Kris Sykes: “I wish someone told me I was good”

One of the things I do is provide writing workshops and mentorship to youth. Especially at-risk youth or children who have been through the system. I strongly believe that the more examples of success we make tangible to kids, the better chance they have to become successful. As a part of our series about stars […]

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One of the things I do is provide writing workshops and mentorship to youth. Especially at-risk youth or children who have been through the system. I strongly believe that the more examples of success we make tangible to kids, the better chance they have to become successful.


As a part of our series about stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Kristofer Sykes @painethepoet.

Kris Sykes is an actor, poet, and writer known from his role on American Skin. Among his impressive resume, he was a headlining performer at the National Gallery of Art Museum with 1,800 people in attendance in Washington D.C. He presented an original poetry piece before Congress, addressing the issues of mass incarceration and the impact on the community. He performed an original poetry piece in New York, NY for the “Justice Aide” concert series and wrote and starred in a production for the NFL Honors Awards on CBS Network, in Atlanta, GA. He also performed in New York, NY for the Jewish Council of Public Affairs on CSPAN News.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you share with us the “backstory” that led you to this career path?

I started out as a poet. I’m a writer but I’ve always preferred live performances. Coincidently during one of my live performances, Nate Parker and Danny Glover were in the audience and they enjoyed it. This all lead to me landing a role in Nate Parkers’ film American Skin.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that story?

I was doing a performance in New York for an organization called Justice Aide. They do music events to bring awareness to social justice issues. What I didn’t realize was that the producers from the NFL were in front row watching me. After the event, I took a bus from NY back to D.C. where I lived at the time. On the bus on the way back, I got an email from the producers saying they loved my performance and they wanted to work on a project with me. The project turned out to be me writing a poem for the NFL Honors Awards 2019 and that video was also aired during the Superbowl.

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

“Dwell in your well” I think of it like this, your “well” is that thing you draw from that gives you strength, be it a talent, your trade, your hobby or interest. Dwell in that WELL and the rest will fall into place.

Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?

As I mentioned earlier, Nate Parker gave me my first movie role and while we were filming he coached me on acting. He used to tell me “Just tell the truth,” because the character is REAL so just be who the character honestly was and it would work.

How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you are working on right now?

One of the things I do is provide writing workshops and mentorship to youth. Especially at-risk youth or children who have been through the system. I strongly believe that the more examples of success we make tangible to kids, the better chance they have to become successful.

Can you share with us the story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?

My experiences as a child and just being aware of what was absent in my life growing up and what I have suffered because of these things.

Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

I did a summer program where I taught a group of college interns, from that group a few of them still update me on their progress and it’s wonderful to see how far they have come.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

Become “tangible” to the youth, make it a point to integrate being present for the younger generation in our everyday lives.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.

Well first things first, I wish someone told me I was good. It took me the longest time to even come into the realization of my own abilities

Secondly, I would say I wish I knew the many avenues that a person with my skillset has available to them.

The third is knowing that persistence is key and the expectations of the people around you should never take you off your path.

My fourth is that I wish I was told not to feel discouraged by a lack of support, people always come around eventually.

Lastly, I really wish someone told me that it could all turn around in an instant and things can be in motion that will change your life.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Regina King, watching from a distance her body of work in inspiring and now seeing her more as a director it’s even more clear that she is a genius at storytelling. I believe with a visionary like that we could elevate so many stories, dynamically and bring them to people in groundbreaking ways.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

Dwell in your WELL! I repeat! I believe most of our lives we go so far outside of our strengths just to use those strengths to rehabilitate ourselves once we crash when all we had to do is stay the course.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Lebron James, hands down, Lebron James!

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!


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