On a warm summer morning, 13-year-old Keith Griffith III, dressed in a full beekeeping suit, pulled out a frame from one of his bee colonies located in the backyard of his grandmother’s West End home and inspected it like quite the expert.
That morning he found the bees were doing well — no other insects were threatening to overrun the colony. Inspecting the bee colonies is one of the many essential tasks the teen said he’s learned since taking up the unusual hobby.
“You have to make sure you have the right equipment and get the grass cut and make sure the bees are not getting overrun by other insects,” said Keith during a recent interview on his grandmother’s front porch.
Looking back to when he first started he said, “I was a little worried I’d get stung.”
But that was two years ago and a lot has changed, he noted.
When Keith took up beekeeping as a hobby under the watchful eyes of his uncle, Shawn Griffith, he was going through a difficult time. Both his parents were incarcerated.
“It took my mind off of what was happening. I wasn’t as happy as I used to be. … I don’t want to talk about it,” he said quietly, his eyes downcast.
His mother, Stephanie Dukes, said she lived with her son in Lexington, Ky., before she went to prison. She and her son did everything together, including making weekly trips to visit his father in prison. When she was incarcerated as well, it took a toll on Keith.
“When I got in trouble, it caused a big downfall. His grades started slipping. It caused a lot of stress for him,” his mother said.
Keith immersed himself into the world of beekeeping — reading books and watching YouTube tutorials — helping him overcome those struggles, she noted.
When he’s working with the bees, “He gets into his own world,” said Dukes. “He opens up more, as far as talking and communicating.”
She was pleasantly surprised by how much her son had grown and how he’d weathered the hardships during her time away, she said.
His emotional well being has been one of the most surprising benefits of beekeeping, said Shawn Griffith, the uncle who has mentored him as a beekeeper.
“It’s helped his self-confidence a lot. Many things have improved,” he said.
Griffith, who works with young people as a community organizer, said he ventured into beekeeping about four years ago while looking for ways to get more fresh produce into his West End community.
Since then, what started as a hobby has turned into a small business venture. Griffith and his nephew now operate an online store, beeing2gether.com, where they sell the honey they harvest. The name, “Beeing2gether,” comes from the bond Keith shares with his uncle and his father but also the hope for the community coming together.
With the support of his father Keith Griffith Jr., — who is still incarcerated — Keith has also written and published a book called “Honey Bee and Beekeeping, A Mental Health Miracle,” a manual on beekeeping and its benefits.
Now that his mother is home, young Keith is focusing on the future, he said. The teen and his uncle are using their business to raise awareness of the benefits of honey and the importance of protecting bees. Local honey is believed to help alleviate the symptoms of seasonal allergies and some species of bees are endangered, they noted.
Keith, an eighth-grader attended a shadow day at Trinity High School, 4011 Shelbyville Road, last spring and knew right away he wanted to attend the boys’ school, his mom said.
Dukes said she supports his desire to attend Trinity, but told him that the tuition may be a barrier. Keith’s response, she noted, was to start saving money from his beekeeping business for tuition.
Keith smiled as he recalled his shadow day at Trinity and the things he found attractive about the school. Besides the academic program, he liked the 3D printers and gymnasium.
Though the family is not Catholic, Dukes and her siblings attended St. Bartholomew and St. Ignatius Martyr schools.
“I wanted to be with the cool kids and ride the bus to (public) school, but I enjoyed the environment Catholic schools provided,” said Dukes.
Keith has heard her talk about those experiences and she believes he wants to follow in her footsteps and attend a Catholic school as well, she noted.
Since Keith’s story has gotten out into the community, Dukes said the family has received many calls from strangers who want to express their admiration and well wishes for Keith.
Thanks in part to the bees, the old Keith — an honor roll student who shares a close bond with his mother — is back, said Dukes.
Keith’s best advice in dealing with bees is this: “Leave them alone and don’t be scared of them. Bees do not want to sting you,” he said. He also has advice for other young people who are facing a struggle such as his: “Keep going and don’t let anything take you down.”
To learn more about beekeeping and to purchase honey, visit beeing2gether.com.