Kyle Gathers never thought he would even get into college, but on Saturday — less than a year after getting out of prison — he was the commencement speaker for Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology’s 109th graduation ceremony.
Rather than giving a speech with the message that “we did it,” the 31-year-old Dorchester native focused on how much there is still to do when it comes to guiding the young people in our lives.
“We all are an inspiration to someone younger than us,” he said ahead of the ceremony. “All the support we’ve had in our lives that helped us get to this point, it’s on us to help a child get it, too.”
Gathers knows how much adults influence a child’s future from personal experience, but the influences on him weren’t positive.
“Growing up on Intervale Street [in Dorchester] was quite an experience," he said. "All of my role models at that time, all my uncles, older cousins and neighbors, were a part of the Intervale Street gang."
Gathers ended up following in their footsteps, he said, because he knew nothing else. He ended up spending a total of 10 years in prison for charges including drug dealing and an unarmed robbery and extortion. While he was in prison, his little brother, who had also gone down the same path, was killed.
Gathers knew that he needed a change. While behind bars, he read as many books as he could, earned his GED and wrote a poetry book about his life.
He got teased a bit by fellow prisoners who called him “Professor K,” but he wasn’t deterred.
“A lot of people in my situation believe that there is no room for change, that it’s too late to even change,” he said. “[But] there’s nothing tough about being ignorant, nothing attractive about being stupid. Education has to come first in all aspects of life.”
When he got out, he connected with College Bound Dorchester, a nonprofit that supports those who have served time or been in gangs by providing mentors that help people get into colleges and complete their higher education. That helped him get into BFIT, a nonprofit college focused on skills training. Gathers got his certificate in heating, venting, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC&R).
With that, he can get a job to support his family — he has a 10 year old son — and launch the next phase of his life. Ultimately, he wants to own his own business and mentor kids growing up in the same kind of environment he did. He’s already embarking on that effort back in Dorchester.
“I’m trying to start cookouts, to get kids in the community to come together and get to know each other, to stop them from being unnecessary enemies,” he said. “When [people] see that I’m a part of that, who know me from being a cause of violence in the city, they’ll really stand behind me because they know I'm serious.”