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Inspiring Stories from West LA

The heart of our mission at VoyageLA is to find the amazing souls that breathe life into our city. In recent weeks we’ve had the privilege to connect with some of West LA’s finest artists, creatives, entrepreneurs and rabble-rousers and we can’t begin to express how impressed we are with our city’s incredibly deep talent pool.  Check out West LA’s rising stars below.

Ceiri Torjussen

I grew up in Cardiff, Wales in the 1980s. My mother was an amateur pianist and my grandmother an organist in her local chapel. My father, while not a trained musician, did have a brief stint as a rock n’roll drummer and was an avid record collector, so I owe my wide-ranging musical tastes to his sonic open-mindedness. While my mum drilled me in my early piano-playing years, my dad took me to live symphony and jazz concerts. I soon became a nerdy trumpet player in the local youth orchestras and an all-out disciple of Miles Davis. While most of my schoolmates were rocking-out to The Stone Roses, Blur and Nirvana, I hid away with fellow jazz friends listening and playing along to John Coltrane and Lee Morgan records. We formed a jazz quintet, played gigs around the area and went on to play at the Vienne Jazz Festival in southern France. Between high school and college, I spent seven months teaching science and music in a school in the Himalayas and traveled extensively throughout India. Read more>>

Daniel Lee

My Korean parents immigrated to Los Angeles as young teenagers, met at a church, got married, and had me in their early to mid-20s. I was raised in mid-city on a small street called Crenshaw Blvd. My parents strived to survive in this new Western world, torn between two contrasting cultures. Growing up, I tried to survive much different struggles. As a child, what came naturally to most people, felt like impossible dreams to me. Socializing often resulted in anxiety-induced constrictions to my throat, and I threw up constantly. I rarely got through a week without some debilitating need to count things (like stickers, sometimes in the tens of thousands), often missing meals, sleep, or responsibilities. Eating a meal was a battle to avoid getting dirty because otherwise it meant washing my skin till it was raw (seeing blood let me know I washed enough). Over and over, I felt this massive, burning dread and disgust in my chest, and it was overwhelming and so discouragingly lonely. And yet, there is this other side to me. I liked math as a kid—my father likes to brag that I knew long division by the first grade. Read more>>

Carter Russ

I’ve always considered myself a highly social person. A nerd by trade, I’ve found passion in many things ranging from music, art, science, sports, you name it. I’m compelled by other passionate people, most often brought together by a shared interest. It’s so easy to connect with someone else when your interests align. Of my many passions, sports have always been a great ice breaker. I’ve been the commissioner of my fantasy basketball league for years now. It’s a great medium for the same group of friends, year over year, to come together for months on end around a passion we all share. What became obvious, though, was that current products had very few moments to play together with friends. You either organize a league once a year, or you’re out. This was the inspiration to start Champions Round – To bring sports fans together and keep them together. Now, we’ve hit #6 on the app store, have become the #1 fantasy sports app worldwide, have traveled worldwide, and met the sporting world firsthand. Read more>>

Victor Esquivez Flota

I’m currently spearheading a creative collective personal development brand called STAYRIZEN focused on the merging of psychedelic medicines and self-help techniques. I’m preparing the debut of our podcast called The Portalcast that brings together experts, thought leaders, explorers and advocates together to support the exploration of psychedelics medicines for personal and spiritual growth. I started all this after facing severe anxiety and depressive episodes in search for purpose, wellness and relief. I was dependent on medication to remedy my daily migraines I was experiencing and eventually after a few panic attacks decided to explore alternative medicine and spiritual practices. I grew up in an untraditional Mexican household and studied under the catholic faith. I attended public school and was raised with both my parents including my sister. As I deepened my personal studies, I left the catholic religion and embarked on my own spiritual journey. Read more>>

Saliou M’Boup

I was watching a live performance from Jimi Hendrix on TV when I was five years old when I knew that’s what I gotta do. I’ve got kinda close to that dream, still like playing guitar but I haven’t set one on fire yet. Maybe with this stimulus check…. I’ve traveled across the ocean to compete in Esports tournaments. I’ve played in bands and recorded my own music, I’ve worked a lot of different jobs and met some crazy friends. Whether I’m playing a tune or running a virtual fade, I love to express personality and creativity through my works. Read more>>

Landon Nash

I don’t have the most conventional route to fashion. Prior to starting Tact & Stone, I was a real estate agent in San Francisco. I loved my job and had built a successful career at a young age; I had no intention of getting out. However, I happened across an article about the fashion industry, how wasteful it is, and how much it contributes to climate change (one of the largest contributors in the world!)… I was blown away! I had no idea it took ~750 gallons of water to produce one cotton tee shirt; or that 10 million tons of clothing waste go to landfill every year, just in the US. I’ve always had a personal passion for sustainability and living my life in a way I felt was positive, and realized that I was contributing to the problem through my fashion consumption. From there, I went looking for a brand I could feel good buying from; one that was building sustainability into the foundation of their company and taking a real stab at making a difference. Outside of Patagonia and Outerknown, I couldn’t find anyone. Read more>>

Eric Ballin

I am the founder and owner of “Verbena Specialty Market” in Culver City, CA. I guess everything started when I was a kid and we got cable, I just remember not being addicted to cartoons (only kind of) but I was obsessed with Food Network. It gave me this desire to want to feed people and to create things like they did, it was so powerful to see how happy you can make someone by cooking for them. I’ve been working in food service and hospitality for a little over 11 years and when Covid hit, my life changed abruptly. I went from my crazy work shifts at three jobs to nothing for about a month. Then I went back as an essential worker at the farmer’s markets as they re-opened. I realized how much happier I was with my new friends and these clients that always wanted to share food knowledge with me. I started to share online that my partner and I could pick up whatever they needed from the market if they didn’t feel safe enough to come back out. Most people that have talked to me for more than 10 minutes know that I’ve always wanted to open my own shop. Read more>>

Julio Lopez Velasquez

I am originally from Guatemala. I came over here basically with nothing but a dream. Back in Guatemala since when I was seven, I used to always get in trouble with my Mom because she would catch me watching black and white movies late at night. I always love everything that was artistic. My childhood was really rough and abusive not only because my father left us when I was five months old. But also because my Mom was so young and inexperienced that her resources of discipline came from how she was race and that included a lot of beatings. I arrived to the United States when I was fourteen and came directly to join the workforce as a dishwasher, my father decided to come back to Guatemala when I was thirteen and convince us that we will attend school but that never happened thats when my journey started. From dishwasher to staying after hours cleaning nasty bathrooms to prep cook to sauté cook to grill cook, sous chef and finally the chef. I have done every and any job that you can imagine but acting, dancing, theater and film always were there. Read more>>

Hyejin Yi

I started off just singing in church and joining school choirs, but at a young age I knew that I wanted more than that. I grew ambitious and started telling my peers that I wanted to become a singer. Most of the time, I was shot down and told that I would never be a singer. And for a good chunk of my life, I believed in that. I believed that I’d never been good enough and slowly, I started to crumble. Don’t get me wrong, I never stopped singing. I just gave up on the notion that being a singer could become a reality for me. So I started doing what a normal college student is “supposed to do”; study, date, work, network. But everything just felt empty. I felt selfish because I had the thought, “this isn’t enough”. I didn’t know how to deal with my feelings so I started to put on some random lofi beats and would write down how I was feeling. I would do this almost daily to cope with the stress and doubt. It was kind of like having a diary except all my thoughts and feelings would be put into a song. Read more>>

Laurel Kuzins

I was born and raised in Northern California; from Middle School until my late 20s I battled with anxiety. I was constantly looking for love outside of myself, comparing my life to others, and dealing with, what I now call chronic not-enoughness. After graduating from college in Santa Cruz, I moved to Southern California in 2011 and started working at a software startup. When our small team was acquired by a Fortune 500 company, my career was catapulted into acceleration and I took on a role doing Marketing via Partnerships and Business Development. I love working with people and solving problems so this seemed like a great fit. After going through two more acquisitions at different companies over the following five years, I felt less and less of a connection to the work I was doing. In hindsight, one of the best things that could have ever happened to me was when I got laid off from my last startup job in 2017. While the sting hurt at the time, being laid off opened my eyes to the fact that sending emails and doing deals wasn’t enough of an intimate connection to people for me, I wanted to go deeper. Read more>>

Evan Flock

I grew up in Playa Del Rey and for as long as I can remember, my parents had fitness equipment set up in their garage. Sports was never really my thing, but lifting weights with my dad in our garage was a regular 5-time-a-week experience we shared once I was old enough to care about my own health (about 14 or so.) Ten years later, I’d actually start my career in fitness as a crossfit coach, yoga instructor and tactical strength and conditioning facilitator (that means I was certified to train our men and women in uniform). I still lived at home so I was training people in my neighborhood out of that same garage for six months before I landed my first job as a personal trainer at a big fancy gym in Westwood. I would go on to be one of the top-performing trainers in the entire world for this company, serve as a “master instructor” (which means I trained trainers on how to improve their skills in coaching and business) and – most importantly – meet my future wife, Brittany. Read more>>

Tai Jones

I grew up in Inglewood, California with my mother and younger sister, July. Growing up, I attended performing arts schools. I attended Loyola Village Elementary, Marina Del Rey Middle School, and Hollywood High School. Music found me as I like to say. I was introduced to the recording studio at the Boys & Girls Club of Venice, where I would attend their after school care in Middle school, and got the opportunity to “spit some bars” on a band’s record called “Money doesn’t matter.” Since that day I’ve fell in love with the art of music and all its many forms of hip hop. High school gave me the support to further my interest in music. I recorded more and even landed an opportunity to be in Music Forward Foundation’s 2016 UForward program, landing me on the biggest stage I’ve yet to perform on The Wiltern Theatre. Fast forward eight years later and music won’t let go. Read more>>

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