World Food & Music Festival
Western Gateway Park, Des Moines -- Sept. 16-18, Free
DeAn Michael Kelly has a vision. A creative one. He’s manifesting it through creativity, healthy choices, music and inclusivity — and it truly is inspirational.
His personal evolution is the catalyst for the many projects he develops, as well as the next-generation leaders he encourages. His muse leapt into action, and he adopted “DK” as his musician moniker. Later, he began using DK Imamu Akachi.
“Our names carry a big vibration,” he explained. “They’re carried throughout our entire lives. DK is just human, but the rest of my name, Imamu Akachi, comes from African roots. Imamu means spiritual leader and Akachi, God’s hands. So, if you say my name all together, it’s a human spiritual leader in God’s hands.”
From there, he kept expanding, fine-tuning his skills. He founded Go Beyond Walls, a “place of inspiration and development.” With its beckoning positioning statement — “Strengthening Communities by Strengthening Individuals” — DK provides youth a path to make strong, positive choices for their lives.
DK, self-described as a “creative activist seeking truth, justice, peace and harmony,” discovered a foundation for not only his creative persona, but his entire life.
“I find that my music and my voice are supposed to carry people through tough times … I have a clear message [that] I am trying to relate to somebody, to help them get through their inner-world. I’m trying to carry their spirit forward so they can get their physical things done.”
In 2021, DK was chosen to be part of a select group of creatives, the inaugural group of Fellows for the Iowa Creative Incubator. This four-month artist fellowship program, under the guidance and leadership of Mainframe Studios in the heart of Greater Des Moines, was designed to “forge pathways between artists and business to build more collaborative, more vibrant and more connected communities.” This fellowship was perfect for an artist like DK.
He recently completed a six-week program teaching for ASAP (After Schools Arts Program) and Starfish Academy. This program, as the name implies, makes a difference for young students. The starfish tale is timeless: A child walks along the oceanside, tossing stranded starfish back into the ocean. When asked why they bothered, as it would be impossible to save them all, the child picked up another shore-bound starfish, tossed it back into the water and said, “It made a difference to that one.”
During DK’s ASAP work, he empowered some 60 students.
“One week, the theme was space travel. I decided that we could travel through time, and I made that a time machine reference and gave them the connection to speak with your future self,” he said. “‘You’re going to say something really positive to yourself that you’d want to hear when you feel sad, or when you feel down. You can read this in a week, or in a year, or bury it somewhere to read when you’re 20 years old.’”
Such innovative approaches allow DK to give students an understanding of positive self-reliance, something he learned through his own early challenges. He dreamed about fame and fortune, but had a life-changing epiphany.
“There was a point where I couldn’t see my future,” he recalled. “I thought that not being able to see my future meant that I was going to die young. That scared me, and put me in a place where I wanted to make better decisions for myself.”
Although he didn’t graduate with his friends, he achieved his diploma the following year. He focused on creative writing, a passion since his grade-school days, as his primary artist’s voice.
“That’s why I like to be a writer. It gives me a chance to repeat over and over … it becomes a pattern in my own existence. I try to steer away from claiming something to be mine in this world because it’s just something for us to pass through and to enjoy while we’re here. I work with fourth and fifth graders because they’re in that space where they’re transitioning … I want to have a chance to give them some tools to keep them positive and help them identify with their own feelings.”
John Busbee works as an independent voice for Iowa’s cultural scene. This article was originally published in Little Village Central Iowa issue 006