Milton Kennedy

At Southside Rides Auto Shop, founded and run by ex-convict Dave Moore, the lessons being taught go far beyond how to do an oil change. “Southside Rides has two products: cars and people,” said Milton Kennedy, who is teaching the city’s at-risk youth the basic life skills they may never have learned at home or elsewhere.

Born in Boston in 1955, Milton Kennedy graduated with a liberal arts degree from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, and has been an educator ever since. Part philosophical teacher, part social scientist, Milton Kennedy is rarely seen without a pencil behind one ear, looking composed with poetry streaming from his mouth. After moving back to Boston, he became a public school teacher and implemented several after-school programs for at-risk youth.

Kennedy was eager to bring this experience to North Carolina. Upon his move to Winston-Salem in March 2010, he discovered Southside Rides through a contact at Forsyth Technical Community College. “Dave opened up his doors, allowed me space to do what I wanted to do,” he said. “He has his hand right in the middle of the worst parts of Winston-Salem. Why wouldn’t I want to hook up with Dave?” Kennedy is a proponent of the tabula rasa approach, believing each young mind to be a blank slate.

Through his course, “Lectures on Learning,” Kennedy challenges them to “clean out their minds” and let communication skills become part of a new identity. Kennedy integrates strong vocabulary into his program in hopes of inspiring peaceful communications in an increasingly violent and gang-ridden society. “These kids all want to learn they just need someone to believe in them,” said Kennedy. In this day and age, for Kennedy to have such faith in his street-hardened youths is truly remarkable and speaks volumes about his dedication to his work. The significance of Kennedy’s impact resonates deeply with every young man lifted from the streets working towards a better life.

“Thinking, reading, writing: it should all go back to a form of personal growth,” he says. “Once you open people up, you see their buried treasure. If you stop and step back you’ll find that all these kids are geniuses, too.”