The odds of achieving success seem slim to none for minorities with impoverished backgrounds. Having not only been poor, but also homeless, Kyle Chais has had many odds against him throughout his life. Yet, the 20-year-old is showing others that they can also rise above their challenges after releasing his first novel called Nameless.
Chais was born in Flatbush, Brooklyn into poverty and without a father.
“My mom and I were really poor,” he told theGrio. “We had to survive on food stamps and we lived in a building that was nicknamed the Castle of Hell. It got its name, because it was shaped like a castle and it had hellish conditions. There were also a lot of drug dealers and gangs that resided there. I often got jumped.”
Chais continued, “In the middle of the building, there was a courtyard. It was really violent and very uncomfortable. Just stepping outside, I would step into a hallway of smoke, weed, crack, or drug a deal.”
He told theGrio that he became numb to this lifestyle: “I was just born into it… I was born in that environment.”
Yet, despite the odds, Chais said he used writing and his imagination to escape the terrible life around him.
“I was always kind of good at storytelling,” he said. “When I was little I would cover my walls with little sketches of Sonic the Hedgehog, and I would just create stories. I would even go as far as making commercials for my stories.”
Along with writing, Chais said his strong with relationship with his mother and God greatly helped him overcome his struggles.
“My father was never a part of my life,” Chais said. “People believe that if you grow up without a father that you will be messed up in the head, but for me, that thought never even came into my mind. My mom told me that all you need is yourself and God. She would tell me, ‘You were born into this world, so now you make the most out of it.’ ”
Chais’s mother Lydia added: “Well, whether you are poor, or without one or even both parents (not necessarily without fathers, but without supportive parents ), I’ve learned to just stay positive and never give up even when the odds are stacked against you. Always see the humor in things and stay away from negative people. And if you can, build them up too.”
Indeed, Chais’s mom said she tried to turn the negative situation of living in poverty into a positive one.
“Disciplining Kyle was certainly important, but I also wanted to expose him to more,” she said. “So I took him to museums, showed him books on famous works of art, the Mona Lisa, the Sistine Chapel, various works by van Gogh, and some of the history about the artist. I even exposed him to wonderful classical music like the ‘1812 Overture,’ Beethoven’s 5th, and the ‘William Tell Overture.’”
Chais said that his mom always tried to broaden his mind. “People say that if you are born into a certain environment that’s who you are, but my mom proved that idea wrong,” Chais elaborated. “My mom also grew up in a harsh environment, but my mom grew up differently from the rest of my family. While other members in her family made certain choices in life, she chose differently and I did too.”
His mother emphasized that she wanted to steer her son in the best direction possible, despite the challenges.
“What I learned and what I continue to learn about my son’s life is that he copies after me,” Lydia asserted. “He, like me, has a love for learning about just about anything. It’s good to learn about the arts, music, different cultures, and even a new language.”
Chais’s mother not only made sure that he was educated, but she also made sure that he had great experiences.
“She made me realize that my life existed beyond the four corners of the building,” Chais said. “She would take me to the park and we would have picnics. She would pay for me to take horseback riding lessons. She would save up for me, so that I could go away to camp, ski trips, and more. She always wanted me to be exposed to different things.”
Additionally, Chais recalled that his mother would buy an assortment of foods to expose him to different cultures: “To me, at first it didn’t seem like a big deal, but it actually is since lobster is kind of expensive. Usually people who are poor don’t make that. They stick to pork chops and fried chicken since they are inexpensive, but even with food my mom would always try to expose me to different things like Indian food and lobster.”
Life was good for the majority of Chais’s childhood, but soon life drastically changed for him and his mom.
“When I was twelve, we became homeless,” he told theGrio. “We were homeless for a year and a half.”Consequently, Chais and his mother relocated to a shelter called the Bay Family Center.
Ironically, Chais said the shelter was actually more peaceful than his previous home. “There wasn’t a lot of crime, or people hanging out there. I had peace of mind and I continued to go to school while many of the kids around me were dropping out.”
He said he tried to make the most of his situation, and he began writing while he was in the shelter. His writing abilities were soon noticed by teachers at his school.
“I was given a creative writing assignment to make three to four pages of a story — any story you wanted,” he said. “I wanted to impress my teacher, so I came back the next day with eighteen pages. She then introduced me to another teacher who was the head of the creative writing program within the high school.”
Nicole Duncan-Smith was one of the teachers who encouraged him to share his writing with the world.
“I believe that I inspired Kyle by simply being a listener,” she told theGrio. “I gave him a platform to be his brilliant self. It helped that I had previously published a book. Kyle has changed my life, because he has shown me that [despite having few] resources, there is an innate gift that God has given all of us. That is the gift of dreaming. If we dream, we can achieve great things.”
Chais decided to write a book and become an author in high school. “I was sixteen, and I knew it would take a long time to get published. However, I was actually able to finish it by the time I was 17.”
Indeed, with the help of his teachers, Chais got a publisher to give him a book deal for his first novel, Nameless, which was published by Simon and Schuster in January 2012. It is a fantasy piece about a demon fighting for survival. It reflects Kyle’s gift for using his imagination to explore greater truths within the world.
Duncan-Smith said Chais is truly a rare gem and she hopes that more will notice his talents. “I hope that his book impacts people on two levels,” she said. “One, I hope it inspires a generation of young writers to go out there and write something other than street literature. Our stories have depth! Our stories have range and they are not stuck in the most desperate corners of the gutter. Secondly, I hope that it impacts all people to ask the difficult questions about what they believe, in a very smart way, and encourages them to search to find answers about the nature of God.”
His mother also shared how proud she was of her son: “I’m proud of Kyle because he accomplished what most people only dream of,” Lydia said. “A published author! This is what he’s always wanted and this is what he persisted on. He was able to do this at such a young age.”
The publication of his book has even helped Chais to pay for his college education.
“I’m at Medgar Evers College, but I’m planning to transfer and get a scholarship to NYU,” he said. “I’m still planning it through. I hope to study social work, because I like to work with people on a personal level and I like to work with other young people who may find themselves in a desperate situation and may not know how to get out of it.”
Chais said that he hopes to publish even more books in the future: “I have fifteen years’ worth of stories lined up and that will be entertaining to people for a long time.”
His next series, Gagaland will compete with other young adult series, like Twilight, about which Chais said: “I feel that the series is just lame and out of touch. In general, I feel that many young adults stories are out of touch with my age group, so I am hoping to make a new era in the young adult field.”
Now, no longer in poverty and living in a Brooklyn apartment with his mom, Chais said he is grateful to his mom for helping him become the person that he is today.
“I realize now that she really wanted the best for me,” he said. “She wanted to expose me to different things in life.”
He also acknowledges her commitment: “In the places where I was, parents don’t usually expose their children to different things and different environments. They may work hard and that’s good, but sometimes they don’t spend time with their children, or even if they are home, they don’t spend time with their children doing their homework, or emphasizing the importance of education, and I think more should.”
Dr. Fran Walfish, who is a psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent, told theGrio that Kyle’s story shows that although there are many different families and many different situations that youth may have to go through, they can still rise above any situation with the help of a parent or parental figure.
“Many single moms and some single dads who did a wonderful job did so as a solo parent,” Walfish said. “It was because they adored being a parent and spending quality time with their child. When a child feels loved and given quality attention balanced with limits and boundaries, the rest falls into place.”
Indeed, Chais concurred that youth should not allow life circumstances, like not having a father around, lead them not to be successful in life.
“It’s only in your mind if you think that you can’t survive without your dad,” he said. “People only feel bad if everyone is pointing at them and saying that they are different, and that there is something wrong with them, without a father or a mother. There are many people who are born into my circumstances and they are way worse off than me. I believe that it’s about getting the knowledge that you need to succeed and better yourself.”
It is hoped that Chais’ story will encourage society to help more adolescents use their gifts to change their situation and the world.