By Skye Donaldson
Johnny Lykins is a storyteller. He makes people wonder, smile and laugh. So, when I sat in the Isom Atrium listening to Lykins talk about his past, I almost didn’t believe him when he said he was in the same business as Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar.
Lykins grew up in the very small town of Campbellsburg, Ind. With a population of about 750 people, everyone knew everyone and their business. “My graduating class was about 60, and we were big… If you did something, everyone knew about it in five minutes,” he said. Though privacy in Campbellsburg was close to non-existent, there was still a family feel to the community. Lykins knew who he could rely on and who he could trust.
Coming from a small community, Lykins had very little diversity in his trusted community. Now that he resides in MI, he has seen a very diverse landscape. “I don’t think I had seen anyone that was not white until I was about 13 years old,” Lykins said. His view on race and diversity developed quickly and now sits at “making fun of everybody equally,” a phrase that truly is the epitome of Johnny Lykins. “I am for diversity, but more so diversity of thought and intellect… I don’t think anybody should be prideful of their skin color; here we should all just be people,” Lykins said.
Lykins’ views on diversity and culture has been formed by his childhood. “I didn’t have the best childhood; there was a lot of stuff that happened… My dad was bad into drugs after he had a wreck when I was four years old. He got really hooked up on stuff. That’s what broke the marriage,” Lykins said. Lykins’ parents divorced when he was eight years old after seven children and 21 years. Lykins bounced around between family members and foster homes. He was staying at the houses of different friends, his grandma’s, uncle’s and cousin’s houses, in addition to being back and forth with his mom and dad.
As Lykins got older, he began to help his dad dealing drugs. At fourteen, he was forced to put on a different mask. “People just assume things are alright because of how I look… High school I had to fake a lot of stuff. I had to be happy when I really wasn’t. I was selling to kids in the school,” Lykins said. Lykins jokes around a lot and likes to bring people together through laughs because he knows what other people might be going through. “So now I carry myself differently, it helped with my perspective… I’ve been there, I’ve done that, I’ve been through a lot of different situations,” Lykins said.
Lykins had his childhood taken from him. He had to adapt to what was thrown his way. “Everybody has their thing, their stuff, their s***. Who am I to question that? Who am I to not want to help them just because of their background?” Lykins said. This is a thought that has developed through Lykins’ time here at Rochester College. When he first arrived at RC, Lykins thought of his life as a sob story. To an extent, he wasn’t being completely his true self. Now in his junior year, Lykins no longer fakes his story. “There are people who have worse, there are people who have it better… I care about who you are right now and how I can help you,” Lykins said.
Also developing through his time here at RC is Lykins’ journey with faith and religion.
“It was a big culture shock coming up here really. I came from a community of 99 percent white farmers,” Lykins said. Lykins first became aware of Rochester College through his minister from his church back home. Throughout high school, Lykins struggled with spirituality “In high school, I would say I was agnostic, I didnt think about religion too much. I went to church… but even going to Elevate back in the day I just didn't really care or take it too seriously. I didn’t know if I believed in God,” Lykins said.
In his later years in high school, he declared himself as an atheist. Five months before Lykins came to RC, his pastor at home talked through things with him helping him come to a consensus. In his final year of Elevate, he decided to get baptized. “I read up on a lot of stuff on it and I came to a conclusion that there is a God… I’ve dipped back and forth throughout my schooling here and the ministry program,” Lykins said. Lykins has read a lot of theology and atheism philosophy, but continues to come to a logical conclusion that there is a God.
“I’m very doubtful. If anyone has really low faith, it’s me. I don't take anything for its word, and that includes the Bible… Everything has to have some substance, I’m not going to just believe in something. I am a Christian, but I walk with questions and I walk with ambiguity, knowing I don’t know everything and I am still learning,” Lykins said.
Lykins jokes around about his past, comparing himself to Pablo Escobar, but this couldn’t be farther from who Lykins really is. Lykins has matured into a thinker and an intellectual. He has matured into a person who builds community wherever he goes. Though Lykins has stared down the barrel of a gun twice before, he has also stared down perspectives that belong to people just like him, encouraging people to grow just as he has.