BY JENNIFER CONN AKRON
PUBLISHED 5:00 PM ET SEP. 02, 2022
AKRON, Ohio — When visitors meet Kenny Lambert at his “Just a Dad from Akron” clothing store or one of the many community events he’s hosted, they are met with a tall, heavily tatted, energetic young man with cool hair and a genuine smile.
It’s no surprise Lambert has a growing following. His clothing line touts positivity and encouragement, especially for young parents who he encourages to be positive role models.
Lambert uses proceeds from clothing sales to host events that draw hundreds of people and feature giveaways of food, shoes or school supplies. He takes his daughter when he personally delivers merchandise purchased online to his customers homes.
His store is open to young people struggling with drugs and alcohol, but drawn to Lambert’s confidence and energy. He has partnered with many local businesses to spread his positive messages, all of which he calls “the movement.”
But what might be a surprise is that Lambert is a recovering addict and three-time felon, who was in and out of jail, homeless, and eventually shunned by family and friends.
He’s not guarded about it; it’s a story he often tells so those caught in the grip of addiction know there’s hope. In the end, Lambert said it was fatherhood that spurred him to get sober to stay alive for his daughter, Amelia.
Now Lambert’s story is coming to a much larger audience through the documentary, "Just a Dad from Akron: The Movement."
Produced by Nate Ankrom of Enjoy the Epic, the premiere is set at the Akron Civic Theatre in downtown Akron on Saturday, Oct. 1 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. There are 2,500 seats available for the free viewing.
More than two years in the making, the documentary follows Lambert through the early days of building his brand online and opening his Just a Dad from Akron store on Kenmore Boulevard. But it’s not so much about the business as it is the movement.
The film weaves the story of Lambert’s turbulent past with candid interviews with friends, authority figures, young people he has inspired — even a judge who sent him to jail.
“My life before, you know, like the life of a drug addict. The hardships that I went through, and how sobriety and faith has, you know, restored me as a person, to be a positive member in the community,” Lambert said of the film. “To give hope, you know, and inspire change.”
The documentary captures interviews with Lambert’s family members. His parents talk, not for the first time about their son’s addiction, but about the deep pain he caused, said Lambert, who admits he burned every bridge — with family and friends, and even his dealers.
“So it's very raw and organic, as far as, the emotions,” he said. “It's like inspiration, to give people hope. The film is not about me, by any means, you know, but it's more geared towards what happens when community comes together, what builds community, and the positive things that are the outcome of that.”
Ankrom said he learned about Lambert through friends, who sent him a link to something Lambert posted on social media in 2020. He contacted Lambert to say he was open to helping out with any videography Lambert might need.
When the two met, the intention was for Ankrom to create one or two short pieces on Lambert’s work. Fast forward two years, and they are making final edits to an hour-long documentary.
“The movement, really, it's contagious. I'm not always the most positive person,” Ankrom said. “The more we're around positive people, people are like good energy. It's almost like you can't be negative, you know. We all have our ups and downs. We lift each other up as a team and as a community.”
Parts of the documentary are bittersweet, and include an interview with Lambert’s one-time business partner Sebastian Spencer, 19, who died tragically.
When Ankrom met Lambert, Spencer was a company representative, helping Lambert launch the Just a Dad from Akron brand online and plan the brick-and-mortar store opening.
Ankrom and Spencer were both soon to be new fathers, and with much of Lambert’s messaging focused on good parenting, a strong bond formed.
In early 2021, Spencer died in an accident, leaving a three-month old son.
The popularity of the Just a Dad from Akron movement has been a boon to the Kenmore business district, said Tina Boyes, executive director of the Kenmore Neighborhood Alliance, a community development corporation.
The store has brought business to the Kenmore Boulevard district, but in ways that’s secondary to the sense of community Lambert has helped strengthen in Kenmore, she said.
Having lived through addiction and recovery and coming out positive on the other side, Lambert has reached many people who need support but don’t know how to get it, she said.
“They’re looking for someone on the side of the street to say, ‘hey, let's talk,’” Boyes said. “You know, he's that guy. And that's like a beacon.”