Four days before Christmas in December 2020, Cacy Roberts and her sons, Malakai and Kameron, were sleeping in their bed when someone shot several bullets into their Fayette County home.
Malakai, now 6-years-old, was taken to the University of Kentucky Hospital to be treated for injuries to his head. A bullet missed his brain by two centimeters and rendered him permanently blind. He also has difficulty with his sense of smell and his ability to taste food like his favorite, cheese pizza.
“All suckers taste the same,” he said.
The family had no connection to the individuals involved in the shooting; their intended target lived next door. Roberts said it was the “the worst-case situation possible” because a little boy got hurt. She hopes their story causes people to give more attention to the increasing gun violence in Lexington.
“Don’t be so reckless that you are hurting other people,” she said.
The trauma is two-fold for Malakai: not being able to see and being shot. Roberts couldn’t take the trash out for weeks without Malakai and Kameron becoming anxious about being separated. While healing for all of them has been a journey, she focuses on the silver linings, like the opportunity to be closer to Malakai and “hold his hand more.”
Malakai has never attended in-person school as a sighted child. During the 2020-2021 school year, he attended virtual kindergarten due to the COVD-19 pandemic.
He now regularly attends 1st grade at Breckinridge Elementary School, where a paraeducator works with him. He receives one-on-one instruction for Braille and mobility exercises in addition to his regular classes. Roberts said that for the most part, Malakai lives an average elementary school life and enjoys hanging out with friends at recess and going to class.
Kentucky School for the Blind
As Malakai was returning to school in spring 2021, Fayette County Public Schools reached out to Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB) through its outreach program for help with his evaluation. From that interaction, the Roberts family was connected to the KSB’s short-course program.
Every 12 weeks, a student in the short-course program participates in two weeks of direct and concentrated instruction for their vision needs. Students can stay on campus or come for the day. The program rotates between two weeks of elementary, middle and high school students.
The short-course program focuses on the expanded core curriculum – additional skills that students who are blind or visually impaired need in addition to their academic needs. Students work on Braille, orientation and mobility, assistive technology and independent living skills, such as cooking in the kitchen.
“It’s a nice bridge between public school and our school,” said KSB Principal Peggy Sinclair-Morris. “When they are in public school, there isn’t always time to work on the independent living and some of the additional things our kids need. But when they come to KSB, they can intensively focus on those areas.”
Morris said the students in the short-course program may be the only individual in their school, or even district, that is blind or visually impaired. The opportunity to attend KSB allows students and their families to connect with others going through the same experience.
“The kids come from all over the Commonwealth. They meet other kids who walk that walk and develop the social connection with these kids who understand what they are going through on a daily basis,” she said.
Malakai started attending the short-course program in September. Morris believes Malakai is adjusting well and is “going to do some great things.”
“What I see a lot of here is resilience,” she said. “Watching him walk around the school, he has a great understanding with how he interacts with the environment.”
When Morris met the Roberts family, she wanted to support Cacy and Kameron in addition to supporting Malakai. While KSB could connect them to other families with blind or visually impaired students, Morris reached out to Future Healers to connect the family with others who have experienced gun violence.
Morris and Christopher 2X, a Louisville community activist and executive director of 2X Game Changers, were first connected when the organization donated 600 face masks to KSB. When Morris reached out about Kameron and Malakai joining the Future Healers program, 2x said it was “absolutely yes.”
Kicked off in February 2021, Future Healers is a partnership between Christopher 2X Game Changers, students at the University of Louisville (UofL) School of Medicine and UofL Hospital’s Trauma Institute. The group’s goal is to help children who have been impacted by violence in their neighborhoods by giving them a chance to participate in activities that allow them to explore a future career in medicine.
“The Future Healers kids have unfortunately been impacted by trauma. They may not have been hit by bullets, but they have been affected by these shootings,” said 2X. “I wanted to make sure that the conversations focused on those kids who have been impacted by secondary trauma and direct trauma.”
What started with four kids has grown into 50 kids who participate in monthly seminars. Malakai participated in his first Future Healers event on Nov. 13 at The Galt House in downtown Louisville. The students spent time learning about human anatomy and the skeletal system. 2X said Malakai’s first session was “off the charts.”
“I knew he could be an inspirational presence for the kiddos, the UofL students and the surgeons,” he said.
It’s important to 2X that Future Healers helps youth to be connected to their communities and become humanitarian advocates. He said it is just the beginning of their partnership with KSB.
Roberts was excited for Malakai to participate in the program and is hopeful it will give the family a chance to meet people who have had similar experiences with gun violence.
“He might find [medicine] is something he is interested in. He is really bright. When he finds something that sparks his interest, he likes to know everything about everything,” Roberts said.
Coming up on a year since the incident, Roberts said how Malakai has handled everything is the most noteworthy part of their story.
“The amazing thing is the grace he has handled the whole [situation] with, the integrity. It’s amazing. It’s 100% real,” she said. “He doesn’t take any time to feel sorry about himself and there is nothing he can’t do. I can’t wait to see what he does in the future because there is no stopping him.”