The staff at Restore OKC have proclaimed to Keymonti Hammon on multiple occasions that one day he’ll take over their jobs, a fact the 16-year-old relays with a mix of pride and incredulity. A sophomore at Classen School of Advanced Studies at Northeast, Hammon was one of the first student interns for Restore OKC’s 2019 pilot program and has worked for the nonprofit organization throughout 2020.
Ann Miller, director of Restore Farms, and her colleagues at Restore OKC promote racial reconciliation by partnering with neighbors in Northeast Oklahoma City to end the cycles of poverty many find themselves caught in. The internship program with Restore Farms was born out of a desire to provide work for local teens, while also exposing them to a variety of career choices and empowering them to serve their community.
Miller consistently tells interns that she and her staff will have achieved their goals if one of them comes back to take over their jobs. Hammon is a prime example of a student for whom she believes that possible, due to his work ethic, empathy for those he leads and desire to enable others’ strengths to shine.
“Above all else, we want to invest in these kids, help them pursue their dreams and end the food desert in Northeast Oklahoma City, and they are working with us to brainstorm ways to do that,” said Miller.
Currently, Restore Farms employs 15 interns with the capacity to bring on board as many as 25. Students learn many facets of agriculture by working in the 5-acre farm and area elementary school community gardens. Hammon sets the standard, leading by example, believing in his own merits and bringing out the assets in those around him.
“Everyone deserves the opportunity to work and show their worth,” said Hammon.
Growing food and leaders
Hammon is known among his fellow interns and staff as a hard worker who infuses much-appreciated fun and goofiness into their days. Throughout his internship, he’s worked in the farm greenhouses, cared for the pollinator garden to sustain bees and monarchs, helped build school gardens at Thema Parks and MLK Elementary Schools and landscaped at Restore OKC’s offices.
“He’s been such a delight,” said Miller. “He’s wise, he’s consistent, he’s willing to work hard. He doesn’t mind following and is willing to defer to other teens in leadership positions. He does a good job honoring and respecting others, handling conflict directly, but maturely, in private.”
Throughout the summer internship, when Hammon spent 15 hours a week at Restore Farms, two days were work days but the third was dedicated to education. In addition to learning about agriculture, Hammon has gained life, business and communication skills, including introductions to marketing, budgeting and graphic design. One of his favorite opportunities has been cooking classes and meeting a professional chef, and he’s most grateful for the connections he’s made with people who inspire him to do what he loves.
“Before Corona, I was trying to start my own catering business,” said Hammon. “Food speaks to people through the heart. Through my cooking and baking, I show people how I feel and make people feel better by eating good food.”
In his spare time, in addition to cooking and baking, Hammon plays baseball, with third base his favorite position, likes to write and sing and has an affinity for reading horror novels.
Hammon attests that he’s not always been a great leader, saying in middle school he was often argumentative and unwilling to listen to others. His mentor Darren, an engineer with whom Hammon connected through local organization Class Matters, talked with Hammon privately, a lesson Hammon took to heart as he now mentors others, about how his actions were affecting those around him and how he could instead use that same energy for good.
“He taught me how to be a leader, how to resolve conflict with others and how to get others on task,” said Hammon. “After learning all that, I’ve been in situations to show what I’ve learned to others. I’ve had hardships and I’ve had to earn my leadership skills.”
Now Hammon relishes opportunities to show younger students, perhaps future interns, around Restore OKC.
Hammon credits Darren, all the staff at Restore OKC and teachers throughout his educational career with shaping him into the young man he is now, as well as his family, including his mom and stepdad and four siblings.
The sophomore hopes to one day attend college to major in hotel and restaurant management so he can work his way up the ladder in the culinary industry, but says it’s unlikely he’ll be able to go to college right out of high school. Instead, he’ll need to get a job first to earn enough money to pay for college. Miller says that’s an issue for many of their interns, and the reason Restore OKC is working with nearby colleges and universities to try to establish full scholarship guarantees for their interns.
“These are amazing kids but a lot of them have a barrier [to attend college] without financial assistance,” said Miller. “Most of them say if they don’t get a full ride, they won’t be able to go.”
Impacting the community
As Restore OKC staff have asked interns to brainstorm how to provide food sources for thousands of community members to walk or bike to, Miller says it’s been inspiring to watch the students expand their vision for the community and themselves. Interns like Hammon provide fresh perspective on how to accomplish the organization’s mission, and the students have also been open and honest in their conversations about the racism and racial injustice they’ve experienced firsthand.
“The more I’ve gotten to know them, it’s impossible for me to ever be apathetic,” said Miller. “We’ve had conversations with them about how we can try to love others well, what they can do to start to turn the tide and when to enter into those hard conversations. But a lot of the impetus has to be on the white community to wake up to [racism].”
Hammon is hopeful that his generation can lead the community toward racial reconciliation, encouraging people to come
together and marginalized voices to be heard, but he doesn’t believe it’s possible to end racism entirely.
In true leader fashion, though, Hammon is willing to do his part, examine his own biases and pave the way for others to understand those who are different. Until the previous school year, Hammon says Northeast High School students were predominantly Black. That changed when Northeast and Classen SAS merged.
“I was introduced to many different types of people and different opinions, and my point of view changed from getting the opportunity to learn from and talk to people about their everyday lives and things they [wish] were different,” said Hammon. “My train of thought would have never changed if I was never put in that situation. That was a good opportunity for me. To be a leader, you have to listen to others and their opinions.”
In his time with Restore OKC, Hammon has led with the same mentality, getting to know his fellow interns’ skills and passions so they can work more effectively as a team and make a positive, lifelong impact on the community they serve.
“These interns are awesome and they 100 percent are going to change our future and our world,” said Miller. “We’re just getting to be instruments that come alongside them. Keymonti has been so fun to watch, see
him grow and see his horizons begin to expand.”