Story by Emily Robertson
Kenan Mujkanovic’s parents arrived in Bowling Green in the mid-1990s from Bosnia with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and a grocery bag. As part of some of the very first families to come to Bowling Green from Bosnia, his parents met quickly and married shortly after. They both knew little English and took jobs in local factories to try and make a living.
After Kenan was born in 1997, his parents both worked multiple jobs to support the family and moved often in order to allow Kenan to grow up in the best environment possible. Kenan started school school at Rockfield Elementary and he quickly worked to learn English by listening to other English speakers and watching TV and movies in the English language. He even worked to memorize United States history and government facts to help his parents take and pass their United States Citizenship test.
Through all the trials of growing up as a child of immigrants, Kenan learned many valuable lessons at a young age, which he wanted to share with others around him. Now, as a college student at Western Kentucky University, Kenan heads up the non-profit, Young Visionaries and has authored his own book, The Voices of Bowling Green, and uses both to help others around him, no matter where they find themselves in life.
How did your early life impact your work now?
When war broke out in Bosnia, my father went to Croatia, where he sought to live and start a new life at the age of 17. He had an interest in cars, so he found an auto shop where he asked the owner for a job, but he did not want them to pay him until he learned how to fix the body of cars. After learning, my dad ended up rebuilding high-end cars such as Porsche and Mercedes Benz. When America opened its doors, my dad decided to take the opportunity and see what this country was all about. As I mentioned before, he knew little to no English, so the only jobs available were factory jobs. He decided to take what there was, and worked at a factory for a couple of years. Later, he looked for a job similar to what he had in Croatia and he was hired at Jim Johnson as a bodyman. He has now worked there for more than 15 years.
After getting the new job, my father decided he wanted to move our family into a house, but houses aren’t cheap. My father bought a vacant lot where we ended up building a home ourselves.
Once the house was complete, my parents had more bills to pay and we could not afford to live on the little income they had. My father began to repair cars for people in our garage to make some extra money on the side. I would help him everyday. When I got home from school, I would work with my father till 8:30 p.m., sometimes even until 10 p.m. It got tough for me because I was also attending school, but I also thought about my dad who worked eight hours a day and then came home to work another four hours and I realized it was harder for him.
Throughout my life, I have learned several things, but the one thing that my father instilled in me is the value of a strong work ethic. He taught me that if I ever wanted anything, I was going to have to work for it. From working with him on construction as a young child to repairing cars and semi-trucks and handling tasks around the house, I can say I’ve done almost anything. To this day, I am working four jobs, and I work harder than ever. Sometimes I forget to eat or sleep, but I know that it is a part of the process, and I have to craft my destiny now. I know you can’t wait for the perfect moment, because it may never come. Every moment we have is the right moment for something. Looking back, I can confidently say that if it was not for my parents showing me what it is to work and how hard it was for them, I probably would not be in the position I am today.
Tell us a bit about Young Visionaries.
Young Visionaries Foundation is a non-profit I started when I was 16 years old in an effort to assist families in need and to inspire young children in the community that no matter who you are or what your background is, you can make a difference. Typically, most non-profit organizations host two to three events every year, but we ended up hosting nine events in our first year. This caught the attention of people from all around the country and even the world. We received awards such as the Jefferson Award, which is America’s highest honor for public service and even the National Caring Award, which is given in Mother Teresa’s name. The organization has also achieved local, regional, and state recognition for our community service events.
We are gearing up for our annual Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway Event, which continues to get bigger every year. Since we started the organization three years ago, we have had more than five hundred people volunteer. It has always been a huge blessing to see how kind-hearted people are when it comes to making a difference in the community.
Have you always had the idea for your book, Voices of Bowling Green, in you or did it come to you more recently?
I have always wanted to write a book, but my senior year of high school is when the idea really started to hit me. I wanted to give something to my city of Bowling Green. So, I brainstormed and thought about writing something that would inspire people of all ages and give a voice to the voiceless. During the writing process, I wanted to make sure to make the entire book unique to Bowling Green, so I had the cover photo taken by Miranda Pederson, who was with the Bowling Green Daily News at the time. It was taken in front of our beautiful downtown Fountain Square Park. The whole process took six months, which is a shock to many because it would normally take at least a year. I cut out a lot of sleep to make it happen but it all worked out in the end.
What accolades has the book received so far?
I self-published the book because there wasn’t a single publishing company that would take it. None of them believed in my vision. I released it on January 1, 2017. It became an Amazon Top 100 bestseller in the first week of its release. It also sold out in Barnes & Noble in-store and online within the first eleven hours of release. This was all new to me and very unexpected. I went in with the thought that it was only going to hit Bowling Green, but it went around the world to several countries, and then all across the United States. My main focus was not selling the book. It was reaching as many people as I could in hopes of inspiring, giving hope, or even changing someone’s life.
What has the success meant to you? Why do you think it has resonated so much with people?
In terms of success, I owe it all to the people of my city. I owe it to everyone who believed in me, especially my parents, who worked so hard. Watching them struggle my entire life, I just wanted to make them proud. I like to view my success as hope for the children in our community who may feel hopeless at times. When I received the National Caring Award in Mother Teresa’s name last year, it made me think about my life and I realized that I just want to inspire kids around the world. I want to show them that no matter where you come from or who you are, you can make a difference in the world.
As a child of Bosnian immigrants, how do you feel that the community of Bowling Green benefits and grows from listening to all the unique voices that make up our city?
I believe it builds a level of understanding for one another and it helps them realize that we all undergo different struggles everyday. Every one of the obstacles we encounter in life are given to us because only we can handle them. We might find people who may be going through something similar, so by listening to their story it can show them that they are not alone.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future, even with so much success early on?
Eventually, I hope to become the President of the United States. I believe I have ideas and a vision that will push this country forward and I want to have the biggest impact possible. Currently, I am attending Western Kentucky University with plans of to go to law school and become an attorney.
I have started my own company, Visionary Media, a month ago, after taking a course through MIT. I help small businesses grow through social media. Additionally, I do website development and design.
I am writing another book called Life=Perspective, where I discuss the philosophy of life, how we view everything that comes our way either positively or negatively. If you wake up every morning telling yourself, “Today is gonna be bad day,” it definitely will. However, if you wake up being thankful for the blessing of seeing the day and realizing that someone else did not get the same change, your life will change. I hope to change as many lives as I can, whether it’s through the work I do in communities, books, or policies I hope to implement or change. At the end of the day, I just want to be an inspiration.
What is your favorite way to spend a nice afternoon in Bowling Green?
I would have to say either embracing our beautiful downtown and having a coffee with a friend at Spencer’s Coffee or planning events to make a positive impact in the community I love.
What do you love most about Bowling Green?
I love the people and the opportunities. We’re a city that is so diverse. We have people of all backgrounds and stories. The best part is that no matter your background, the opportunities are endless. You can take a dream and make it a reality in our great city. There are so many young, aspiring individuals who are passionate about achieving their dreams and making a difference in the world. It’s a blessing to have the chance to grow up here. Bowling Green has been and always will be a home to me.