Triple-threat Kyle Banks, who could be seen on stage in the touring and Broadway casts of The Lion King and more, is not only a talented performer, but a changemaker and philanthropist at the helm of multiple forward-thinking, community-minded organizations. Currently taking this Broadway season off, Banks has put his focus on his other greatest passion- supporting marginalized communities.
While on tour with The Lion King, Kyle was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and he has learned to manage his diagnosis and thrive while helping others do the same.
Kyle helped to create the non-profit organization Kyler Cares, which provides grants for diabetes technology, including continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) and insulin pumps for those with Type 1 diabetes who are unable to get them due to financial barriers.
In addition to Kyler Cares, Kyle has begun building a school for LGBTQ children of color, named Tenth Academy, in New York.
We spoke with Kyle Banks about how his diagnosis led him to the work he’s doing currently, how Kyler Cares helps people living with T1D, his ultimate goal for Tenth Academy and more!
After being diagnosed with T1D you moved forward in an incredibly inspiring way. How did you work through your diagnosis, and how did that lead you to the amazing work that you’re doing currently?
Thank you for such kind words. Being diagnosed with T1D was definitely a life altering moment and its onset happened so quickly. I was on tour with The Lion King at the time, and performing in the show was tough due to the symptoms I was experiencing, one of which was dangerous hypoglycemic episodes where my glucose would crash during and after the show. I was having to drop out of the show constantly and it caused me to question whether I would be able to continue performing, especially in a show like The Lion King. During that time, I also felt like the weak link in the cast and that was really tough for me to process.
What really began to turn things around for me was the introduction of diabetes technology into my daily glucose management practices. Six months after being diagnosed, I began wearing the Dexcom continuous glucose monitor and it armed me with the information I needed to make quick decisions while at work. Prior to adding Dexcom to my routine, I was having to do 10 – 12 finger pricks for glucose testing during each show. The technology gave me a fighting chance to figure things out and allowed me to focus more on the show and my part in it-instead of the constant worry about the drastic glucose fluctuations I was experiencing. In the most extreme settings, like performing in a Broadway musical, or working out at the gym, or just being a kid with friends on the playground, diabetes technology like Dexcom helps people like me stay in the game.
How did the initial idea for Kyler Cares come about, and can you tell me more about what this non-profit does?
I began researching ways to better care for myself and I figured connecting with the Endocrinology team at Children’s Hospital in my hometown of New Orleans might lead me to some answers. The physical exertion required when performing in a musical is comparable to kids at play. I was so excited about my meeting with the medical staff as I was certain I’d walk away with the wealth of knowledge I was looking for. That did not happen and instead, Dr. Chalew, the lead Endocrinologist at CHNO and his team, filled me in on the many struggles faced by some of the kids receiving care. He emphasized the struggles of kids from communities of color and explained the obstacles that prevent many of these kids from being able to properly manage the disease. As a result, they are disproportionately experiencing the horrible side effects associated with poor glycemic control, especially when compared to kids of white European ancestry.
Needless to say, I left the meeting feeling awful and as I continued on my journey of discovery, it was impossible for me to forget the information that was shared. One major issue is the cost of management. A Type 1 diabetes diagnosis can be devastating financially for both individuals and families living with or caring for someone with the disease. This makes accessing diabetes technology extremely difficult or impossible for some families. Our mission at Kyler Cares is to help improve health outcomes for kids and young adults of color living with T1D. One of our initiatives is a grant program to assist individuals with the exorbitant cost sometimes faced when attempting to access diabetes technology. We are also partnered with other organizations working in this space like Beyond Type 1, Children With Diabetes and Touched by Type One, in an effort to expose more kids of color to programs that could be beneficial to their finding success with glucose management. We also stress the importance of continued diabetes education, confidence building and peer support as ways to combat challenges faced in this area.
You are currently working on building a school for LGBTQ children of color, called Tenth Academy. Can you tell me more about how Tenth Academy came to be and what your ultimate hope is for the school?
The Tenth Academy is an educational initiative and physical school, located in Hudson, NY. The academy was formed out of The Tenth Media, an organization which I cofounded with my partner Khary Septh and dear friend Andre Jones, through which we document the history, ideas and aesthetics of the Black queer community. The academy extends this charge of community-oriented storytelling and is built upon three core values: a knowledge of our history, a commitment to leadership and service and a commitment to improving the human condition within our communities.
We’ll be providing access for learners of all ages to lessons in Black queer history and experience, taught by world-class LGBTQ+ practitioners, speakers and lecturers. We’re extremely excited about its launch and the amazing practitioners lending their time and talents to the courses being offered. Our hope for the school is to one day offer courses that count towards college credit, and we are working to establish partnerships with a few institutions that can aid with achievement of that goal. Through mentorship and professional development opportunities, we hope to create pathways for kids to realize their dreams and to be the best version of themselves.
How has your outlook on life changed since receiving your initial diagnosis, and making the shift in your life to put the focus on your philanthropic work?
I tend to gravitate more towards the positive things happening in my life, and since being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, I lean in deeper with that as my goal. The first year after being diagnosed with this disease was, by far, the most challenging experience I’ve ever faced. I was so ill, work was a struggle and my future and the way in which I would be able to support and care for myself seemed uncertain, and that was a scary space to be in. The beautiful part of my story with T1D is that I was able to figure it out. I was able to figure out how to manage this disease and how to best care for myself. I’m also working with so many amazing and brave kids that are also trying to figure it out and I want to be a beacon of light for them. I want to support the kids to which I’m connected and give them the skills needed to push through the tough situations that life with a chronic illness can bring.
Will you return to performance, and how do you think this time away from the stage doing this meaningful work will impact you once you return?
I will definitely continue performing, and I can’t imagine my life and not being connected to the arts in some way. One of the fundraising mechanisms used for Kyler Cares is live music and events. During the pandemic, we actually produced our first fundraising concert, From Broadway With Love, which featured a few of my friends from productions of The Book of Mormon, Hamilton, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical and of course, The Lion King. In addition to producing the show, I also performed my interpretation of Summertime from Porgy and Bess. We had a great time and it was cool to flex a different artistic muscle behind the scenes. I’m so grateful to everyone that participated and the fact that during the height of the pandemic, we were able to safely produce a show with beautiful sets and lights and all the trappings of theater, minus a live audience. It was really special.
Do you have anything else you’d like to share?
I love the theater community, and the way in which many of my friends and castmates rallied around me in support during those turbulent times means the world to me. It’s great to see the lights on Broadway shining brightly again. Thanks BroadwayWorld!