By Darla Shelden
Ubuntu is an ancient African word meaning ‘humanity to others’. Founded in 2008, Ubuntu Living, Inc., a registered 501(c)(3) organization in Oklahoma City, provides reentry services as well as transitional living to those recently released from incarceration and assistance to others in need. Ubuntu Living began when its founder and director Kenny Fikes assisted one gentleman; then it was two, then three; and so on.
A unique sober living model, Ubuntu provides a place of comfort for those who need assistance making a fresh start. Guidance is offered by a compassionate staff who understands their circumstances.
Fikes believes residents of Ubuntu Living can still be assets to society with a little help. The Ubuntu Living program gives that aid by providing its residents a furnished home in an environment where they are treated with respect.
“Lacking the prison experience, my empathy stems from conscious awareness that it’s only through my understanding of the system, accessible finances and divine intervention, that I wasn’t incarcerated myself,” said Fikes. “Ubuntu was unplanned and took on a life of its own as I provided more and more help to others in recovery and committed to change.”
“A secure and safe place is essential to successful re-entry for someone returning from incarceration,” said Oklahoma State Senator and Ubuntu Living board member Constance Johnson. “Structured housing programs, like Ubuntu, establish accountability for residents and ensure that adverse distractions are minimized.”
Born in Chapel Hill, NC, with a background in banking, finance and trading on Wall Street, Fikes moved to Oklahoma in 1996. He began working for the State Senate as a fiscal analyst and later became Director of Operations for the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Then Fikes’ life began to spiral downward.
“After my last DUI in 2007, I was essentially unemployable,” said Fikes. “I started teaching school, counseling, coaching and doing odd jobs. I slowly worked my way back and started thinking about construction.State Senator Constance Johnson and some other members of the Oklahoma Black Caucus asked me to do some research on black and minority contracting. I reinvented myself and I’m now doing construction management and business development.”
After leaving recovery, Fikes moved into an Oxford House, a residence that helps people who are coming out of incarceration or who have lost everything. When his life stabilized, he decided to rent a house and to rent the spare rooms to others in similar situations.
“Not only does Kenny take care of others, but he does it in a way that is both more productive and cost effective than many other programs,” said Monty Karns, Oklahoma State University Assistant Director of Construction Services.” A model such as Kenny’s allows for many more people seeking to end their cycle of addiction to succeed.”
The Ubuntu Living house, located in northwest Oklahoma City, has 9 beds and for those who can pay, rent is $100 per week, which includes utilities, general supplies, cable TV, and telephone services.
Ubuntu Living provides its residents with transportation to essential events like medical and counseling appointments, child visitations, court dates, and other trips designed to help regain control of their lives.
“I have known Kenny some years now, and I have never met a young entrepreneur with as much energy and as many good ideas,” said Richard Angell, former minister, now a writer-photographer in Oklahoma City. “Ubuntu Living is a great enterprise. Fikes recognized the fact that you cannot really help other people directly, but you can help them help themselves. Kenny enables people to increase learning and get results. His character and persistence are strong elements in all that he does.”
Starting as Ubuntu residents, Sam Carter and Mike Worthy are examples of the program’s success. Through responsible management of their affairs and house operations, they have become Ubuntu Living’s program co-managers.
“In 4 years Ubuntu has significantly impacted the lives of over 100 men & women and their families,” said Fikes. “The average cost is about $2,367 per year, versus about $15,000 for the Oklahoma state to lock up these non-violent offenders. We accept about 55 percent of those who apply. For about $118,000 we can help 50 people. The state locks up four to nine people for the same figure.”
Ubuntu Living seeks assistance from churches, businesses and individuals in order to continue its mission. Support can be given by way of cash donations, service partnerships, or sponsorships.
“I have gone too far to turn back without these individuals and their families being greatly impacted, but I can’t continue to do it alone,” said Fikes.“I look for the support of the community to help keep Ubuntu Living’s mission alive.”
For more information visit www.ubuntuliving.com