Loss is all around the world today; it’s inevitable. For Kyle Robinson, it came too soon. To remember the multi-talented, fun spirit of Kyle, Victoria Christie and her friends came together to create a foundation in his name.
With the hopes of creating a scholarship for students interested in being a part of the music industry, Tori’s story inspires all that good things can come out of tragedy. The heart of the foundation is to provide opportunities for those who want to create music and go to school to study it so they can one day make music for the world to hear.
Music is food for the soul. For some people, it is all they have to turn to. For others, it’s how they express themselves. For Victoria Christie, it’s her passion and her future.
As a senior Music Industry voice major at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY, Tori has spent the last three years of her life learning how to engineer and produce songs in the studio and what it is like to work for a publishing company.
The College of Saint Rose’s Music Industry program allows students to prepare themselves for the fast-paced, competitive world of music. Being accepted into this program provides students a tight-knit community where everyone can connect through their devotion to music.
Tori and her friends were lucky to have Kyle Robinson in their year. Kyle, also a Music Industry voice major, was a passionate musician. He was in a couple of bands, one called Pacer Test and the other named Waitress, in both of which he played instruments and sang.
Kyle had many aspirations to perform, but also really enjoyed producing music. He helped anyone who needed further instruction and produced many rising musicians’ songs, including Grace Damon’s “Through the Night” and “Honey.”
Unexpectedly, on his way back to Albany after returning home for the Fourth of July, Kyle was in a tragic car accident that took his life.
Those who knew Kyle found solace in the fact that they were not alone. “You would think that you and Kyle [were the only ones who] had something special,” Tori said. “Then hearing everyone [else] talk about Kyle, you realize that he really did have something special with everyone and everyone is feeling the same way.”
Kyle was 21 years old and had his whole life ahead of him. For Tori and her friends, it is the first major loss they had experienced in their lives. Staying together and figuring out how to grieve is comforting during such a difficult time. “We are not the only ones going through it, and we don’t have to go through it alone,” Tori explained. “Even if we struggle, we struggle together, and we figure it out.”
Within the first week of Kyle’s passing, there was talk about starting a scholarship in Kyle’s name. Tori and her friends knew the family had asked for donations to their local high school instead of covering the cost of flowers at the service.
Someone then suggested the creation of a scholarship that people could donate to. Creating the scholarship was a collective decision because everyone wanted to keep Kyle’s spirit alive in some way.
“He was just that kind of person where even if you talked to him for two seconds, he made your day better,” Tori described. “He was the perfect balance of sarcastic and the funniest person you’ll ever meet but also very loving and respected [by] everyone.”
Together, Tori and her friends are creating the Kyle Robinson Memorial Foundation. Currently, the group is in the paperwork process of setting it up. Their first major goal is to establish a fund for a scholarship that can give a substantial amount of money to someone who embodies Kyle’s characteristics and passion.
Their aim is to begin accepting donations in January 2021. While they are getting set up, those who are interested in receiving updates on the foundation can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to be put on an email list.
Although the process is not simple, creating the foundation is something that will help everyone heal. It provides a distraction from the pain they are feeling. It also keeps the group together, even if life separates them after graduation this year. Tori and her friends will not let grief consume them. Instead, they are making Kyle’s death mean something.
“I feel like Kyle’s spirit was the type of spirit that you really don’t want to live without, and so I think [this foundation] will help a lot of people and I hope it will.”
The Kyle Robinson Memorial Foundation will provide future students the opportunity to pursue their passion for music even if it seems impossible. It will help a student pay to go to a university and get the best advantage they can in the music industry. And most importantly, to those who knew and loved Kyle, it will keep Kyle Robinson’s memory alive.
“Tragic things happen and the world doesn’t seem fair, but I think good can come out of anything.”
Meet Thais Drassinower: A Latinx Woman Film Creator in Hollywood Pushing for Diversity
This past year, the prestigious British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) selected Thais Drassinower into the Newcomers program. Thais is based in L.A. as a female filmmaker. The year 2020 had the biggest turnout of women in the program and Thais was one of those representing female filmmakers!
This program offers career support and helps to new filmmakers in the industry. Apart from being welcomed into the program, Thais has a lot of history with filmmaking and in the film industry. We interviewed her to learn more about her history with film and any new projects she might be working on.
1. Your hometown is Lima, Peru, what was it like coming to America and starting up in the film industry? What inspired you to pursue filmmaking as a career, and please tell me a bit about that journey.
I’ve been a storyteller for as long as I can remember. I started writing stories as soon as I learned how to put two words together.
My grandma still keeps those early ones in her bedroom chest. I’ve also always loved film and would spend my free time as a teenager watching foreign film cycles at the local cultural center.
But as a young woman from a traditional family growing up in Lima – Peru, I never thought being a filmmaker was an option for me.
My diverse interests in story, psychology, and anthropology led me to advertising as a first step and it was then, working as a copywriter in Chicago, that I realized the power that audiovisual communication has on society and understood that there are archetypes in the collective consciousness that stories can portray in infinite ways.
That’s when I decided to become a filmmaker and assume the responsibility of sharing narratives that can shift our world into a more comprehensive, empathetic, and healthy place.
I started taking night classes at a local school after work and then decided to make the jump and apply for an MFA in Film which got me to NYC where I got my degree at Columbia University. That’s how it all started.
2. Before transitioning to the film industry, you were a copywriter. Can you tell me what it was like making that transition to filmmaking? Did you encounter any major differences or have any difficulty with the transition to films?
I was a copywriter for an advertising agency in Chicago which meant that, together with my partner, I came up with an idea for a commercial, wrote the script for it and then supervised the whole production and post-production process to make sure the idea was coming to life in the way we envisioned it.
The whole supervision part of the process was similar to being a film producer on a project. Being on set and watching the director work with the actors made me fall in love with the directing process. I think it has been a very organic transition and my years as a copywriter helped me build very important skills that I now use as a writer/director.
3. The entertainment industry can be cutthroat at times. Have you endured any hardships along the way? What did you do to overcome them?
I’m still at the beginning of my career and it is definitely a challenging field. As a Latinx woman trying to break in, you have to work extremely hard and convince people that you deserve a seat at the table.
It’s an exciting time for minorities in Hollywood, the conversation is open and more studios are looking to champion diverse and underrepresented voices, but there is still a long way to go to achieve proper representation and I’m proud to be a part of this new generation pushing for change.
4. You’ve directed three projects, “The Catch,” “Baby,” and “Memories of the Sea.” All of which are special in their own ways. Please tell me a bit about how you drew inspiration for these projects and how they are connected to you?
Memories of The Sea was my first film which explores the sense of loss for a child. My dear friend and fellow filmmaker Sudarshan Suresh had written a beautiful script which we then worked on together to adapt for me to direct it.
I decided to set it in Brazil because that’s where I spent my first years of childhood and where I experienced a sense of loss myself.
I wanted to revisit the space and dive deep into the experience of seeing the world through a child’s eyes. This is a film about finding your own answers when adults don’t explain things to you. I think we often forget how intuitive and perceptive children are and this film attempts to remind us.
Baby, my second film, explores what it means to grow up by messing up. It’s a film about a young woman who goes home for a weekend and has an unnerving encounter with her estranged father at a nightclub which reminds her that there are unhealed wounds.
Through a series of disturbing events that night, she will be forced to understand that the only person who can take care of her now is herself. I drew inspiration for this film from the memories of being that age and feeling lost at many points. Feeling like a grown up, but also like a child.
Feeling like I had all the answers, but then suddenly like I knew nothing. It’s a fascinating period in a person’s life and with this story and through this character I explore subjects such as sexuality and consent.
Finally, The Catch, my latest film, tells the story of two trapeze artists whose trust is threatened right before the biggest performance of their careers. The script was written by another Peruvian making waves in the US, my dear friend Camila Zavala who also produced the film.
What attracted me to direct this movie was the opportunity to explore the concept of trust between a couple with such high stakes and the idea of dancing between public and private spaces in the magical world of a circus.
The film invites us to reflect on the power of a bond and what it takes to break it.
5. Many young people are looking into the arts as careers, but of course, they may face obstacles along the way. What would you say to someone who would want to pursue a career such as filmmaking? What advice would you offer?
I say GO FOR IT. This is a challenging career, but all good things in life require you to work hard for them. The enjoyment comes from the hours you put in day to day. I find that the most important things are consistency and your community.
Do the work, go out and shoot, sit down and write, even if you don’t end up showing that “thing” to anyone, practice makes a master. And surround yourself with a group of peers who will champion you and who you will champion. Help each other out.
Film is a collective art and you can’t do it alone, having a group of colleagues that you trust is crucial for your career. Find them. Either at school, at writing groups, at online forums. Find them and nurture those relationships. They are the most wonderful gift that a film career can give you.
I started writing a blog for young female filmmakers who are working or hope to work on their first feature film. There you can find advice on how to embark in the journey both from my personal experience, and also from interviews that I make to first time female directors.
Check it out and hope you find it helpful, I’m always available through there for any questions you might have.
Best of luck to you all!
6. What are your plans for the future in filmmaking? Do you have genres or films you are particularly interested in?
I’m currently working on my first feature film which I hope we can start pre-production for once we achieve a new normal after COVID-19. I am interested in telling stories through a female perspective in the genres of psychological thriller, psychological horror, and drama.
As I mentioned before, it is also very important for me to portray diversity on the screen through my narratives and I look forward to keep sharing stories that build empathy and hopefully invite the audience to reflect and discuss.
From growing up in Peru and moving to L.A, to transitioning from copywriting to filmmaking. Thais has achieved many great things that other young filmmakers aspire to achieve.
We hope that by reading this article, many young filmmakers or others wanting to join the industry can get some inspiration from Thais and perhaps one day join the Newcomers program like her.
Thank you Thais for your time and we wish you luck with your first feature film and your BAFTA Newcomers program!
Alicia White Leading Project Petals to Repair Communities
Nonprofit organizations are driven by a social cause. They help families in need, repair communities, teach children new things, and give hope to those who need it most.
Alicia White, the founder and president of Project Petals, had all of this in mind when starting her nonprofit. She is an advocate for all those living in low-income and under-resourced communities. Not only is she an entrepreneur, but she has also worked with the United Nations and done grant work with domestic justice civil rights issues within her community.
BLENDtw had the opportunity to interview White regarding her history with Project Petals and moving forward with her program.
1.) You started Project Petals with the vision to help low-income and under-resourced communities. Can you tell us a bit about what the process of starting up a new business was like? What were your struggles along the way?
The process of starting my organization has been rewarding, and I learned so much through the process. My organization started out as a volunteer-led project in Queens, New York. It was important for me to form an organization to improve the environment, support communities and future leaders.
It was challenging starting my first environmental project, and I wanted to make it less difficult for anyone coming after me. Also, to help youth learn the leadership skills needed to make an impact in their communities.
Starting a new organization for me had its challenge, but I learned so much along the way. I had to essentially learn what it was to set up an organization in what felt like overnight. Through extensive research, I had to file paperwork, create a website, the logo, the structure of the organization, and just typical start-up activities fell on my shoulders.
Like most black women founders, my biggest struggle was finding and securing funding. For example, in 2019, Black-led organizations received less than 4% of grants and funding. That percentage dwindles when you are a woman.
2.) COVID-19 has been challenging for many small businesses and has caused people within many communities to struggle to make ends meet. How have you seen this affect them and what has Project Petals been doing in response to this?
COVID-19 has hit the communications that my organization works, extremely hard. My organization had to change from working on the ground with large amounts of volunteers to working remotely, with fewer volunteers on the ground.
Through all of this, we were still able to support our community leaders and neighborhoods with the tools and resources that they need to improve their environments. Like every other organization, we have to abide by COVID-19 safety restrictions and guidelines to keep everyone safe while still actively providing the services that are needed to make an impact.
3.) Going forward with Project Petals, what do you envision with your company? Where do you see it going in terms of growth?
I see Project Petals eventually moving to a national scale. The need for environmental support and community development is needed now more than ever. With the climate crises on the brink of causing further catastrophe, it is vital that Project Petals is able to serve as many communities and leaders as we can.
4.) You have a program called, “Youth Builders Program.” Can you elaborate more on what it is and what sort of programs it offers? And how this program can be of help to those participating in it?
Our Project Petals Youth Builders Program helps young people gain the leadership skills they need to improve their communities and futures. Our program connects youth in grades 4-12 to engineering, architecture, urban planning, environmental science, tech, and design professionals who can offer mentorship, experience, internships, and inspiration through monthly workshops.
We work to catalyze the next generation of environmentalists, community leaders, and professionals in these fields. Our program inspires them to develop a passion for these fields, thus working to create a more sustainable, diverse, and equitable world. One hundred percent of all of the youth show great leadership potential. We believe by fostering this leadership and giving them access to a network of professionals; we will start to build more resilient communities.
5.) Before Project Petals, what sort of jobs were you doing? What led you to want to become an entrepreneur and what advice do you have for anyone also planning to pursue entrepreneurship?
Growing up, I always had ideas that I wanted to bring to reality, but as a young person, I didn’t know how to, and I didn’t think it was possible for me to do so. As an adult, social entrepreneurship gave me the opportunity to take my ideas and actually use them to make a positive impact in other people’s lives and the environment.
If I had to give any advice, it would be to have confidence in your ideas and in your skillset as you may face many obstacles, nay-sayers, and challenges along the way. Failure is par for the course and is a good lesson plan to succeed.
We hope that by understanding Project Petals, White, and how entrepreneurs can shape the future of the community around them, we can then better understand how to make our community and the world around us a better place. Thank you to Project Petals and White for this opportunity and we hope this program thrives in the coming years!
Using Instagram Art to Promote Anti-Racism: Meet French Graphic Artist Aurélia Durand
Instagram artist, Aurélia Durand, has been using the platform to promote her anti-racism art. She has a website on which she sells posters, stickers, and cards that she has designed herself. Her art is focused on celebrating diversity and equal representation. Durand’s dream is to help form a united community and an inclusive future for everyone. BLENDtw had the opportunity to ask Durand a series of questions about her current work on Instagram, the book she illustrated, and her goals for the future.
1. Who or what inspired you to start creating art? What keeps you motivated?
When I begin working on a new artistic creation, I listen to music to put myself in a zone where I feel good and am inspired to create a meaningful message. I find that music settles the mood and atmosphere around me. I create to stay positive, and staying positive is essential for my well being. I need to be creative; I am addicted to creativity; imagination, drawing, and seeing the idea evolve is exciting. The most fulfilling feeling is to see people interacting with my work.
2. If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be? What advice would you give to young black women with dreams similar to your own?
Create for yourself; don’t try to make the same as everyone else. Find your voice; follow your instinct.
3. What impact do you hope your art will have on our world today?
I hope my art empowers people and makes them smile.
4. In what way does art communicate with and reach people better than other means do?
It’s upon us; it happens because of many factors. I think that visuals are more impactful than words. It is universal, we see it, and we quickly react to it.
6. You just recently illustrated a New York Times bestseller, “This Book is Anti-Racist.” What inspired this project? What do you hope readers take away from it?
I hope readers want to take action for antiracism in there every day life after they read the book.
My publisher, Quarto, contacted me at the end of 2018 to participate in the book’s conception as the leading illustrator. I have never met the author; unfortunately, due to the current global pandemic and social distancing regulations.
The book, “This Book is Anti-Racist” was released in January 2020 and became a best seller in June after the Black Lives Matter movement spread globally. We sold more than 150,000 copies! The book has been popular in schools, but people of all ages are reading the book. It includes about 20 exercises for readers to do while thinking about how they can take action to build a more inclusive society.
7. Do you have any plans or projects you are working on? How can people help support your cause?
I am working on many new projects, but I can’t talk about them as they are meant to be a surprise. In October, I will be participating in several talks with Adobe, Ladies and Wine, and the AOI association. The projects are very exciting and I have confidence that they will have great success when they are completed.
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