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Finding Purpose in Tragedy: Meet Sonny Kelly

North Carolina playwright, actor and teacher Sonny Kelly has made it his mission in life to inspire others. He aims to use performance and ministry to connect with people, especially marginalized kids. As a young man in the U.S. Air Force, Kelly felt like he had no real purpose or direction in his life.

But when he was 26, a family tragedy catalyzed change, and he found his calling. His older brother Brent, who was also in the Air Force and had struggled with his mental health, committed suicide. After his brother’s death, Kelly dedicated himself to a new personal mission: encourage and inspire others, like he wished he could have done for Brent.

He has had many jobs, from church youth pastor to pharmaceutical salesman. Today Kelly is a doctoral candidate in communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also the creator of “The Talk,” a one-man, interactive play inspired by a conversation he had with his young son about race after the Freddie Gray riots in Baltimore.

Host Frank Stasio talks to Kelly about his many careers, his current pursuit of performance studies and his work to fulfill his new life mission born from tragedy.

NOTE: This program originally aired on May 20, 2019. 

Amanda Magnus is the executive producer of Embodied, a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships and health. She has also worked on other WUNC shows including Tested and CREEP.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.