EDITOR'S NOTE: Kay's Corner is a feature in the North End Community Improvement Collaborative newsletter that is being republished via permission to Richland Source.
MANSFIELD -- The death of his mother and depression has not kept Christen Lee down. He is a warrior and survivor who ‘grinds on demand’ to keep his life outlook strong.
Christen is this month’s spotlight for Kay’s Korner.
“I got my interest in being in the community off of family structure. My parents and my family were really big into helping people, especially the youth," Christen said. “So, my house growing up was like the community house that everybody could come over to eat, play, sleep and whatever else. So, it’s always been in me to help and connect people.”
Christen took this philosophy with him to college and when returning home, he realized the disconnect between student athletes and actual athlete students, he said.
“Looking at how even if you don’t make it to play a professional sport, the business offices that run these sports and industries are more important because they kept the lights on,” Christen said. “That led me to start working with the youth with the idea of even the 10,000 plus hours I put into certain crafts and skill sets, giving back to the youth because the youth seems to be more of a sponge and absorb things and actually put it to use.”
Being employed at Foundations for Living and Abraxas, two agencies that work with troubled youth, Christen was able to mentor youth while helping them to help themselves. This inspired him to want to do more for the youth of the community.
His mother, Evern Taylor Lee, passed away in 2016 from cancer and it took a toll on the family as she was the heart of the family.
“Our last conversation she kind of gave me a farewell speech, through that it was just an eye opener on how to live a better life and, again, that brought me to youth to want to do some programming with recreation as well as business related activities.”
In honor of his mother, Christen started the “Evolving Though Love” Annual Basketball Classic which started in 2017 as a way to showcase local and out-of-town basketball talent but has also morphed into a community health event with the addition of community service organization booths to the event.
After the basketball tournament took off, Christen and his wife, Enisia, started working with Pam Rembert and her Children’s Cupboard Southside Outreach after school and summer programs. Christen was able to take his love of youth, recreation and basketball right to the children.
It was actually a family affair and his brother, James, and sister-in-law, Miatta, all came to help as well.
“It gave me a chance to create some opportunities and to bring in some other people that could help with that narrative of you don’t have to just play a sport but if you do play a sport then the things that come with it,” he said.
The Mansfield native was able to bring in mentors such as local international basketball star Antonio Graves and his college roommate Romeo Travis (who played high school basketball with Lebron James at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary) to talk with and encourage the children at the after-school program.
“We were able to cap off the summer program for the first two years by going to the Cleveland Browns Training Camp,” he said. “Just looking at the inspiration that one experience can provide for kids, it was just one of those things that I felt like I have to do more because I want to create that opportunity more frequently.”
Christen also has a clothing brand called “Grind on Demand,” and is always full of ideas to help our youth. He currently is working in Atlanta, Ga. as a driver to celebrities. He is also working on a community collaboration called U.G.O.O.D. with Nike and many local entities to bring more opportunities to our youth. Christen also used to be an AmeriCorps VISTA with NECIC working on the My Brother’s Keeper initiative in Mansfield.
ABOUT KAY'S CORNER
North End resident Geneva “Kay” Smith was a Community Organizer for NECIC. She was passionate about the North End community until her untimely death in November 2019. In addition to being a North End resident through-and-through, Kay was passionate about non-violence and her family.
In Kay’s Korner, we will spotlight different strong people from the North End who are handling their business in their career, the community and with their family. We will also focus on those who have a strong proponent for non-violence. May this be one way to honor our dear Sister Kay’s memory and continue her legacy of being a strong, empathetic individual who was also a great mother. May she Rest in Peace.