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INTERVIEW, Ryan Chang
PHOTOS, Ryan Chang
Our collaboration with Kelvin Peña had been locked in for some time now. However, our shoot with him had to be rescheduled three times before we were finally able to produce the content you are now viewing in this article. This isn't because Kelv is an elusive person or that he is camera or interview shy, but it is because he is always on the move — a part of life that seems to have been ingrained with him since he was young. In fact, he is so on the move that just a few days prior to our penultimately scheduled shoot, he contracted malaria in Uganda. We were forced to reschedule yet again.
Kelv, New York born, moved to Puerto Rico with his family at 2. However, as a result of his parents' separation at 4, he led somewhat of a split life — growing up with mom and grandma and spending extended school holidays with dad. He eventually moved to Texas at 9 where he would finish up high school and also discover his passion for charity work. After graduating high school, he would go on to study biology with aspirations of pharmacy school at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania. Part of the reason he attended university in Pennsylvania was to be closer to his dad, who had a house in Pennsylvania but commuted to work in New York. These serendipitous life choices eventually led Kelv to one of his most important brushes with nature — the meeting with Canela the Savage.
Kelv's rise to stardom all happened very quickly during the summer break between his high school graduation and his first academic term at East Stroudsburg. He admits to us that he anticipated there to be some kind of reaction at his university from all the buzz generated over the summer, but the reality was much bigger than he expected. He recalls being mobbed inside and outside of classes by friendly and adoring peers. Although he had fast become a sensation on campus, Kelv let me know that he was studious and diligent in his first year with only a sparse to non-existent partying attendance.
After we finished up our shoot in Santa Monica, we hit a local ramen spot on Olympic. We sat down and talked his upbringing, ambitions, and much more.
Ryan Chang | Kelvin Peña
What did you want to do with pharmacy? Was it something your parents pushed for?
I really didn't know what my passion was at the time. I didn't know what I wanted to do. I just wanted to make good money and call myself a legal drug dealer, haha. I also wanted to help improve people's health.
That's cool. You seem to be very driven in everything you do. Where do you think that comes from?
My dad was a hustler. My mom was also a hustler. She was always working and pursuing higher education. My grandma was really the one taking care of me growing up. My mom has a bachelor's degree in business and a master's degree in education.
Oh shit. That's where you get it from then.
Yep. Both my parents are hustlers and really hard workers. They both really taught me the value of hard work. I get that drive from my parents. I never been lazy.
I see where you get that drive from. What about the charity aspect? I know you started Everybody Eats. Where did you get the passion for giving back?
I was a part of a college readiness program called AVID in high school that required us to do community service. The thing that really opened my eyes to charity was when I volunteered to help feed the homeless one Thanksgiving morning. And the feeling just always stuck with me. The feeling of giving back and celebrating positivity with all my friends just stuck. Especially on such a special day like Thanksgiving.
Kelv pauses our interview to ask the waiter for hot sauce or some kind of chili powder. He tells us that he is a big fan of spicy food as he proceeds to pour a generous amount of the chili sauce that the waiter brought out. A few bites in, it is apparent that he should have probably taste tested the sauce before applying it so liberally.
What are your parents up to now?
My mom is in Orlando. She's a special needs teacher.
That's dope. Very on brand for the Peña family.
Haha, I've never looked at it that way. But yeah, I guess so.
And what about dad?
My dad flips houses. He's still hustling.
What's the status with the Everybody Eats Foundation now?
It is currently on hiatus. I definitely have plans to bring it back, but it was getting difficult to juggle everything. I'm looking for a business person or advisor to partner with.
I see you as a person with boundless amounts of positive energy. What do you think the source of that is?
Just life, man. It was a combination of things after I graduated high school. I found self-love. I overcame heartbreak. I accomplished everything I set out to accomplish during that time. Hitting all my goals 100% made me feel like I could do whatever. I got good marks, obtained a scholarship, and got closer to my dad. It made me feel like I could do whatever. And then I went viral.
Have you ever found yourself struggling to capture your identity or to figure out who you were?
When I dropped out of college, it was a really big decision. At that time in my life, I had everybody questioning me from my friends to my parents. I was out in Los Angeles, not knowing anybody.
Did it have you questioning yourself?
Yeah, I was trying to figure it out. I questioned myself every day, and I questioned whether I made the right choice or not. At some point, it just clicked again. I was lost, and then I found myself. I feel like life is just a constant cycle. There will be times were you lose yourself, but everything has a good and a bad – a yin and a yang.
The bad shows you your real strengths.
Yeah. When I got sick with malaria, I was pretty down. I told myself I would bounce back.
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We asked Kelv what he had coming in the near future, but most of the projects he was working on were under wraps. He ensured us that they were going to be big and worthwhile.
Our sandal with Kelv drops on Saturday November 30, 2019 at 11:00 am Pacific Time. In a partnership with Karmagawa and Bali Children's Project, we've decided to donate a portion of all proceeds from the sale of this sandal to the complete renovation efforts of the Julah Children's Library in Bali, Indonesia.
You can shop the collection here.