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Meet Syd Stewart of Better Youth

Today we’d like to introduce you to Syd Stewart.

Syd, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I have journeyed like a docent in the proverbial wilderness – which includes obtaining a degree in Microbiology from OSU, reinventing myself after college and living as a poet/actress in NYC, then moving to LA after doing a few films and working as a teaching artist in Watts – all to become a seasoned writer and budding filmmaker.

I’m passionate about the stories of ordinary people, particularly POC, who win against extraordinary odds. I’ve authored three books of poetry, featured in Starz’s Hughes’ Dream Harlem, HBO’s Everyday People, appeared in The New York Times, Variety, on ABC, CBS, and my work was selected for the NEA’s 50th Anniversary. I’m a 2020 BIPOC Sci-Fi Lab Filmmaker Fellow, a 2019 Indie Memphis Black Filmmaker Finalist (selected by Barry Jenkins), 2017 NY Stage and Film filmmaker fellow, and 2016 Universal Pictures Emerging Writers Semifinalist. I was just hired as a staff writer on a new television series and I’m the founder of Better Youth, Inc., a nonprofit which equips urban youth with creative confidence. I love poodles, llamas and gummy bears.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
My current obstacle or challenge is adjusting to the new Cover-19 normal. The stay at home order was extended three months and that is very sobering especially on the heels of summer. I’m optimistic because as a content creator, this is a perfect hibernation phase to prepare for post-Covid opportunities. The world as I know it has changed forever. I have experienced great faith, joy, hopelessness, despair and grief all in my 50 plus days of quarantine. My challenge as a creative is to keep producing without the underlying pressure to stay productive and push forward. My obstacles are uncertainty, procrastination, and anxiety.

My challenge as an arts leader is to figure out how my organization can keep providing creative services to a vulnerable population of youth. I think the collective challenge as artists, creators and educators in the greater good ecosystem is how we keep doing essential work that is not deemed “essential”.

Please tell us about the organization.
Better Youth is a creative youth development agency for urban youth ages 14-24. As a youth-centered organization, we believe youth agency is critical. Our mission is to validate young people by developing life skills through mentoring and media arts training. Our vision is to activate a community of vulnerable youth who are equipped for personal, academic and career pathways. Empowered youth perceive and have the ability to employ their inherent skills, intellectual assets and aspirations to influence decisions about their lives. Our core values include self-advocacy, empowering and supporting our youth to reach their fullest potential. We honor formal and specialized informal learning environments that enhance the innate talents of young people. We believe in cultivating creative confidence, leadership and advocacy. We provide youth with soft and hard skills training. access to technology, resources and tools to become successful both in life and in their chosen future careers. Our goal is to close the opportunity gap for vulnerable youth.

BETTER CREW: Media Arts Mentoring, Training & Certification Better Crew is a professional development program where youth are trained on media arts curriculum including filmmaking, script and creative writing, editing, lighting, music and sound design. Program youth utilize personal narratives to create short film reflections of individual perspective and experience. Program youth are exposed to both digital and social literacies and receive specialized certification of 21st century and technical skills useful for the marketplace and higher learning. Facilitating and industry mentors support training, successful matriculation, and completion. Instructional design, learning validation and certification via Adobe, Google, and LinkedIn learning.

Our social enterprise and community platform, Real To Reel Global, is a creative services and workforce development initiative that provides hands-on internship training and job experience for program graduates and alumni. General program target age range is 14-24, with an emphasis on foster, homeless and low-income youth.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Better Youth Staff/Board Syd Stewart – Founder/Executive Director Shawn Jackson – Director of Operations & Innovation, Johna Rivers – Program Manager / Co-Founder of Real To Reel Global, Ruben Garcia – IT Manager/RTR Advisory Board, Latrice Ventura – RTR Lead Producer/RTR Advisory Board Co-Chair, Jeremy Buchanan – RTR Producer/RTR Advisory Board, Evelyn Rodriguez – RTR Advisory Board Chair, Larry Hughes, Executive Board Co-Chair, Camille Wallace – Executive Board Chair, Miguel Coleman – Advisory Board Darren Dickerson – Advisory Board Chair.

Our supporters include AT&T, Adobe, Boston Private Bank, Los Angeles Unified School District, CASA LA, Warner Brothers, Disney, NBCUniversal, PBSocal, Los Angeles Urban League and Los Angeles County Department of Arts & Culture.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Staff Photographers

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