01:51] Lorilee Rager: Yes. We have to have Dolly with us all the time.
[00:01:55] Dawayne Kirkman: She’s with me.
[00:01:56] Lorilee Rager: Good, good. She’s here with us. Yes. My Dolly painting in the background is…
[00:02:01] Dawayne Kirkman: I love it.
[00:02:02] Lorilee Rager: She wasn’t supposed to be really the front and center until the pandemic hit, and now everyone knows she’s up here with me in my writing studio and she just, she just joins in.
[00:02:14] Dawayne Kirkman: She’s a hero. She really is a hero of mine.
[00:02:16] Lorilee Rager: Yes, mine too, mine too.
[00:02:17] Dawayne Kirkman: My children get her books every month. Well, now it’s just Lilly.
[00:02:21] Lorilee Rager: Oh, Imagination Library.
[00:02:21] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah. And she’s just someone that is just so creative and she’s cared about her community. Just so talented. I love her.
[00:02:29] Lorilee Rager: Her songs and her truth, um, just really, really, really speak to me. I resonate with it. Her, her upbringing in the rural, you know, areas, we get it. We know this, we know this.
[00:02:40] Dawayne Kirkman: I do get it.
[00:02:41] Lorilee Rager: So well, that’s so funny because I was going to ask you my kickoff question, speaking of Dolly Parton and music, what song is on repeat on your playlist today?
[00:02:54] Dawayne Kirkman: [Laughter]. Okay. So Lorilee, this is funny. I am not, like, I don’t have any of the technology. I am so old. I do like a good CD. People would laugh at me,
[00:03:05] Lorilee Rager: That’s okay, we’re not judging.
[00:03:06] Dawayne Kirkman: You know. You’re right. So, I’m not going to be ashamed to admit this, that Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” might be in rotation because it’s November the third and, uh, you know, it’s time, it’s time for the holidays. So, uh,
[00:03:20] Lorilee Rager: I love that. Mariah Carey speaks to me too, even, even that you, speaking of middle school days and all of that. Mariah Carey’s where it’s at.
[00:03:29] Dawayne Kirkman: Well, I love Christmas and I love the holidays I think just because it’s a simpler time. It’s family. It’s um, there’s also spiritual things that it means to me. And I’ve never been a big Halloween person. Like my kids love it, my wife loves it. I’m like, is it November 1st yet? Because I’m ready for Christmas and Thanksgiving and then Christmas Eve. So, uh, yeah, so I would, I’m, I’m half ashamed that it’s on my rotation, but then the other half of me, I’m not ashamed at all.
[00:03:56] Lorilee Rager: If you could ask anybody at my work like November 1 is when we change the music on hold. It’s, it’s Hard Candy, Christmas, speaking of Dolly, like Mariah Carey’s on there. Yes.
[00:04:07] Dawayne Kirkman: Come on.
[00:04:07] Lorilee Rager: I’m in it. Cause I also, Halloween, I said this to somebody the other day, Halloween to me, maybe because I did grow up in such a rural area, my granny was the next door neighbor two miles down the road, and we
[00:04:21] Dawayne Kirkman: You had to drive in the car and jump out.
[00:04:23] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, and we were dressed as a hobo cause we had no money and it was just a plaid shirt of my dad’s, lipstick around my mouth.
[00:04:29] Dawayne Kirkman: Plastic mask, not the outfit. Yeah.
[00:04:31] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. And then you just go knock on the door of your granny, where she gave me some old fruit.
[00:04:36] Dawayne Kirkman: Yes. Fruit and the popcorn balls.
[00:04:38] Lorilee Rager: Popcorn balls, homemade.
[00:04:39] Dawayne Kirkman: That I didn’t like.
[00:04:40] Lorilee Rager: Nope. Stuck to your teeth.
[00:04:42] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah, I was like, no.
[00:04:42] Lorilee Rager: Stale popcorn. Why does anybody want to do Halloween if this is what it’s about?
[00:04:45] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah. It’s such a big deal to my kids, but I’m like, ugh whatever.
[00:04:49] Lorilee Rager: Jump me right into Christmas. Yeah, I agree.
[00:04:51] Dawayne Kirkman: Thank you.
[00:04:52] Lorilee Rager: Okay. Thank you. Good intro. Good song. Good choice. Um, all right, well, let’s dive into, um, now that I’m a teacher and a designer, I teach graphic design, and one of my first assignments is called the origin story. And I want the students to try to tell me in a, in a writing piece, their origin story and design some piece of art to go with it, any way that they want whatsoever. And it’s one of the things that I think is important about where you come from, your roots, um, your history, your sense of place and those types of things, which are also things I studied in my thesis. Um, so I wanted to begin asking you a little bit about your origin story, your family story, kind of where your roots began, um, around, you know all of that.
[00:05:45] Dawayne Kirkman: Absolutely.
[00:05:46] Lorilee Rager: Dive right in.
[00:05:46] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah. So, absolutely. So I grew up in a place that you might be familiar with in Todd County, Kentucky. I was actually born in Russellville and my kids get really torn up about it. We drive by it, I’m a bicentennial baby, 1976. And I’m like, that’s Russellville Hospital, but it’s like a now used cars place. It’s like this big brick building, and they’re like, “you were not born there” and I’m like, ” I really was born there”. But, uh, so I was born in Russellville and grew up in Todd County. Um, lived there from, from birth, through, uh, graduating from high school in 1994. So, you know, I’m proud to be a Todd County Central High School graduate. And, um, you know, just growing up in a small town there’s benefits to it, and there’s also, there’s also challenges with a small town and, um, things of that nature. But, uh, I’ll always be proud that Kentucky is my old Kentucky home. And, um,
[00:06:39] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, yeah. As I’ve grown and traveled and, and gotten an extra degree, I began to almost be afraid to say I was from Kentucky or from the south, or, a Southern, uh, a Southern person.
[00:06:56] Dawayne Kirkman: Right.
[00:06:56] Lorilee Rager: Um, because of the stereotypes or because of some of the slang of being labeled a redneck or just not, not intelligent because I don’t pronounce things the right way or the same way. Um, and being an art major, I’m also just a really bad speller and a bad
[00:07:16] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah, you’re creative.
[00:07:18] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. So that sort of stuff, um, always, always is hard. But I agree that where we come from is, I think it’s important to own and I think it’s important to, to tell the story, because it can relate to a larger global view of, of something you’ve been through or something you’ve lived through or the way you were raised or your parents. Um, so I, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about if you’re, if you’re open to it, um, telling me your story about, you know, your father and, and maybe forgiveness and talk a little bit about that, if you don’t mind.
[00:07:56] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah, absolutely. Um, it’s funny cause I went out right before this started and I went and got the marble from my car because I keep it in there just to remind myself. And, you know, I think, you know the story, but I’ll definitely be honored to share it because actually yesterday was my dad’s birthday. You know, um, he would have been 69 and, um, but, uh, so I just thought, you know, also yesterday was Dia de los Muertos, just trying to remember those that have passed on. And it was just interesting, I was like, oh, it’s neat, I’m talking to Lorilee today, uh, about my dad, you know, because I feel very much that it’s just trusting the universe and timing. So, you know, as you know, I grew up in Todd County, Kentucky, Elkton, actually it was between Elkton and Allegory. And, um, my dad was consistently in trouble with the law. You know, he got DUIs frequently and ended up losing his license. And, um, which also means you usually can’t go to work because you don’t have a car. He got PUIs, public intoxication, and he was in and out of the county jail frequently. And that was, just to be honest, it was just normal. It was just, um, it wasn’t, that’s just what we knew.
And, um, well that summer he was sent to, um, Western State Hospital for the summer, and I don’t know if it was four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks. I, you know, I was in third or fourth grade at the time, and, um, I don’t remember. But it was not, um, it was, it was required. It was definitely not of his choosing. And, uh, but, uh, I remember even then it was really complicated because Western State had a lot of stigmas to me as a young child, because people that had lots of mental illness, that’s where they went, to Western State, uh, to get better. So I’m like, why is my dad going to Western State? Because we had been there before to see different people. And not that anything’s wrong with it, but it was just like trying to contextualize, okay, my dad’s going to this place with, um, for being required to detox for so many days, um, at Western State. And we would drive by Western State every time we went to town, like to go eat or anything, it was, you know, we knew it.
[00:10:07] Lorilee Rager: And as a child you were kind of told, oh, that’s where crazy people go.
[00:10:11] Dawayne Kirkman: That’s exactly what it was. Right. So it was scary. Uh, so he would, um, he was sent there for the whole summer. And, uh, I was in third or fourth grade and my mother, uh, Judy Goodknight now, uh, she’s one of my heroes, like just the best mother in the world. And my sister, Tina, uh, Young is, I always say, my first best friend. We were very close. We were very close tricycle. Uh, cause it was usually, usually just us three. And, um, so we would go to visit, we’d go to church on Sunday and our church was not too far from Western State and we would go to Western State after church and we’d go see my dad. And it was really uncomfortable because I did not deal with him a lot as a sober person. I knew how to deal with him, getting, drinking, getting drunk, being really drunk and all those things, but to, um, to deal with my dad in a completely sober, um, situation, I had never, I don’t recall how to best navigate that prior to that time. So it was very uncomfortable. So you’re at Western State. You’re, you’re dealing with a parent that don’t, that you don’t really know how to communicate with in a sober situation. And, um, you’re, you’re, you’re young and you don’t really understand what this all means. As a 45 year old, there’s uh, AA, there’s different programs, there’s AlAnon for families that have, uh, um, alcoholics in the family. I don’t recall if there was a program back then, if there were, I didn’t know about them. So, we would always go see him. And like the first initial Sunday was really uncomfortable and, you know, but he pulled out a marble. And he was like, you know, we’re like, okay, this is really pretty marble. Why do you have a cat eye marble in your pocket? He’s like, well, if I, if I never drink again, I can keep it in my pocket. It represents sobriety. I know I didn’t know what that word meant as a third grader, but I do now. If he never drank again, he got to keep it in his pocket. And we were really excited about that.
So yeah, this was like a new, a new beginning, uh, for some sense of normalcy that we had wanted, but just can never get our hands around. And so every Sunday we would go back. And we, the first thing we would do, we’d be like, can we see your marble? And he’d pull it out and we were so excited about it. And, uh, it was just, uh, it felt like a new day, a new season for him. He was even excited about it, like showing us, I think, establishing the relationship with my sister and myself. My sister was, um, she’s three years older than me, so she got to see my dad a little bit before he was getting too bad down this road of, uh, alcoholism. And so she remembers him working the train, she remembers him, uh, in a, in a way that I don’t have the same lens because he wasn’t working when I started, remember having memories, he was all already in a condition that was really tough. So, um, he finally graduated from the program and we were so proud of him. He got to keep his marble. And we went to the fanciest restaurant in town to eat, it was called Bonanza, I think eventually called Ponderosa, which I’m not sure if that even exists anymore.
[00:13:19] Lorilee Rager: I don’t think so.
[00:13:21] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah. But you know, Bonanza was a big deal.
[00:13:23] Lorilee Rager: It was a big deal.
[00:13:24] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah, it was a big deal. So we were so excited. And then after we went there, we went to look at new trailers, also a big deal because we had only lived in a really, a much older trailer. And we were excited because this felt like, okay, we hit the lottery. We were like at Bonanza and we were going to look at new trailers. We had, it was exciting. And our dad was better. And, uh, so as we’re going home, you know, he wanted to go see his brother and, you know, my sister, myself and my mom automatically knew that was a bad idea. We’re like, let’s just go home and let’s just enjoy the Kirkman party of four. He wanted to go see his brother and, uh, we knew what that would come with and it was just, um, a bit of a mess. We got there and I just I’ll charge it to ignorance, to be honest, Lorilee, I think if they knew then maybe what they know now of how serious it was. Like they were so excited to see him back. He was the fun Stanley. As soon as they saw him, they were like, Stanley, welcome back. You know, F the man. Here’s a beer. So as soon as they saw him, it was like throwing a beer to him. He was like, so happy to see him. And without instinct, it was just really crazy, he cracked the first beer of the first second he saw. No matter what he just went through, weeks and weeks of not drinking and having a program and really just, um, quickly started drinking. Um, and then my dad, as he would drink beer, was one person, but as he drank liquor became a different person, uh, much, um, much more intense, much meaner and, uh, rowdy to be honest, you know. So it was, as the night was progressing, or evening was progressing, my mom was devastated. We were both devastated. The rest of the family was, they were not as devastated, or friends, because it was just their friend. It wasn’t their husband, it wasn’t their dad, um, it was just the fun, uh, Stanley.
I remember him pulling into his pocket, his marble and, uh, you know, making fun of it, like GD this marble, F this marble. It was a way of like maybe making less value of it, because I know he was disappointed that he was drinking, you know. So, making fun of it, using humor to hide his true feelings, you know? So he takes the marble and he literally throws it across the road into the field right across the street, and it was like a cornfield or something, some kind of field in Todd County. And, uh, we were very sad. That was so sad. And I know he was sad about that. And, uh, to even have like, understanding, I really do have to throw this away. And he threw it across the street. And, uh, my mother not wanting to keep us in a situation that we didn’t need to be in, took us home, myself and my sister. And then the next day, one of the more vivid memories of my young life, um, was pulling up to get my dad, because again, he doesn’t have a car, he’s not able to drive, uh, we had to pick him up. Um, he was out in that field by himself. All of his friends, all the family were either asleep, gone, or, so he was out there in a very hungover condition. Uh, and, uh, I’ve never been drunk but I can’t, I can’t imagine how that feels, like half in half out, but he was not drunk and he was not sober. But he was out there in this field, sort of stumbling through this big field of corn and trying to find this marble. And I just remember being young. I’m like, there’s no way, dad, you’re going to find that marble in this field. And, but I also think, I knew like literally too, like you, you’re at a crossroads in your life. I just, I think even as a young child, I was like, you’re not going to get this marble back. Even though we really want you to get it back. And I think that at that moment, I always tell people, um, that I found that marble that day for my dad and, uh, you know, figuratively I put it in my heart and that’s why it’s always meant something to me. I just realized that day, I was like, I don’t think my dad can carry this. I think I will have to carry this for my dad.
And, um, I always, um, the last time I saw him, from that point on my dad’s life got worse and worse. It was continual stints in the county jail. He would come up to Dayton, Ohio, where I live now, and to be honest, probably was in a lot of homeless situations, uh, and was just always in a little bit of a chaos, unfortunately. And I remember the last time I saw him alive, I was a sophomore in college and it was Christmas Eve. And my sister and myself went to go see him. It was Christmas Eve. It was behind that, that clear glass and you know, this is Christmas. So, you know, it’s sad to see your dad in a situation that you don’t, you don’t need to be in on Christmas. And that was the last time I saw him alive. And then that summer, we had talked a couple of times cause he’d have to call collect, calling from the county jail. And, uh, I went to college as a junior, and then on a Sunday, September the 15th, I got a call from the Dean of Students that I needed to call home, that there had been, uh, uh, my dad had actually, um, took his own life. It was self-inflicted. And, um, that was, that was really hard to process because I felt, as a 20 year old, uh, there was just other things at that point, another marble to carry. Like I will always… so I just wanted to make, I always felt like I picked up that marble to make my family, the Kirkman family proud. I wanted to, I was the first male in my family to graduate from high school, let alone college. I was, um, to have a consistent job to not drink or– not that I’m a better person than my dad.
I always want to really clarify that I’m not a better person than my dad, but I always felt that marble, I wanted to not drink or drink beer or get drunk because I wanted to say that we did carry it. We, we finished the race and, um, I always think about, after he passed away, I was like, when I get to our heaven and I do, that’s a big part of my life, my own spiritual journey is that when I do get to heaven, when I see my dad, I always think about finding him, hugging his neck and say we made it and hand him his marble back because I’m his son. And, you know, I think as a 45 year old, um, you talked about forgiveness. I’m much more forgiving and understanding than I was as a young child and as a 20 year old, you know, I don’t think I knew the extent of that disease as a younger person. There was a lot of shame because we grew up in a small town because I was Stanley Kirkman’s son. And that, that was really tough. It was embarrassing. You know, my dad would be uptown drunk or go to Tina’s graduation drunk and a lot of public humiliation. So not that, that was unfair of me, but I still didn’t understand the root of the problem, of, whatever he was still trying to, to cover– I still to this day, don’t know what that was. But I understand that alcoholism was– is, is a real disease. And as a 45 year old, I, as a parent of three, uh, who gets things wrong on a daily basis, really realized the power of forgiveness. And, uh, yeah, so that’s um, I do carry that marble for my dad. And I’m proud to do it. I think it’s actually healed a relationship with him and that I’m actually, it’s not a burden. It’s an honor.
[00:20:45] Lorilee Rager: Yeah.
[00:20:46] Dawayne Kirkman: It’s an honor.
[00:20:47] Lorilee Rager: It’s a beautiful symbol. And I do, I, uh, I don’t see a marble if walking through Miss Lucille’s thrift store and see them and think, I don’t think of you and your dad and that story.
[00:20:58] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah.
[00:20:59] Lorilee Rager: And how are… how we did, we grew up in a really small town in a dry county. And I mean, I think my graduating class was like 90 people or 91
[00:21:09] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah,
[00:21:09] Lorilee Rager: And everyone…
[00:21:10] Dawayne Kirkman: 104.
[00:21:11] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, everyone knew everyone. And, um, but no one talked about it. We live, we had such loving educators. We had such incredible teachers growing up, I think in our school system who coddled us and cared for us and hugged us and knew exactly what we were going home to or dealing with.
[00:21:31] Dawayne Kirkman: Well, it’s interesting that you say that. There’s a teacher, one of my most beloved teachers at Todd Central, that I will leave a name for this podcast, they’re a private person. Um, you could probably guess who I’m talking about, but, um, she has similar situation with her, her, her father. And I remember in my senior class that I wrote about this and she actually checked with some other teachers because I think she didn’t know if I was telling the truth, uh, of some things that we were going through at home. And not that I’m, not that she thought I was a liar, but just the magnitude of it. And I think the story also resonated with her because I think she had lived in a very similar, um, existence with her father, really being an alcoholic in a small town and how difficult that is.
I still today remember, um, driving, Becky Weathers would drive me to school or Daniel [?]. And, uh, I remember there was a guy walking down in this ditch and it was clear from a mile away that he was like without a house in, in a drunken condition. And, maybe we were being insensitive about it. And then as we drove by, I said, “oh, that’s my dad.”
And you know that that’s so hard,
[00:22:44] Lorilee Rager: Yeah.
[00:22:44] Dawayne Kirkman: You know? Yeah. And I think I just was so used to that, that I had for a long time, there was a lot of resentment. And then as I’ve got older, I just remember being proud. I’m like, you’re going to have to find a place to forgive your dad. Cause you can’t put every problem that you have in your life on a single person. It’s a good excuse, but it’s just, you can’t do that.
[00:23:07] Lorilee Rager: So true. It’s so true.
[00:23:08] Dawayne Kirkman: And you know, I’ve often said that you can’t give grace to someone if you’ve never needed it. And I have needed grace a million times. And I’ve had to find a place that like, I have really forgiven my dad. And that was probably, I would say when I moved to Ohio, you know, there’s a church I go to up here and I just remember one Sunday, just being completely freed from the pain of that. And just like letting him be at peace and really trying to come to a place of trying to best understand his life and actually being a legacy for him because I’m his son. And I think I really take a lot of pride in that now, you know, my first name is Stanley. A lot of people don’t know that, I’m Stanley Dawayne Kirkman. And, uh, I used to be really tore up about it, but now, actually this new job, my email is like “Kirkman S,” “Kirkmans” and it’s like Stanley. I’m like, yeah. Yeah, that’s my name. And it doesn’t tear, it doesn’t tear me up anymore. I’m actually pro– I’m actually proud of it.
[00:24:02] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Well, uh, I would be too. You should be. Um, absolutely. I think about when you talk about forgiveness and why… I think why we do it and in my upbringing, in, in the church and things that it’s always preached to you a lot, but it’s also, how do you get there? And how do you, how do you… and why? Um, and I think what I’ve learned in my grad school study is like the name of this podcast being Ground and Gratitude is I wondered why do I go to forgiveness and gratitude so quickly in a troubled time? And,
[00:24:38] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah.
[00:24:39] Lorilee Rager: And, and I understood about myself is you said to give him peace, but it also gave you some peace. Um, and so I go to either, I want to forgive them and I want, and I want to be thankful for what I have or thankful that it’s better or not as bad as it used to be. Because that gives me peace. My inner, I call it my inner bobber, like you’re fishing and I need to get to my own peace quickly too. And forgiveness is a part of that.
[00:25:08] Dawayne Kirkman: It is, I think about it with Johanna and Daisy, Lucas, and Lily. There’s things that I get really right. And there’s things I’m like, oh I really… I should reset that. And I really hope that my kids are able to give the same amount of grace that, um, I think any kids… No parent gets it completely right.
And no kids get it completely. Right? Yeah. You know, we– you know, I wrote something down and it said, uh, “Love cures. It cures those who give it. And it cures those who receive it.” There’s a lot in that. And, um, I don’t know. I’m just, I’m really excited to be on the other side of it. And I really do. I really do try to, like, as I talk to students at the colleges that I’ve worked at, it’s like sometimes as a child, you grow up too soon and it, it might be your family has debt issues or um, these issues that we’re talking about with my dad, your, your parent might be an alcoholic or things of that nature, and you might have to carry some of them. That’s not fair, but it’s just, it’s your lot in life. And, but still how to find peace with you. Like you said, your parents, your significant other partner and uh, still heal.
[00:26:15] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Well,
[00:26:16] Dawayne Kirkman: Like you said, the peace for yourself.
[00:26:18] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Um, speaking about when you said that your students, I wanted to also ask you about, through, through your personal journey and now in your professional life, your resilience and persistence are just two big glowing words I see from you. And tell me a little bit about why persistence is important to you and explain a little bit about your PhD, because I think the work you’ve done and the, and the work on first-generation and underrepresented students is so powerful too.
[00:26:50] Dawayne Kirkman: You know, um, so when I, I’m actually, as soon as this is over, I’m going to go talk to a group of students. And I always talk to them about some things. Uh, and, but it’s just literally some things that are, uh, that I’ll share with them. Like we grew up, I don’t like the word “poor” cause Dolly says, “one is only poor if they choose to be,” but we did have a low socioeconomic status. You know, my mom was, uh, the, uh, working, the working poor, she worked at a sewing factory and, um, she worked so hard, but it wasn’t much money. So we were, I hate using the word, but we were poor. Um, I remember being in special reading in first grade and being sent behind the school. So there’s different little pods and, you know, going into special reading. And I remember talking to Ms. Gertrude Lucas. She was like 72 at the time. And, uh, I was like, “Ms. Lucas, I can read.” And she’s like, “You can honey,” but she’s like, “You’re poor.” And I think it was probably for at-risk students. At risk of failing. When she said that I was freed, I was like, oh, that’s fine. I know I’m poor. But it was like, I felt like challenged that someone said I couldn’t read. Maybe I wasn’t as good a reader as I think. You know, single parent family, back in third and fourth grade, there was like one other student in the class that was, that had a family that was divorced or divorcing. That was much less common,
[00:28:10] Lorilee Rager: Absolutely, yeah.
[00:28:12] Dawayne Kirkman: You know, no gifted and talented, no AP classes, even though I wanted them. Um, but I had cheerleaders in at the college, the one teacher that I was referring to earlier, I still think about how she literally changed my life. And um someone, I was in a presentation one day, Lorilee, and they said, you’re not at risk, you’re asterisk, and that’s a star. And not that I’m a star, but I always want people to– sometimes you can be labeled something that might stick, even though it doesn’t deserve to stick. And how can you get rid of labels and that no longer… no, you no longer own them? And, uh, I was talking about being, uh, perseverance and resilience. Um, I think if I do have a, a skill set, I think I’ve been able to be gritty. You know, I always talk about the, the, the, the turtle and the hare, the rabbit, you know, I’m not the fastest, the smartest, the whatever, whatever, but I will stay in the race and I’ll finish the race.
[00:29:12] Lorilee Rager: That’s right.
[00:29:13] Dawayne Kirkman: I won’t take a nap by the tree, you know, like I, and I’m gritty, but I tell students that like, just stay in the race, just keep going. You know, you mentioned, um, you know, so after I graduated from Todd Central, I went to Berea College. I was really proud of that. It was the only school that I applied to because it was uh, for poor Appalachian youth. It was the first school in the South to accept women and, uh, students of color. And Mildred Beller in my honors biology class, she looked at me my freshman year, me and Holly [?] which is gonna make me cry. And she said, uh, “You’re going to Berea College when you graduate.” And I looked at her, I said, “Yes. Ma’am.” [Laughter]
[00:29:50] Lorilee Rager: You know, you know, she’s my Aunt? Aunt Mildred.
[00:29:53] Dawayne Kirkman: I did not know that.
[00:29:54] Lorilee Rager: I just hugged her on Sunday after I took Aunt Lorenetta to church.
[00:29:57] Dawayne Kirkman: Oh my God. I did not know that, she literally, she, I was in honors, uh, biology, which I was horrible at, but she told me about this college in Kentucky that if you go there, you work 10 hours, 15 hours a week and you leave, oh, no money for college. I was like, well, that sounds like I’m either going to be at Hopkinsville Community College or Berea. And I applied, I w– I remember applying to Berea and I got in and they said the very first week of class, they said, look to your left, look to your right, two of you won’t be here at graduation. And I remember thinking, “Oh, these, these two pitiful people. They’re not going to be at graduation.” [Laughter] Because I knew that I wanted to be a teacher. You know, I wanted to be, I, even as a kindergartner, I wanted to, I always knew I wanted to be a high school teacher, which I still like, how did you not do that? I got stuck in higher ed, which I’ve been very blessed by, but, uh, so I went to Berea and then I came up here to Dayton, Ohio. My mom actually, so, back in, when my mom grew up like from Todd County, Kentucky to Dayton, Ohio was just a migration pattern of go to Dayton, Ohio to work at GE Frigidaire come back down, things of that nature.
So there was a real, my mom actually graduated from Belmont High School in Dayton, Ohio, and she had went to a church here in Fairborn, and I remember I spent one semester in North Carolina for grad school, but I remember I was like, let me go check that out. I was, there were some things I was dealing with wanting to have a home church and uh, Wright State University, and I remember moving up to Ohio in 1999, early 1999. And just finding the church that my mom went to growing up in the, in the town that she had graduated from high school, even though she spent a lot of her time in Kentucky, too, but it was that migration pattern. Um, and really finding a special home here and, uh, graduated from Wright State and then, um, getting my Master’s there.
And then, uh, working at Sinclair College for a long time. And while I was there, they were like, you know, they had uh, some, what would you call that? Like some just, uh, benefits to go get your PhD. And, uh, so I went to the University of Dayton and that was, uh, I was uh, someone told me that PhD stood for “perseverance hath done it,” because that’s what it really is. [Laughter] It’s just about persevering. It’s uh, it’s the turtle. It’s about finishing the race. After finishing the classes and, um, comprehensive exams. I remember just stopping to be honest, I was like, I’m not doing a dissertation. I don’t have the capacity, uh, time, things of that nature. And we also had Daisy, Luke and Lily, and, uh, they were a convenient excuse and they were real, but, uh, I stopped out for like three or three plus years. I would, I remember, uh, she taught me at UD her name was Dr. DeLuca and she’s probably the meanest teacher I’ve ever had, [laughter] and she was probably five foot tall. And she had called me. I’m not joking, just as mean as she could be. She called me on the phone and she was like, are you ever going to finish this thing?
[00:33:04] Lorilee Rager: Oh dang.
[00:33:05] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah. She’s like, “I got a bootcamp, you’re going to be in it and we’re going to get this thing done.” And I was like, “Yes, Ma’am.” [Laughter] So I actually started, and it took about two years, but, uh, you had asked about it and I was really proud of looking at the graduation rates of African-American males at a community college of just how, what we’re getting, right, what we’re needing to improve and how we can best support our students of color, that they lead to persist well and, and graduate at a higher numbers. And, uh, that was really important for me. Uh, I think that I understood it, not so much, uh, as an African-American male, but growing up, being someone who was a first generation college student. I understood some of the challenges of being underrepresented. Some challenges, definitely not all, but, uh, it was important for me to do that. And I was really proud to work with 15 African-American males at up a mid size, uh, community college in the state of Ohio. And those students were wonderful and I was really proud to, to do that study, um, with those young men and, uh, also proud to be done with that. Uh, [laughter]
[00:34:15] Lorilee Rager: I understand that. too, I do, I do. Well, it’s just really one of those things that I think is important in, you know, as Dolly Parton says, finding out who you are and doing it on purpose, you, you took this purpose all the way, to me, from your father and the marble, into your passion for life and your career and the way you help other first-generation, underrepresented students. And, and I know now in today’s world, it’s even more important than ever. It feels like this, this work that you’ve done, um, with, with everything that’s, that’s changed. So…
[00:34:53] Dawayne Kirkman: Well, I’m really proud to work at a community college because, you know, I am a community college student, you know, I remember being in a trio program in high school, they were from Hopkinsville Community college. It was an educational talent search. Cause I was first-generation and I can’t definitely, “I can not remember her name, but I remember how she made me feel.” Dr. Maya Angelou said that, but, uh, she cared about me. She helped me with the financial aid application, which was very overwhelming because that was intimidating because my mother didn’t go to college and back then it was on paper, and if you messed up, you had to wait three to six weeks. So that, uh, educational talent search program really changed my life. And, um, I got to go to Florida A&M for the summer, uh, based on, uh, with Ritchie Hall. And, um, yeah, I’d never been on a plane.
[00:35:40] Lorilee Rager: Wow.
[00:35:40] Dawayne Kirkman: I’d never been to a historically black college and university and, uh, never had been the minority in a situation. It was just one of those summers that really changed my life. And I’ll always be thankful for that. And obviously, as I see students today, you do see pieces of you in students. I’m sure you do, when you, as you teach, but, um, yeah, I’m a community college student.
[00:36:00] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, it feels good if, and it feels good to give back and just to mentor and help those that, you know, are coming, coming along behind you.
[00:36:11] Dawayne Kirkman: That’s right. I’m excited.
[00:36:12] Lorilee Rager: I think that’s what we’re supposed to do. I really do. I think you’re supposed to share.
[00:36:15] Dawayne Kirkman: You have to have a hand– I always tell people to have a hand up for a mentor. You need a mentor in every phase of your life, because someone’s been up the road, whether, I’ve been married 10 years, talk to someone that’s been married twenty years,
[00:36:25] Lorilee Rager: Yeah.
[00:36:26] Dawayne Kirkman: And there’s different challenges with 20 years of marriage or your kids are going to graduate. And that makes me sound, I’m thinking about it. And I’m like, oh, I’m not ready for that conversation. And then always put your hand back to pull some along with you. that they, we all got shots that people helped us with, uh, different breaks, different teachings, and to always reach back.
[00:36:42] Lorilee Rager: That’s one of the quotes you told me too, that, um, an important mentor had told you that said, “we belong to each other,” and it’s so true. And the hand up and hand down is beautiful to think of. As I helped my son fill out his ACT application last night to take that. Just really looking at… and even one year sober for me in recovery, it’s scary, but I do, I want to talk to somebody two years and five years sober, but I’m also going to help the person that’s just desperately trying to get that 30 day chip, you know, and yeah. Hands both ways. I love that.It’s so good. So good. Um, all right. Well, I wanted to, to also pivot to ask you a little bit about taking care of yourself. Um, that’s something, wellness is one of the things I say in my journey, now, of wellness, um, weight loss is, is part of it. It’s a big perk, but it’s not really why we did it. I don’t think. Um, but tell me a little bit about your journey on that.
[00:37:48] Dawayne Kirkman: You know, it’s interesting. Um, this is, uh, I don’t know why I just thought about this, but I remember getting my haircut and, uh, he was a barber and he was like, he looked at me and I think you’ll understand when I say this, I’m like, oh, this is such the story of my life. He goes, “Dawayne, are you losing or gaining?” And I was like, oh my gosh, like, my life can not be consumed to, am I up or down? And I was just like, I’m so much more than that, but he was like, he was really confused. He’s like, are you losing now? Are you gaining? And I was like, oh my gosh. But anyway, uh, last, uh, last year, um, during COVID to be honest, I, uh, I got to a place in my life that I didn’t feel great about where I was on, um, as in regards to weight and like looking at some scenes with COVID, I felt like I was a potential statistic waiting to happen. And I was like, this is not who you are. You’re uh, you can do better. And that’s not for anyone else. That’s just for my shoes. Cause everyone has their own journey to be bigger, to be smaller to whatever.
But I just wanted to be healthier for myself. I looked at my three kids. I, and I just remember. You know, just start walking, just start, you know, doing a little bit better. And, um, been really, uh, had a really good year on the whole, um, able to lose over a hundred pounds.
[00:39:03] Lorilee Rager: Wow.
[00:39:05] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah. But like trying to maintain that now that’s always the harder part. Yeah. So I think just being recommitted to that, as I’m getting older, it’s not going to be ever easier to do it, to get it off, but, uh, just as with pandemics, as you, as we grow old, how can I be best to my, to my, to myself. And, um, I know the physical is only one attribute of us, soul, spirit, and body, but, uh, I do think they mirror one another. And, uh, I think it can, if they are aligned just to be your best version of yourself yeah. Of whatever that means to, I think it’s different for everyone. And I think just to, you know, with weight for me, it’s something that I have battled on and off my entire life. Um, and, um, and I think it’s one of those things, like, I hope that I don’t pass this down to my kids. Like we talk about this marble, you know, I don’t, and I’ve always felt, I don’t feel like food’s covering anything for me. Cause sometimes I just think biscuits and gravy are really good. It’s not that I’m dealing with anything emotionally. [Laughter] I definitely want to be a healthy person and I want my kids to have healthy– understand what that means. So that’s what I was talking about. There will be definitely things that my kids will have to carry for me.
[00:40:26] Lorilee Rager: I try to figure out now, um, to not have shame around it. Yes. Biscuits and gravy. You can eat it just because it tastes good. Not because you’re feeling your feelings depressed and trying to fill some other void. And I want to, you know, that’s what I want the same thing for me to pass down to my kids because I have yoyo dieted and tried everything under the sun. And, uh, but it was more of a internal shame and guilt and beating myself up for, you know, eating bad and yet doing– during the pandemic is, is really when I decided to get sober and, and just notice, yeah, I just, I just was tired of feeling tired. I was tired.
[00:41:07] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah.
[00:41:08] Lorilee Rager: Just being comfortable in my own skin.
[00:41:11] Dawayne Kirkman: Well, you know, we had talked about words that stick, like being called at risk at a very young age. I still, I still don’t love it. I still battle it. I’m like, am I, you know, um, am I able to be in the seat or things of that nature, but I remember us losing weight with a, like a personal trainer and like doing some, like. I don’t even know what they’re calling, like some like steps between like tires and, and he looked at me, he’s like, “Dawayne, you’re really athletic.”
And I was like, “What?” It was such a, I had never heard that word. I was like 44 years old. Like, what? I’ve never, no one’s ever said that. And he’s like, “no, like you have athletic ability.” And I was like, “oh, well, look at me. I’m athletic.” But just like that positive affirmation and really speaking to someone and, and how you envision them and how you really see them and words matter. They’re powerful.
[00:42:00] Lorilee Rager: Yes.
[00:42:00] Dawayne Kirkman: They really are. And you know, the greatest battle ever fought is in your own mind. And how, what are we speaking to ourselves every day?
[00:42:08] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yes. Yeah. That’s exactly right. What you say to yourself is so important, I think. I think it’s the no negative self-talk is one of my rules.
[00:42:19] Dawayne Kirkman: Oh yeah?
[00:42:19] Lorilee Rager: And I think, I think it’s so important and I love the idea of labels is so, is scary and sticks with you. But for somebody to say you’re athletic, I get it because I’ve never been there.
[00:42:32] Dawayne Kirkman: It was like they called me something in a foreign language.
[00:42:33] Lorilee Rager: Oh yeah.
[00:42:34] Dawayne Kirkman: I was like, it, it really is like what? It was so weird.
[00:42:37] Lorilee Rager: And for somebody to see you, so somebody that’s not from your hometown, that doesn’t live with you all day. A third party, completely independent that says that it means the world.
[00:42:48] Dawayne Kirkman: And meant it.
[00:42:50] Lorilee Rager: It does, it really does. And I think sharing that and giving that compliment and that observation of a positive message to somebody is really important.
[00:42:59] Dawayne Kirkman: It is important that, you know, even when, like, I love how you said you don’t allow yourself to do that because I won’t do that to anyone, but myself and then Johanna gets onto me. She’s like, you would never let someone talk to you… the way you talk to yourself, like you would never do that to anyone else or let them talk to themselves in that way. So it’s very funny, like Johanna is a great like life partner that just, you know, I, hopefully I’m that way for her too, because we have to be kind to one another.
[00:43:24] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, absolutely. Well,
[00:43:26] Dawayne Kirkman: I like that you said that.
[00:43:27] Lorilee Rager: It was a really important rule I learned in recovery. That it was something and it was something I didn’t realize I did so much of. So when, when my coach was like, um, you know, you just need a rule because your subconscious hears that whether you say it out loud, so, yeah. Well, um, so yeah, the, the last thing I wanted to ask you is this has been such a great conversation, such incredibly important things to share. I think for people to hear our stories and know that they’re not alone in the struggles is, um, what, uh, tool would you leave in our Ground and Gratitude toolbox for others? It can be something that helps you get grounded or with gratitude or helps you through a hard spot, any quotes or mantras?
[00:44:17] Dawayne Kirkman: You know, I have a couple of quotes, but you know, there’s this, you said a song and I’m going to eventually sing it, I’ve just gotta get my nerve up.
[00:44:23] Lorilee Rager: Do it.
[00:44:24] Dawayne Kirkman: You know, there’s, there’s one quote that always sticks with me and it says “Hell’s doors are locked from the inside.” You know, if you’re going through something, sometimes you have to free yourself. No one else, even if they have the capability to do it. They, it literally doesn’t work. You have to free yourself. And, um, I think sometimes whether, whatever that fill in the blank is for you, even though you might have supporters and cheerleaders, you have to, eventually… Hell’s doors are locked from the inside. You have to free yourself. And, um, that’s one that I always remember. And then the, one of the greatest men that I’ve ever known, he was actually a ninth grade dropout from Hazard, Kentucky, Earl Childers, the only millionaire that I’ve ever known. Um, he just saw grace and everybody, like everybody. And he always said, “where there’s breath there’s hope.” And I love that.
[00:45:17] Lorilee Rager: That’s so good
[00:45:18] Dawayne Kirkman: Because if you just like, there’s that affirmation, that positive, like I see you, I believe in you. And, um, sometimes you can be too close to things like my dad, we like, oh, he’s not gonna make it because he had failed so many times, but it, what if someone said, like, “I do see you Stanley.”
Where there’s breath, there’s hope. I think there’s so much power in that, of never counting someone out ever. And I, he just, ever, and he just embodied that, um, he lived that. Earl Childers lived that and I’ll always be thankful for that. And, um, there was a song that my mom was singing, because you did say songs, I really try to be a good student.
[00:45:52] Lorilee Rager: You did good. [Laughter]
[00:45:54] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah, it’s called “Wading Through Deep Waters.” And, uh, I always tell the story about my dad with the marble, but my mom’s my anchor, you know, I learned things that I didn’t need to, shouldn’t have learned at an early age from my dad, but my mother is my foundation and she doesn’t get the flowers that I think sometimes that she deserves and uh, I think myself and my sister got the best mother in the world. Uh, but she would always sing this song. Actually, Heather Blackburn would call me at college and she said, “Dawayne, are you saying that swamp song to me?” And I was like, “it’s not the swamp song. It’s called ‘Wading Through Deep Waters,’ but the swamp song, and it goes like this, uh:
[Singing] Wading through deep waters, Lord I’m trying to get home. But the ways of life, they, uh, so high sometimes I think I’m gone, but when I think I’m gonna sink, I raise my hands up high and the great big hand of God comes down and takes ahold of mine.
And, um, my mom, she just kept God at the forefront of our lives no matter what we were going through, she always, good days, bad days. She’s like, you just keep your eyes on God and he’ll see you through. And I think sometimes in my own life, these types of songs, they’ve never let me left me. They’ve set a foundation for my life. And if there’s been, as my mom would say, if there’s been anything good in my life that people have seen it’s because I’ve had a great mother and I I’ve had a God that’s been very graceful to me, because I’ve needed it.
[00:47:29] Lorilee Rager: Beautiful. I’m glad there’s not video right now because you’re making my makeup run. [Laughter] Beautifully said, and I will take mothers and marbles with me and put it in our, put it in our toolbox also. Beautiful. So this has been absolutely wonderful. I’m so, so thankful for you and thankful for your time and our friendship.
[00:47:55] Dawayne Kirkman: I’m so thankful for our friendship. I probably owe you a box of blow pops, [laughter] but you’re one of the best people in the world. I’m so proud of you. I’m cheering you on in every single way. And you make me proud.
[00:48:12] Lorilee Rager: Thank you. You do too. I’m glad. I’m so glad we grew up together in a little town.
I am too.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
[00:48:21] Dawayne Kirkman: Thank you.
[00:48:21] Lorilee Rager: That’s it. Goodness gracious.
Thanks again to Dawayne for coming on the show today to share such beautiful and personal stories. Wow. And that singing voice. I loved it. It was absolutely a pleasure to have him on the show. Thank you for tuning into Ground and Gratitude. You can find more information about the show and resources to help anyone struggling with mental health at groundandgratitude.com.
Please join me next time for more honest conversations exploring what it means to truly live a life grounded in gratitude. Ground and Gratitude is produced by the amazing duo Kelly Drake and AO McClain, LLC.