Alumni Profiles: Brothers Reflect on Time at Walden

by VickiLee on June 4, 2014

The Okulolos are one of several “second generation” Walden families in our midst. Brothers Kalil Wilson and Kevin Okulolo both attended Walden in the 1980s and 1990s, and their nephew Jordan is currently a Walden Middle Group student. Babá Ken Okulolo (father of Kalil and Kevin and grandfather of Jordan) has shared his amazing music with our community many times in many ways over the past twenty years. Kalil Wilson and Kevin OkuloloKalil and Kevin are the kind of young men who give you a hug the first time you meet and again when you part ways. A real hug. They both make eye contact in a way that is present, open, and ready for anything. Their inherent expectations for positive relationships mean that conversations with them are fun, honest, and sincere. When Kalil was in second grade, his parents realized that conventional schools weren’t able to properly address his learning differences and they decided to move him to Walden. The move was great for Kalil, and younger brother Kevin followed suit, attending Walden from kindergarten through fifth grade. The rest, as they say, is history, but the story is far from over for this close-knit Walden family. There’s nothing like watching an adult recount a favorite childhood memory, and when asked separately about their favorite Walden memories, Kevin and Kalil both got that look that grownups get when they recount a happy time from their earlier days. They both smiled and enthusiastically described all the fun they had in Mare Staton’s class and her summer programs at Walden. There was camping, rafting, and spelunking−the kinds of experiences that leave lasting impressions. Walden’s old vans, “The Green Machine” and “Blueberry,” were mentioned with laughter. (They have since been replaced with two white, utilitarian vans that still take Walden’s students on many adventures, albeit with less panache!) Kevin remembers lunchtime being the best part of the day, with lots of activity that included running about the studio pushing the giant carpeted blocks around. His face lit up as he recounted how he and Kalil discovered that if you dug deep enough in the sandbox behind the Middle Group, you would hit a layer of clay. The two would “mine” the clay and “sell” it to other kids to use as roofs for their houses. Kevin also found solace in quieter activities, like when Jo and Susan would read aloud to the Upper Group students. Kalil loved being immersed in the arts. “I got to do anything and everything in art. I remember less about structure and more about things that amassed.” He laughed and shook his head as he recounted a time when he managed to spray himself in the eye with gold spray paint! Danger aside, he loved the project-based learning and the fact that students really contributed to building their own environment through projects that included creating murals and working together to construct the totem pole that still stands behind the Middle Group. The brothers went on to public schools after Walden and agree that the way their teachers and peers treated each other at Walden set the standard for their relationships. Even though the environment of public school was shocking to Kalil, he credits his ability to not just survive but thrive as a learner to the footing he developed during his time at Walden.
Kalil calls Walden, “paradise for kids.”
Kevin and Kalil continue to carry with them what they learned at Walden through their art and the fact that they both live their values via the life paths they have chosen. Kalil studied ethnomusicology and classical vocal performance at UCLA, and Kevin studied psychology and art studio at UC Davis. Jordan Okulolo, Baba Ken Okulolo, Lauren Okulolo, Jackie Gay Wilson, Kalil Wilson, Kevin Okulolo Putting his family at the top of his list of priorities, Kalil demonstrates just how passionate he is about living an authentic life. It’s never been his way to follow the programmed script or the typical path, and he treasures the ways in which his family and his time at Walden helped form the foundation to support his chosen course. “Walden prepared me to jump into anything. It’s all about art to me,” says Kalil. He continues to make art in his life through song, graphic design, and educational programming. Kevin currently works as an animator and artist at Free Range Studios in Oakland. The company specializes in working with nonprofits on web development and production of films, including “The Story of Stuff.” The culture of the company sounds like a natural place for a Walden alumnus to land. Free Range Studios is a place where the culture reflects values similar to those at Walden. Just the other day, Kevin says, coworkers spent time in a meeting expressing gratitude for one another. “Coming from Walden, it’s exactly the kind of place I imagine we should all go,” he says. Watching their nephew Jordan experience Walden brings smiles to Kalil and Kevin’s faces. Viewing Walden from the vantage point of adulthood, they can see the special universe that has been created at Walden. “There is acceptance and encouragement to be special, weird, and different,” says Kevin who is also struck by hearing the children sing. “The songs,” he says, “are incredible. The words have so much more meaning than I realized as a child.”
Kevin says that, “Walden is heaven for kids.”
The brothers are a great example of taking what you learn at Walden and making conscious choices to keep that sense of deep community, passionate creativity, collaboration, and meaningful work for the rest of your life. And to watch with a smile as it’s passed on to the next generation. You can learn more about the projects Kevin has worked on at Free Range Studios. Listen to some of Kalil’s online projects (podcasts he curated of popular music from around the world). By Sarah Cheney, Walden parent

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