“When I think about dreams, I think about the big picture. When I think about goals, I think more practical. What can I do today? I think you should have your everyday goals, of course, but don’t forget about the big picture and having an ultimate dream.”KENNY WALLS
The following conversation between my brother and I originally aired on IGTV on September 18th, 2020 as a part of my ongoing project, Black Box Conversations: which aims to create a safe space where BIPOC can hold meaningful conversations around their human experiences. In this episode, we spoke about adaptability as it relates to goals and dreams. Both Kenny and I have had a handful of experiences where we’ve had to adapt to major change and pivots.
Kiara Walls: Hello everyone, my name is Kiara Walls and this is the Black Box Conversation Series. Today, we will be talking about adaptability, with my twin brother, Kenneth Walls. Not many of you know that I have a fraternal twin brother, we are 15 minutes apart. I’m super excited to be talking with him today and creating a safe space. So I’m gonna go ahead and pass it over to him.
Kenny Walls: Hello, my name is Kenny. Kiara, she’s my twin. I’ve watched her develop the Black Box Experience from afar. So it’s a pleasure and honor to finally be able to be a part of it and find some time to give you guys a good discussion.
Kiara: So we’re going to start off with this question: can you share your experience with adaptability?
Kenny: At this point in my life, I can definitely see how I’ve developed. I’ve had to change directions, whether it be career or school or work. At this point in my life, adaptability is a very important key to just moving forward and trying to become successful. Most importantly, just being able to handle and deal with the things that come your way that throw you a little bit off, that forces you to adapt. Hopefully this conversation can resonate with some people.
Kiara: How do you feel your adaptability has strengthened over time? Do you feel it’s easier now, compared to when you were younger?
Kenny: Yeah, I definitely feel it’s strengthened over time. Most recently, I’ve been focusing on being able to move forward and become more adaptable and accept the things I cannot change. Then using what I’ve gained in the process as tools and growing new experiences out of that. I also think about how I am an educator, as are you, and we both have had to adapt to remote distance learning. Being able to adapt to different work environments and situations has definitely altered the social climate as well.
Kiara: What do you feel has helped you with navigating these challenges?
Kenny: I believe just being able to see the opportunity and struggle as stepping stones into the next phase. I know this sounds cookie cutter because too often people preach all day about the struggle but when you’re practicing to get through it you can start to see the fruits of your labor over time.
Kiara: Why do you think so many people struggle with staying the course when obstacles arise?
Kenny: I think part of it is just not being able to let go. Not being able to let go of a specific outcome, idea or image we have in our head and accepting what it actually is. This doesn’t mean that you stop dreaming or pursuing your goals. I think this kind of thinking mixes people up a bit. If a situation/outcome doesn’t go in their favor they just give up and stop going after it. But I think it’s very important to still pursue whatever you’re passionate about.
Kiara: In terms of dreams and goals, do you feel there is a difference between the two or are they singular?
Kenny: When I think about dreams, I think about the big picture. When I think about goals, I think more practical. What can I do today? I think you should have your everyday goals, of course, but don’t forget about the big picture and having an ultimate dream. It’s like having that North Star, even if it seems far away, it’s still within your view if you remain focused on your daily goals.
Kiara: I know, for sure. I also heard you talking a little bit about letting it go. I think a lot of people don’t realize that when you reach new heights and new levels, you have to let an old part of you go in the process, right? Because the goal that you may have in mind, or the future that you see for yourself: you have to adapt your personality, you have to adapt your habits.You have to literally adapt your entire being in order to reach that set goal. So I feel like people, including myself, just need to be more comfortable with letting things go and kind of being open to new scenarios, new situations, and new encounters with people around us, right?
Kenny: I think that the ego is important. When I say ego, I think about how we’re so strong and have a certain idea of the way a certain outcome is supposed to be. And then something comes in and throws that off and it takes you for a whirlwind. There’s a saying in tarot, they call it a tower moment: which is where your tower comes crashing down. And I think that at first those types of situations are really devastating. I’m not gonna downplay the fact that it’s painful, it hurts, and it’s hard. But if you’re fortunate enough to get through it, I think that you want to have more of those situations happen. So then you can—I wouldn’t say get used to it happening, but just be able to handle things a little bit better and more smoothly. Because ultimately, we make plans, but God laughs at us. But it doesn’t mean we stop making plans, I think we still have to do that. But it’s more so recognizing the things that we have in front of us as tools, as ways to get to where we want to go. I think sometimes we have those things, but our vision doesn’t allow us to see them. Sometimes, depending on where our headspace is at. So I think that that’s very, very important.
Kiara: Yeah, for sure. And I think we’re always challenging ourselves to adapt to a different perspective. I think adaptation really applies to all parts of life, even outside of goals and dreams. I think it applies to self care, right? Learning yourself and understanding what you need in order to grow, feel healthy,and in order to feel good. Adapting to those new tools that you need, right? So do you have any questions for me, Kenny?
Kenny: Yes, this is my favorite part here. So we do your Black Box Experience, I remember when we were putting the box together. That was the journey. And now you’ve created a platform for people to come and speak about very serious topics that they feel strongly about. And I think that’s really important because that information should be shared, no doubt. But my question for you is, how have you adapted within your schedule to accommodate the Black Box Experience as well as what you are learning? What are you learning from the feedback you’re getting from people who have watched it or people who have participated in it?
Kiara: Well, I’ll answer the first question. So as far as my schedule and the Black Box, I noticed that I’m a lot happier when I am doing my art. So when I’m not doing my art, obviously, I’m working or just doing random things. But I find it easier to include my practice into my schedule, because I also feel it’s my self care. And it’s really what keeps me going. And the feedback that I have received from viewers of the Black Box Conversations as well as participants that helped me out with these conversations has been extremely positive and also a driving force for me to keep these conversations going. The entire point of this Black Box series is to create a safe space where we can have meaningful conversations and where we can be comfortable enough sharing our experiences. So ultimately, others can view them and feel that same comfort from watching it. And I hold that really near and dear to my heart, because I just want to make a positive impact on our community. And just really create an inclusive, safe environment.
Kenny: Definitely. I think something that you said was spot on about just doing our art, whatever medium it may be. I know you’re a painter, big time, and you got me painting a little bit too. But I know this is a different medium for you. And I want to commend you, because things are looking really good. And I think what you said is really important about being able to do your art and have that place outside of your work and your everyday responsibility to contribute to your self care. I think the thing about art: it’s just raw and it’s all improvising. It’s true, you can’t fabricate it. We go to work, and you gotta put on a smile and do the whole thing, and I know as people we kind of get tired of that. So it’s important to have that outlet: our music, all forms of art; they’re extremely important. I think, to our community, even more so because storytelling is something that we’ve used for generations to really keep our ancestors alive, and things of that nature. So, when we see people of color doing art, it really resonates with me, because that’s how we communicate with each other. That’s how we communicate with the ones that came before us. And I think being able to keep that alive is really, really important. Really, really important!
Kiara: Oh, for sure. And I think touching on storytelling is really what is keeping our history alive, right? Because our history is not in the history books. This is something that has been passed down from generation to generation. That’s why I feel so passionate about my practice, because I feel I have an opportunity to really document what’s happening right now in our community. Because when people look back on these conversations, they can see what was happening, they can see the climate, and they can understand people’s perspectives. And that’s why I also want to include so many different people for so many different topics. So it’s a wide range, it’s not just one perspective on something. I want to include all perspectives and I want to talk about all topics that are affecting our community, both positive and negative.
When you were just talking about art being real, right? I was talking with my students today, and I was teaching them about this artist: Jean Arp. He’s known for his spontaneous work. He didn’t really plan out his work, it was more so just his subconscious. So we were asking the question, does the environment affect the artist’s work? Is the work a product of their environment? And a lot of my students said yes, and I agree, yes. It is the environment. As artists, I feel our responsibility is to communicate a message of whatever is going on. And it’s the viewers’ responsibility to understand it in their own perspective, because it has a message, but it’s going to sound different to everyone. And that’s the beauty, the beautiful thing about art.
Kenny: Yeah, I definitely agree with that. I think that’s the power of art, whether it’s music, writing.It forces you to create the idea as well. You become the creator of that idea. From that piece of art, let’s compare it to if you’re watching a sporting event, I think we can all agree that we’re all looking at the same thing. But if we all look at a painting, everybody can see something different. If we read a book, we can all interpret that book in a different way and create a different image in our mind. And I think that’s really what the power is; where you can get that creativity and it can be actually organic, and not in such a way where it can be influenced by the same thing that influences everybody. So I think that’s really really spot on.
Kiara: Oh, for sure. And then I think being African American, and not always having the space to be our authentic selves because we had to assimilate to societal standards, and right now with the climate and everything, we’re having the opportunity, or we’re creating our own opportunity, to be our authentic selves. And what is coming out of that is just amazing work, amazing conversations. Amazing. Courage, and fights, and optimism, and strength overall, right?
Kenny: Yeah, definitely. So too, I think we ultimately got to keep it going. I think the entrepreneurial spirit has always been really strong in our community, simply because of the fact that we’ve learned over decades— over centuries that we can’t wait on somebody to put us on. At the end of the day, we have to put ourselves on, we have to kind of sign ourselves. We are gonna have to rely on our own people, our own community, and really ourselves. And I think that’s where that entrepreneur’s spirit comes out. I think that’s why you see so many African Americans with a hustle. I think that it’s just a hustler mentality. Of course we want to be able to go and have corporations and have all these things, but I think that for us personally, we really need to be able to build that for ourselves. I think that’s where we really will see the most growth, and I know there’s a lot of great things going on. I’ve talked to a lot of people on some boards who are starting some great stuff. I think that it’s become easier for an African American person who needs an investor to find that investment from a black person or a black billionaire. I think that is important—imperative, if we really want to push this thing forward. I don’t think it’s truly about- no offense- to integration or anything, but trying to do too much merging, instead of really just building our own selves up and being able to build ourselves up without worrying about it being torn down. So I think that we’re getting there, we’re moving forward at a good pace. And ultimately, we just got to keep it going. And we got to keep conversations, the ones that we’re having, we got to keep those types of conversations going.
Kiara: For sure, and it really does tie back into adaptability. I think that also translates into momentum. There’s a strong momentum happening right now. And I feel that it’s not going to die down, I’m hoping that it’s not going to die down, and it’s just going to be consistent, or strengthened even more.
Kenny: Yeah, I believe it will. I think that we are an adaptable people, we always kind of have been forced to adapt to whatever situation, even if it’s not the prettiest. I think that’s kind of in our blood. That’s something that we’re used to. So I think that what’s happening right now is really just putting even more energy into it, and being the best version of themselves, because I think that by being the best version of ourselves, we can help people. At that point we can illuminate, at that point we can really make a difference. But it does start with yourself ultimately, it’s constant work, constant work every day.
Kiara: The pursuit of being the best version of yourself is a continuous cycle. You get knocked down, get back up. It’s a continuous cycle, but each time you get knocked down, you get up stronger. And I think that that is just a mindset that you have to have, especially when your goals and your dreams are big. Yeah. Do you have more questions for me twin?
Kenny: I just want to commend you for what you’ve done. I think that it’s extremely important and I 100% support what you’re trying to do. Whatever I can do to be a part of that, I want to see it flourish. And I think that it’s growing in the future, it’s going to be even bigger. And I’m really excited to see how that turns out. Thank you.
Kiara: Okay, so my final question to you is, what would you like to leave behind in the Black Box for viewers to understand or experience?
Kenny: Just go back to adaptability, just understand that. The battle that you’re fighting, we’re all fighting a certain battle, we’re all dealing with things that we have to overcome. And you can definitely do it. But I think that the key is to find the tools, find the gold in the struggle. Find that little nugget: the piece from the tower that crumbles that you can use to build the new wall and build the new tower. I think those are always there. But sometimes emotions can get in the way of us being able to see them. So if there’s anything I can leave behind it is to find the pieces from the rubble to start building that new path.
Kiara: Thank you so much, twin. I’m sure everyone who watches this is going to find a key point they can definitely take away with them. I appreciate your time and your support. I love you.
Kenny: Alright. No problem. Thank you for having me on. I love you too. I hope you’re doing well in Dallas, and I know I’ll talk to you soon.
Kiara Walls (she/her) is a multi-disciplinary arts educator and restorative justice practitioner currently working out of Portland, OR. Her practice explores the relationship between trauma and repair as a pathway to healing. This work is manifested through a lens of reparation, resulting in site-specific installations, conflict resolution, and conversations. Walls currently serves as the Dean of Students at Northwest Academy where she combines her disciplines to navigate and cultivate community amongst students and teachers.
Kenny Walls (he/him) is a former professional athlete, current educator, and baseball coach practicing out of Los Angeles, CA. Walls currently teaches at University High School Charter located in Santa Monica where he provides education around sports medicine to 9th-12th grade students. Walls combines his passion for health, athleticism and education to offer specialized lessons and training to his surrounding communities of color.
The Social Forms of Art (SoFA) Journal is a publication dedicated to supporting, documenting and contextualising social forms of art and its related fields and disciplines. Each issue of the Journal takes an eclectic look at the ways in which artists are engaging with communities, institutions and the public. The Journal supports and discusses projects that offer critique, commentary and context for a field that is active and expanding.
Created within the Portland State University Art & Social Practice Masters In Fine Arts. Program, SoFA Journal is now fully online.
Conversations on Everything is an expanding collection of interviews produced as part of SoFA Journal. Through the potent format of casual interviews as artistic research, insight is harvested from artists, curators, people of other fields and everyday humans. These conversations study social forms of art as a field that lives between and within both art and life.
Sponsored by the Portland State University Art and Social Practice MFA Program