When I was a little kid, I dreamt of a life that seemed out of reach. Every day, I would picture exactly what I wanted my life to look like as an adult, which differed greatly from the life I had growing up in Michigan’s foster care system. It’s crazy to think that most of those dreams, plus others I didn’t even realize I had, have already come true by 23; but here I am, proof that with the right resources and support, dreams can come true.
At the end of 2019, I was honored to have been selected as a participant in the “Video Diary” program for PBS SoCal’s To Foster Change initiative. For about a month, young adults from the foster care system are paired with entertainment professionals to help bring to life short films from their experiences. The goal is to create content through their eyes and to tell their stories the way they want them to be told. I believe it’s programs like this that truly make a difference in shifting the narrative of the system to portray the reality of foster youths such as myself. In doing so, a new generation of young entertainment professionals are mentored to go into the industry with the skills to tell their own stories and to be heard while creating change.
As someone who has worked in entertainment for the last 5 years as a performer, producer and behind the scenes with content development, it was interesting to see what I brought to the table, but also to see what skills or areas I could grow in. When the first weekend of the program took place, I had a grand idea for the film I wanted to make. I was ambitious, with a shot list including 15 locations, not to mention hours of my time that I couldn’t possibly make happen, being a full-time student and working full-time as well. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to say, other than that I wanted to touch on my journey from foster care to today. I also wanted my short film to be an accurate representation of me. After hearing all the participants’ ideas for our films, we were partnered with our industry mentors. Mine was Patricia Ovando, a Justice for My Sister volunteer and industry professional, who became instrumental in encouraging me throughout my journey.
A few days into filming, my hard drive crashed and I lost all the footage I had taken up until that point. At first, I was stressed, but I channeled that moment into my video diary and it completely changed the course of what I wanted to film and the story I was going to tell. A few days later, I met with Patricia to film at one of my locations. When I told her what happened, we had a conversation that confirmed to me that life was meant to take this unexpected turn to enhance whatever message I was meant to tell.
As the program’s two-week shooting period continued, I began to shift everything. I found myself moving scenes and narratives around to accommodate what I was filming. For the majority of the process, I had no clue what the end result of my piece would look like. I kept filming moments that were real and never doubted that in the end, things would work out. All I knew was that I wanted to capture moments from my everyday life and places that are special to me, but I had no idea how they would come together. At the end of the day, what was important was that I captured my essence as a person, and I believed that the final result could and would do that.
After everyone was done filming, it was time to regroup at the second weekend. Initially, I was concerned because I still didn’t know what my piece was going to look like. While other people were able to fill out their paper edits quickly (a special sheet designed to allow an editor to know what order the footage is to be placed in to use as a map during editing) I stayed behind, scouring through all my footage, trying to pull together random clips for a story to tell.
As time passed, I discovered a common theme among all my materials and landed on an idea I felt was worth telling. By the end, while working with my editor, Andrew Vasquez, a narrative had formed through all the footage I had taken, creating a visual piece that I can proudly say is my own.
Overall, I think the process of the video diary program helped me further acknowledge that my experiences growing up in foster care are not only a valuable story to tell, but also an asset. Similar to my journey to Los Angeles, no matter what came my way in this project, I persevered and always came through the other side with greater results than I had imagined. While I was nervous throughout the production process, now I’m still nervous but eager for the piece to be released. It’s one thing for someone to be happy with their own film, but it’s a completely different thing to share your piece with the world and watch them react!
As the year closes, I’m reflecting on everything I’ve accomplished this year, including completing this video diary project. When it comes to what’s next, I’m going to trust the process and stay excited for my film to premiere next year. Until then, I’ll just stay grateful for the experience.