Humans of Sweet Water...Meet Keith Denson


Meet Keith Denson...Keith joined the Sweet Water Foundation (SWF) family in summer 2018 as a Crew Member and Apprentice. He was born and raised in Chicago, and discovered Sweet Water Foundation through his son’s grandmother. Since joining SWF, Keith has pitched in and helped out in every way he can at The Commons - from work on the farm, to leading tours, to administrative and computer work. He is always willing, open, and excited to engage in conversation and learn more about others. Take a moment to read on and learn more about Keith.

Tell us about your background
I was born and raised in Chicago, but I have a lot of family in Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, and other Southern States. I don’t see them as much as I did when I was younger, but I hope to visit again soon. I have 6 siblings - two older and four younger. I also have three sons - they’re very active, intelligent, and have energy out of this world!

My background is a little bit of everything. I have experience in all different fields of science and working with computers. During high school, I was in East Program from freshman to senior year. In this program, we learned the basics of computers inside and out - how to design such as 3D Design, how to take computers apart and put them back together, and how to know the difference between software and hardware. I was also a Communications Major at Harrington College of Design. There, I learned more about software applications like Adobe Photoshop.

How did you get involved with Sweet Water Foundation?
I found out about SWF from my son’s grandmother. She met Emmanuel, Executive Director of Sweet Water Foundation, across the street from the Thought Barn. They had a conversation and hit it off. In no time, Granny was telling me about this wonderful place, and telling me I should come here if I was looking for work. So, I came to SWF looking for a job about 5 months ago, and it’s turned into so much more. I came here thinking I was getting myself into hard labor, and the same rules as the rest of the corporate world. I’ve been working since I was 15. I’ve worked at the airport, in retail, as a business consultant, and as a supervisor at a bank. I thought Sweet Water Foundation would be the same type of job, but it’s much more.

What’s the difference between those jobs and the work you’re doing at Sweet Water Foundation?
Sweet Water Foundation operates outside the realm of corporate politics, in a good way. I’ve named a lot of jobs, and in all of the jobs I’ve had, I was the product of company politics and sometimes mistreated. Whereas here, the first questions Emmanuel asked were, “Can you work?”, “What can you do?”, and “What do you like to do?” I told him I like to work hard and I like computer work. He actually made sure I went into an area that interested me, which is unique.

Since I started at Sweet Water Foundation, I’ve noticed that this is a place that welcomes people from all walks of life. Many of the people who work at SWF and who live in the surrounding community have been socially excluded within society. I believe this social exclusion is caused by racism.

I think the word racism is a vague term though. I believe the root cause of racism is hatred and evil. When we talk about racism, simply talking about race isn’t going to the root of the problem. It’s so much bigger than that. I believe no one should be exempt from anything because of race, but it seems to be happening. I don’t agree with racism, innocent murders, police brutality, and the other forms of hatred. Racism and hatred are humongous storm clouds that are here and can be fought against. They NEED to be fought against and prepared for.

When we talk about racism, simply talking about race isn’t going to the root of the problem. It’s so much bigger than that.

What’s your role here at the Perry Avenue Commons?
I am a Crew Member. That’s my job title, and it means I do a little bit of everything. I’m also learning carpentry through the Apprenticeship and Outreach Program. In this program, I’m an apprentice, and I also try to talk with some of the people who are younger than me. I try to give them good tips on life. I do some administrative work, and I also give tours to people who visit us at The Commons. I’m learning a lot here, and I’d also like to do more on the agriculture side of things, learning how and when to plant.

If Sweet Water Foundation had unlimited resources, what do you think it could do?
The vision I had was that Sweet Water Foundation is going to broaden its horizon, which is already happening. Emmanuel also mentioned that the end game is to open the pipeline and make connections across the world. So, my vision for Sweet Water is already in motion. If we think of all the people from across the nation and world who have visited us - from Japan and the UK, France, etc., that’s pretty incredible and shows the great impact of this place.

What do you want to do with the skills you’re learning here at Sweet Water Foundation?
The more time I spend at Sweet Water Foundation, the deeper my roots get. It’s going to be hard to leave, if ever. I’m know Sweet Water Foundation will always be part of my life. This place means so much. I was talking with Emmanuel once and he said something like, “Most people aren’t going to understand what’s going on here until 20 years from now.” I get it now, which makes me more deeply rooted to this place than most other people. Emmanuel always says that people come here, learn here, and then branch off, using Sweet Water Foundation as a place to bounce off of. Personally, I think that’s amazing! There are people who were here from  the beginning, and still come back to this day. That’s definitely going to be me. I got a taste of that Sweet Water, and I gotta get more.

Can you describe Sweet Water Foundation in one word?

Courtney Hug