We had the good fortune of connecting with Tige (TIE-jee) Charity and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tige (TIE-jee), can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
My thought process behind starting Kids in the Spotlight, Inc. was multilayered. The journey started after an encounter with a group of girls living at a foster care group home. It was an encounter that cracked my heart wide open and compelled me to pay it forward. I wasn’t exactly sure how to pay it forward, so for over two years, I did nothing. In 2009 when the economy was in a recession, I was laid off from my 9-to-5 job as a litigation claims specialist. It was the first time in my 16-year career that I was involuntarily jobless. I wasn’t really concerned about getting another job. My knowledge, experience and skillset as a claims specialist would land me another job. The problem was I didn’t want another 9-to-5 JOB! I was miserable with that. I wanted a career where I could make a difference in the world. I wanted to know my purpose, my why. Well, late one night after having what I call a temper tantrum with God, my pain met my purpose. I remembered the girls I’d met two years prior at the group home and the vision of Kids in the Spotlight was birth. My thought process was to create a platform for youth in foster care to confront and overcome rejection and trauma through the power of storytelling and filmmaking. God gave me the vision to provide an outlet for foster youth to write, cast and star in their own short films, culminating in an annual “Academy Award” like ceremony were they are celebrated for their accomplishments. More about this journey can be found in my book, “Not Your 9-to-5 Girl” sold on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
KITS is a social change agent for foster youth that allows them to tell their stories, their way; changing their trajectory from adversity to achievement using the transformative tools of storytelling and filmmaking. Since 2009, we have provided the art of filmmaking as a platform for foster youth to express themselves freely while addressing the trauma that impacts their cognitive, social, and emotional wellbeing. Our youth have created over 75 short films that debunk the negative stigma associated with foster youth. Our Screenwriting and Filmmaking Program includes 6 weeks of writing, 3 weeks of acting, 1 week of casting and a film production day where our youth learn all the aspects of filming; with an additional option of 5 weeks of editing. Our program is offered at group homes, for 12-17-year old youth, and at partner studios for our 18-22-year old youth. Our youth are mentored in storytelling, writing, diction, critical thinking, teamwork, acting and more by industry professionals. Kids in the Spotlight amplify our youth’s perspectives as the storytellers, dealing with themes such as: mental health, trafficking, police brutality, homelessness, sexual assault, substance abuse, and obstacles in education (gun violence, illiteracy, bullying). Their films are the result of our youth being given complete autonomy in how their stories are told. They are given freedom to express themselves in artistic form. For example, in our 2019 documentary short, “Burnt Feathers, Broken Wings” our youth talked about being labeled as “troubled” or “troublemaker”, but they push the conversation forward to look at the root cause by asking, “How do you think we got this way?”
Due to COVID-19, we had to re-imagine how to maintain our impact while social distancing. This pivotal season led to the creation of our first KITS National Short Screenplay Competition for transitional age foster youth. We offered the participating youth a free 5-week Virtual Screenwriting Course with industry professionals who volunteered in providing instructions and support. This competition has become an immensely proud accomplishment of ours during this interesting season that we are in.
When I think about what I’m most proud of, it’s really more than one single thing. I so proud of the stories our youth are telling, and that they consider us their family. I’m also proud of our youth who’ve learned to take ownership of their life and re-write their story. Many of them have graduated from high school and college. Some of them have created their own independent projects while others have been hired to work on big budget projects. Watching our youth go from trauma to triumph gives me great joy! I’m also extremely proud that my 8 year, Ebony Jewel, sees the impact of Kids in the Spotlight and wants to work here when she grows up.
When asked how I got to where I am today, my response is, through prayer, encouragement and support from family, friends, and people who know my heart and believe in my vision and passion to make a difference, and who also believe in the mission and impact of Kids in the Spotlight. The biggest challenge is the negative statistics associated with youth in foster care and the lack of funding in which our program receives to combat the statistics. 70% of our budget is in-kind support, which makes it very challenging to grow and meet the needs of so many youth in foster care. We have learned to move forward in spite of the lack of financial support. We are committed to doing what we can with what we have, and we are equally committed to sharing the bigger vision of Kids in the Spotlight every chance we get. I’ve learned that you have to ask for what you need, and no matter how many times you are told no, keep asking. For many years I struggled with asking for financial support. After being rejected so many times, I felt our work would speak for itself, and when people witnessed our impact they would automatically give. Well, that wasn’t working; you have to ask for what you need. I had to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and ask for the financial support needed to support the mission. The reality is, the needs of our youth in foster care are much greater and way more important than my fear and insecurity of asking for money. What I want the world to know is that Kids in the Spotlight is an organization determined to disrupt the school to prison, homelessness and early pregnancy pipeline associated with youth in foster care. We are launching a capital campaign to raise money for our KITS Residential Vocational Academy and Production Studio for youth in foster care and we welcome you to take part in the impact by going to www.kitsinc.org to make a donation.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I’m a theme park lover, so if my best friend were visiting we would go to Disneyland, California Great Adventure, and Universal Studios all in one week. Those are my top three theme parks. She would also have to visit the Kids in the Spotlight classroom and /or production location to meet some of our amazing youth. I would also take her on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour as well as sign her up to see a few live tapings. She would definitely have to attend worship service with me at Vessels of Honor International Ministry in North Hollywood. For dining, the first stop would be “The Boiling Crabs,” the second stop would be “Barton G.” restaurant. That place is an experience all by itself and the food is really good! We would also have to pick up pizza from “Blaze Pizza”, Jamaican food from “Sattdown Jamaican Grill” in Studio City and a Diane Salad & Zucchini Bread from “Green Street Restaurant” in Pasadena. I would also take her to hang out at one or two of the many beautiful peers in our city. Santa Monica peer would be the first peer we visit because of the theme park, of course. Lastly, you can’t visit Los Angeles without going shopping, so I would have to take her to the LA Fashion District.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
One of my favorite sayings is, “It takes a village”. There is no way Kids in the Spotlight would be successful without the many hearts and hands that work with me, as well as, the amazing companies that have partnered with us on this journey. Honestly it would be too many to list in one article. But I’m going to do my best to shout out several of them. Antonio D. Charity, my amazing and talented husband, actor and co-founder of Kids in the Spotlight for supporting the vision and providing for our home especially during the first 5-6 years when I was working without compensation. I must shot out my parents, Mr. & Mrs. Johnson and my sister, Melanie Spry who love and supports me unconditionally. My sisters in ministry, Sharon Hogg, Tamesha Scott, Tiffany Thomas, T. Faye Griffin, Marilyn Beaubien, Audrey Brooks & Claudia Wells were the first group of ladies I shared the vision of Kids in the Spotlight with, and each of them took on a leadership role, volunteering their time and giving resources to help fulfill the mission of Kids in the Spotlight. It’s been eleven years since I started the organization and they are all still on this journey with me in some capacity. Our amazing ambassadors who help raise awareness and funds for our mission like, Ty Burrell, Kellee Stewart, KiKi Melendez, Kelsey Scott, Ariel Winters, Kirk & Joni Bovill, just to name a few. Our amazing film directors who have worked with us for years like, Ed Broaddus, Alphonso McAuley, Grant Housley, Robert Munic, David Mahmoudieh, Cady McClain, Jon Lindstorm, and several more. Our dedicated board of directors who help governs the organization and is lead by Gregory Metzger. Our dynamic writing and acting mentors, Reggie Gaskins, Terri Brown Jackson, Beverly Hunter, Yolanda Brown, & Ryan Gibson. Our community partners; Black Employees at Warner Bros., Black Employees Network at NBCUniv., CBS Redford and other studios who have partnered with us over the years like Fox Studios, Warner Bros. and Paramount Studios. Our funders, The Burrell Family, Music Is Unity, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, US Bank, California Arts Council, Dwight Stuart Youth Fund Foundation, Los Angeles County Arts & Culture & Washington West Film Festival & others who not only believe in our mission but provide grant funding for youth in foster care to participate in the Kids in the Spotlight program along with our individual donors and sponsors. Our small but powerhouse staff, Charissa Kennedy and Martin Russell Johnson who wear multiple hats to make sure our youth are getting the best possible program we can give them. I must shot out Diane Timmons from Impeccable Taste. Diane and her team have provided catering services for our annual KITS Film Awards for nearly 10 years. She has been a huge contributor to our mission and everyone loves her food! And of course, my “why”…the amazing youth who have participated in the Kids in the Spotlight program. Several of them have been apart of our program for many years and a few of them who have aged out of the system have returned to serve on our board and to volunteer for the program. Lastly, I’d like to shout out the City Scholars Foundation, founded by Kelli Ann Hogan, for investing in me as a leader for the past four years. The City Scholars program equips me to lead well with limited resources and to continue transforming lives. There are still dozens more who I have not named, but who are also extremely valuable to our impact and the work we do. I talk about many more of them in my book, “Not Your 9-to-5 Girl” sold on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It truly takes a village to have the kind of impact we are making in the lives of youth in foster care, and I am grateful to have so many amazing individuals on this journey with me.
George Washington Carver once said, “No individual has any right to come into the world and go out of it without leaving behind him distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it.”
Other: Amazon Smile is a great program that donates a percentage of your Amazon purchases to nonprofit organizations like, Kids in the Spotlight. Please consider selecting Kids in the Spotlight as your charity to support. Thank you. https://smile.amazon.com/s?k=Kids+in+the+Spotlight&ref=nb_sb_noss_2