Once a connoisseur of crime, Kenny Pleasant became a self-made entrepreneur of change.
From the ruins became a productive, appreciative man who has made the most of his second chance at life.
“I did it all,” Pleasant said of his crime-filled, misspent youth, a pattern of behavior that ultimately led to his arrest. Facing a 30-year prison term, he was given a last-minute reprieve by a sympathetic judge during plea bargain.
“I was able to walk away that day (from a court room),” he said, “and never looked back.”
Pleasant shared his story of transformation as a guest speaker at the seventh annual Linda Sweezer Memorial Juneteenth Festival and Celebration at Morrill Meadows Park last Saturday. The Kent Black Action Commission (KBAC) hosted the family friendly, community event – a cultural celebration commemorating African-American freedom.
Juneteenth is the oldest, nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the country.
Pleasant – today a husband, proud father of three and successful, 40-year-old real estate broker and investor from Bellevue – was one of several guest speakers who spoke of positive change and influence in today’s community.
Recognizing he was once in a powerless, hopeless situation, Pleasant found answers by rescuing himself, then finding the right help.
After spending two years on trial, he began to drastically change his life. He got married, began an apprenticeship, volunteered at his church and joined the real estate market when it was down.
“I literally had the desire to be something different,” he said.
Pleasant said he had to learn from his mistakes, and he learned the hard way. He read about 300 books during his self-education effort, he said. He surrounded himself with mentors, family and friends. He realized he had to work hard to improve himself.
“I had to toil the soil. I had to turn the soil so I could plant a new seed,” he said. “I had to erase everything and had to question every thought that came into my mind and ask myself, ‘Why do I think that? Why is that this way?’
“It’s easy to follow the crowd because it’s comfortable,” he added. “You have to be courageous enough to say, ‘You know what? I’m going to do the opposite. I’m going to be who I want to be.’ ”
Pleasant accomplished more than he could have imagined.
“Find your why,” he urged listeners in the park. “I had every reason to be a bum. I can’t rap. I can’t play basketball, and my wife and kids will tell you I can’t dance. … I have an eighth-grade, formal education. … I have a criminal record but yet I found one reason, my one why, and that one why was strong enough to propel me.”
“You can change, you can be who you want to become,” he said.
The event was renamed in honor of Linda Sweezer, a KBAC member, who was killed in her East Hill home last year. A man, who pleaded not guilty to murder charges, is awaiting trial.
Active in her neighborhood and wider community, Sweezer joined KBAC – a small grassroots group working to shape, support and advance conditions of the African-American community – several years ago. She was a smiling, warm personality who helped coordinate events, including the Juneteenth gathering.
Sweezer was “a special soul, a wonderful spirit, a compassionate human being … someone who reached beyond herself to help others, someone who encouraged others to help others,” said Gwen Allen-Carston, a friend, colleague and executive director of KBAC.
For those who would like to support KBAC, donations can be made to the organization’s GoFundMe account.
To learn more, visit kentblackactioncommission.org or Facebook.
Other speakers who dropped by at the celebration included Kent’s new police chief, Rafael Padilla, and Kent School District Superintendent Calvin Watts. Both said progress has been made in building relationships with colors of different race in their professions. Watts added: “The world is in Kent. If you look around, for those who have lived here for a while, Kent now looks, sounds and feels different. … Truth be told, we need to improve every day, and we are, in the Kent School District. We are a reflection of this world. We are a reflection of this municipality.” …
In addition to a lineup of speakers, KBAC and its sponsors provided lunch, games for children, a community dance and vendors showcasing their services and products. … Nationally known Seattle jazz guitarist Michael Powers returned for the third straight year to headline entertainment in the park.