By Craig Webb Akron Beacon Journal
Photo: Karen Shiely, Akron Beacon Journal
He says he's just a dad from Akron.
This particular dad sports a dyed-blond mohawk.
He has more tattoos than he cares to count.
And if you do count them, they number about 100.
Kenny Lambert is setting out to change the world in one particular city in the 330 area code one shirt or hoodie at a time.
His clothing company, Just a Dad From Akron, will open its first storefront at 937 Kenmore Blvd. on Saturday.
He says he is peddling more than just clothes: He is also selling a message that you don't have to be perfect to love one another and be a better person.
Lambert, 30, readily admits he was once — not that long ago — a pretty despicable person. He grew up in Springfield Township and started drinking at around age 15. He soon graduated to smoking weed and then just about every other drug, recreational or hardcore, you can imagine by the time he hit his late teen years in Akron.
Lambert said he was a mess.
A user of not only drugs but anyone who set out to help him.
There were arrests along the way along with stints in rehab and even jail.
None of it stuck, and he continued to drink and use drugs.
He hit proverbial rock bottom just over three years ago.
He was about to be a dad and was living out of his car after he had exhausted the kindness of every last friend and relative who had offered second chance after second chance and a spot on their couches — only to be rewarded with having to deal with either a drunken or high house guest.
Things were so bad, Lambert said, he even prayed that God would either take his life or send along an angel in the form of the police officer to bust him either for possession or driving under the influence.
God sent the latter. He ended up arrested and in rehab once again.
But this time was different, Lambert said. He was ready to make some changes.
For you see, God sent another angel, and her name was Amelia.
"She really turned my life around," he said of his baby.
He had not only his fragile grasp on sobriety to worry about now but also this loving, unjudging baby to live for.
But there was the not-so-small matter of finding work.
Not an easy task for someone with a criminal record and a history of substance abuse. He began working construction jobs and rebuilding his own life.
Lambert said he wasn't so sure construction was the ultimate answer.
He had previously organized large parties where alcohol flowed freely and sold clothing he designed on the side to the revelers. He knew that wasn't the answer this time — he knew he had to stray from his partying past, but he still wanted to tap in to this creative side while making ends meet to help co-parent his daughter.
It was a chance encounter — albeit at a distance — with Just a Kid From Akron that changed the course of his life.
He like hundreds of others watched LeBron James as he sat courtside and never touched a basketball at a youth basketball game in Akron.
Lambert said he was mesmerized watching LeBron just be a dad excited to watch his son play basketball.
Like a thunderclap, Lambert said, the idea came to name his new venture "Just a Dad From Akron" to sell clothing with messages about change and being a better person and in turn a better father.
There are now some 15 different designs, from one that says "do it for the kids" to another that makes a plea to "stop the violence."
In the early days, Lambert said, he would make the shirts after work from his construction job and then hand-deliver them to customers.
Most of the orders were from in and around Akron in the early days, and it was a lot easier and cheaper to drive them to people's houses than mail them.
He saved as much as he could from his construction job to help support the fledgling business.
Interest in his shirts began to spread — along with interest in the story of how he had turned his life around and was working to make a difference in the community, one shirt at a time — and folks wanted to meet him.
Lambert is active on social media with a website and Facebook page that use the Just a Dad From Akron monikers.
He spent time talking to customers — many who, like him, were looking to turn their lives around and be part of change in the community.
Lambert said he became an evangelist of sorts, sharing his own story of imperfection and working each day to remain clean and sober for his daughter
He decided early on to set aside some proceeds to help sponsor events in and around the city, from a rally calling for an end to violence to a free picnic providing a chance for folks to gather and break bread.
He picked up some friends along the way who helped keep the young business alive. One of them was Sebastian Spencer, 20, who was recently killed in an ATV accident on Portage Lake.
Lambert said Spencer was his real first employee as he struggled in the early days to fill the orders for gear that started coming in at a clip of 30 an hour.
Spencer's tragic death was a sobering challenge, Lambert admits, to his nearly three years of sobriety.
The fun-loving friend had stopped by the storefront not long before the accident to help with renovations.
Lambert points to a door frame where Spencer scrolled his own name after they struggled to make a paint pen work. This same cursive name is now one of the many tattoos that mark a life hard-lived on Lambert's body. It holds a place of prominence on his head right behind one ear.
Spencer is also remembered inside the store with a small memorial right behind the counter. "When the store opens it will be like he's behind the counter working," Lambert said.
The store itself, Lambert hopes, will serve not only as a place for customers to buy gear but also a place to lend an ear for someone looking for help in changing his or her own life around.
This is not your typical business plan where the primary goal is to sell shirts, shirts and more shirts.
Long before it opened, Just a Dad From Akron helped distribute Christmas gifts to needy neighborhood families from the then-empty storefront.
The site that was a former beauty salon in a previous life now sports an eclectic collection of murals from budding Akron artists. The walls are sort of like the collection of tattoos on Lambert's body — a hodgepodge of artistic expression.
"I've completely turned my life around," he said. "No matter where you are in your life — I'm an example that you too can turn your life around."
Craig Webb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Details What: Just a Dad From Akron storefront Where: 937 Kenmore Blvd. in Akron For more: Visit https://justadadfromakron.com/