An elementary school teacher brought the house down while singing the national anthem at the graduation ceremony at Lincoln Charter School’s Denver campus the end of May. He has a powerful voice but here’s so much more to this elementary school teacher than his vocal talent. Carl Lykes III has been teaching at Lincoln Charter School for the past nine years. Teaching was not his plan when he graduated with degree in business administration in 2007. At that time, jobs weren’t readily available in the financial sector so Lykes went to work as a teacher’s assistant at an alternative school in Iredell County.
“I thought I was going to be working at a bank but my mom worked at Monticello Alternative School so she helped me get my foot in as a teacher’s assistant,” he said. “That taught me a great deal about building relationships with children. A lot of the teens there were troubled so more than teaching, it was about getting to really know who the kids were.”
Being fresh out of college, the students at Monticello gravitated to Lykes because he was still on the same journey they were as teenagers. While he was at Monticello, Dave Machado, the then chief administrator at Lincoln Charter, approached Lykes about teaching at Lincoln Charter where Lykes’s wife, Tracy, was teaching music.
“I was going to be a banker but I ended up a teacher,” he said.
Even though Lykes was on track to a career in the business world and now teaches computers at Lincoln Charter School, music has always been a big part of his life. He grew up a pastor’s son and the first thing he remembers is picking up drumsticks. His sister, who is seven years older, was the drummer for the church and his father played the organ. When his sister started to learn to play the organ, she taught Lykes how to play the drums.
“I’ve travelled a lot of places with music and have played with some renowned gospel singers over the years,” he said.
Lykes met wife, Tracy (Hester) Lykes, who is from the western side of Lincoln County, through music. They were acquaintances in high school, both attended private Christian schools. Hester frequently sang the “The Star Spangled Banner” at basketball games that Lykes played at. They both attended Emmanuel College but didn’t know the other was going to that college until they ran into each other on campus.
When the singer for the national anthem at graduation fell through at the last minute chief administrator Jonathan Bryant reached out to Lykes, who is known on the Lincoln Charter campus as the “hype guy” and will pretty much do anything he’s asked to do for the school because he loves connecting with the students.
“JB (Jonathan Bryant) hit me up about 10:00 that Friday morning, ‘hey man, can you do the national anthem?’” Lykes said. “I told him to hold on, let me check something. With my allergies, I wasn’t sure I could hit the highest notes but I could so I told him yes. I’ll do anything JB asks me, that’s my dude. He’s a really good guy. It was a privilege to sing for all these kids. A lot of them I taught while they were in middle school.”
Growing up, Lykes had to dress very conservatively but he’s since discovered a love for flamboyant attire. The suit he wore on graduation night he refers to as his “Dixie Cup” suit.
“I like dressing up,” he said. “I like loud colors and to dress for fun. I like to get suits I like. I have a Pacman suit, a Spiderman suit and a Star Wars suit.”
Working around his teaching schedule, Lykes is still very involved in music. He still plays the drums and many other instruments, is a DJ whenever needed, collaborates with other singers and songwriters and is often asked to be the MC at church events. He also started a nonprofit, “Holy Nation United,” an organization that focuses on unity within the community. In October, they do a festival-like event called “Light up the Night” where they unite business and churches to help Special Olympics Unified Champions.
“Throughout the year, we meet at a coffee shop and create a third space for people to be social, network, play games and speak truth,” Lykes said. “My philosophy is to show the community to the community. There’s a lot that goes on within our community that we’re not aware of. It’s about showing light and love to the community and lending a helping hand where needed.”
Lykes was growing up when cell phones first started being sold and he’s seen a change in how people exist. He thinks they are living through superficial filters – their profiles on social media — and there’s no real connection or harmony.
“It’s ‘how can I brand myself’ or ‘what’s in it for me’ versus ‘I just love you because you’re a person like me,’” he said. “When I was growing up, we still played outside. There wasn’t FaceTime, we’d intentionally go to our friend’s house to play. Technology has made it convenient, in a lot of ways, that we can sit in our homes and play games. We don’t have to physically go to see anyone.”
The language of life is what Lykes believes can bring the community together more so than anything else.
“We can agree that we’re all on a journey and we’re all encountering challenges, discovering stuff about ourselves and trying to go in a forward direction,” he said. “I think if we start speaking in languages in a commonality like that, it’ll make us better.”
Lincoln Charter School’s mission statement, especially the community expectations, resonates with Lykes. He believes that if an individual were to follow those expectations, it would change their life as it has his.
“To put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and to be empathetic is one that takes a lot of people out,” he said. “I think if we were to show more empathy, we would slow down on the judgment and be slow to speak about another person. I try to love freely and deeply and have no regrets.”