Artist Kevon Dooley sat down with us at The Ritz-Carlton Atlanta in October 2020, at the height of the first COVID-19 Lockdown, to talk about the American Foster Care System, his work encouraging and advocating for children, and his artistic Urban Wear clothing line.
Colleen Mullins You’re currently an up-and-coming artist living near Atlanta. You have a successful Instagram account and followers, and a new sports car. But there’s a lot more to your story. Tell us a little about your background.
Kevon Dooley Okay. I’m originally from Tampa, Florida. I was born in Hillsborough County and went into the foster care system at about 7 years old. I was from a broken family and going into foster care was heartbreaking for me. My birth mom is deceased and I don’t really talk to my birth father. A lot of kids go into the system and become victims of it. Right now, I’m focused on trying to stay positive and to motivate younger people to understand that you can still be successful, no matter what your background is. I’m currently doing fashion design and I enjoy painting. I want to do photography, and I want to get into acting soon.
CM Give us an overview of your experience with the foster care system.
KD The system has its pro’s and cons’. It’s all about you and your personal needs. You can have a kid that comes into the system and falls victim to it. What I mean by that is sometimes the system ruins their life. Then, you can have a kid like me, comes into the system, has his head on straight. I don’t let it take away from what I want to be in life.When I first went in to the system I went and stayed with my Auntie. But she had to move out of town and Florida wouldn’t let me go with her unless she adopted me. She wasn’t ready for that yet, so I went back into the system. I was moved every couple of months, to over 20 homes total, different foster homes and group homes. I went to ten high schools, 8 to 10 middle schools. There was a lot of moving around.
CM Why did they move you so often? Do you know?
KD Only because they always move kids in foster care. We stay in group homes and stuff happens —say someone steals your stuff or there are fights—other kids pick on you and bully you, and take your stuff. So they always have to move you somewhere that will be good for you at that moment in time.
CM That’s tough! It has to be a struggle to make friends and find stability amidst so much constant change. Was it only you in most of the homes or where there other children?
KD Yeah, it’s really hard. A foster home is basically several kids living with a set of foster parents. There are usually a couple of kids in each home. A group home has like 40 kids living together. We’re sleeping in a building and every kid has their own mattress. The state hires people to come check on us basically. I’ve lived in both types.
CM I think many of us when thinking of foster care have an image that is similar to adoption —we have the idea that a child finds a permanent home with one set of parents at some point. Did that happen for you?
KD When I turned 18, I was living with a lady named Miss Lola. On my birthday, the social workers came and got me from her house and I went to live with the parents I’m staying with right now. My foster parents, Mr. & Mrs. David Wilkerson, they took me in. They treated me really well and made sure I graduated school, made sure I did the right things, and made sure I was able to be successful.
KD I turned 18 then, and I aged out of foster care. You’re considered an adult then. If you have family, you can go live with them. If you don’t, sorry, you have to go find a shelter to live in. So, it was when I turned 18 that I finally settled with my foster parents. They started helping me, taking care of me, and helping me to grow. They didn’t want to see me in the streets, so they took me in.
I became an advocate for foster care then. I traveled to Washington, DC and I spoke to Senators. If you look me up on Google, you’ll find information about the Bill called, “Extended Foster Care,” that we got passed. A lot of kids, when they reached 18, were thrown into the streets with no help. There was no one to pay for school or help you get a start in life.
My caseworker and I were tired of seeing kids thrown in the streets, so we came up with a plan. We wrote letters to senators and advocated for change to the system. We wanted to make sure that if a kid turns 18 and is working or in college that there was help so they could make it and have a chance to live.
Kevon Dooley at the Ritz-Carlton Atlanta. “Kevon Dooley Series” ©2020 Marissa Mullins
CM I think it’s wonderful that you found a set of parents to settle with and that you had the desire and willpower to advocate and help others. Your foster parents are your parents to you now?
KD Yeah, they’re my parents to me. It doesn’t matter if people are part of your bloodline. Whoever takes care of you and makes sure you’re okay, feeds you, provides a roof over your head, and loves you, that’s your parents. It doesn’t matter about the blood.
CM I totally agree with you. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents as a child. They were like parents to me. I’m very grateful for that. It’s difficult to imagine what it’s like to switch homes and families so often, to live in group homes and feel so alone and disconnected from others. What caused you to enter foster care?
KD It’s hard. It was hard for me. All of us grow differently. None of us asked to be in that situation. You know what I’m saying? All the moving around and no one solid in your life, you tend not to get attached to people.
I was put in the system because my mom was on drugs. Then she passed away. My father didn’t want anything to do with us —I have seven brothers and sisters. I was split up from them. Then, after all this time, it’s like I don’t even know my real brothers and sisters. I keep in contact with two or three of them. Other than that, it’s like we didn’t grow up together, so we don’t know each other, we just know we came from the same parents. It’s like we’re strangers.
CM We’ve had several phone conversations prior to this interview, and one of the things about you that impresses me most is your upbeat, optimistic attitude about life. You’ve also made the point that you don’t use your background as an excuse not to be successful. Tell me a little about how that mind-set came into play? We all experience anger, frustration, and fear —and I’m sure you’ve experienced those emotions a great deal in your life. How did you move through those emotions to the mind-set and attitude you have today? You’ve told me you want everyone to understand they can make it?
KD Yes, Ma’am. That’s really true. The background I came from had struggles. Of course it made me really angry with my family and parents because they let me go to foster care. I have family in Florida. They allowed me to go into the system. They could have kept me, but they didn’t want to deal with another person’s kid, I guess. But eventually, I started to realizing that being successful isn’t based on where you came from in life, it’s about where you want to go in life.
There are some people who come from a messed up background but made it, and I look at those people as inspiration and understand it doesn’t matter where any of us came from, it just matters where we’re going. Of course, you can’t forget your past and you can’t use it as an excuse. You have to learn to understand that. Once I started to realize that, I started making my Street Wear jackets and I started getting attention for them.
CM That’s wonderful! Tell us more about that.
KD I can tell you a story. One day I was walking in the mall, and I had one of my jackets. I was 17 then and had on one of my jackets. I was walking through the mall and this big guy came up to me. He was like, “Hey, dude, where did you get that jacket from?” I told him I made it and he asked for my number so he could get one from me.
I didn’t know who he was. He called me up a few days later and asked if I could come to his house and make him one. He Ubers me to his house and when I asked what he did, he was like “I play in the NFL.” I was in a mansion talking to an NFL player! His name was Noah Spence and he played for the Buccaneers!
I realized that day that God works in mysterious ways. What was the likelihood of this man finding me, just some kid walking through the mall, and having me make him a jacket? Then, he gave me the opportunity to be on his Instagram platform. He gave me the opportunity to meet other players, and then, after that, I started making friends with NFL players and different types of people.
That’s when something clicked in my brain. I said to myself, my past doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all. It’s about where I’m going, and about me wanting to be successful. It’s about me motivating other kids to understand that it’s not where you came from. It’s about where you’re trying to be.
CM That really is true. What an amazing and wonderful story!
KD For everyone out there that is struggling—whether they’re in foster care, living in poverty, or going through other rough times, I just want you to know that you can still be successful in life. Chase your dreams! Motivate yourself to be successful—there’s plenty of success out there and you can make it if you keep faith in God and get up every morning being productive. Don’t dwell on the past. That’s the main thing I want to say.
CM That’s excellent, and I agree with you completely. Can you share with us about your creative efforts? What are you doing right now?
KD Right now, I’m working on my clothing line. It’s called Canvas Your World by Kevon Dooley. It’s about originality. I do painting. I do photography. I moved to Atlanta because I want to pursue acting. I’m currently working on marketing the new line. I’d like to open a few clothing stores around the world.
CM Where can our readers find your jackets and clothing line?
KD They’re available at the store, Fly, in the International Mall in Florida, or they can contact me directly through my Instagram account at @princekevonthegoat.
CM Tell us a little about the creative side of making clothing?
KD My birth mom was an artist. She was talented and I got my artistic side from her. I always wanted to be a fashion designer. I do stitching, embroidery, and I paint on the jackets. I stitched the jacket [shows the white jacket]. I sewed it placed the patches. It’s called Urban Wear or Street Wear. Street Wear is something you wear in the fall, a nice cover up jacket with some denim jeans, and maybe some boots. Each one is custom made and no two are exactly alike. So, they’re really unique.
CM They’re cool, fun. I like them.
KD Thank you, I appreciate that.
CM We really appreciate you sharing your time and your story with us. Any last thoughts you’d like to add for our readers?
KD I have my down days, we all do. I’m not perfect. Sometimes, when I’m not happy, I try to make sure that I’m still spreading positivity. The world can be a dark place and what it needs most right now is love. Just believe you can make it and keep spreading love . ҉
For more information on Extended Foster Care, please visit http://www.aecf.org.
Kevon Dooley grew up in the foster care system of Florida from age 7 till age 19. He has advocated on behalf of foster children for schooling, counseling, and extended living since leaving the system. Kevon is an artist, actor, and a young entrepreneur now living in Atlanta, GA. He hopes his story “can show others that no matter what happens, if you keep your head high and keep working hard, you can succeed and the future is yours.”
Our gratitude to the Ritz-Carlton Atlanta for a wonderful stay and for allowing us to use the location for our photo shoot with Kevon.
For more information or reservations:
181 Peachtree St NE
Atlanta, GA 30303
Want to see the original interview with additional photos and information? Order your copy of Issue 1.2 with Kevon’s interview today!