There are so many factors that affect how our lives turn out, but one of the most interesting is how our backgrounds give us unique strengths and perspectives that affect who we are as adults. We asked rising stars from the community to tell us about their background and upbringing and how they feel it’s impacted who they are today.

Duncan Coe | Actor, Writer, Director

I was born in Austin, TX and lived in and around the Austin area for the better part of 32 years before I moved to Los Angeles for work. When I was growing up there the city was still very much a large town… the tallest building was the Capitiol so I’ve seen the full evolution of Austin from a hippie Mecca to technological one. I went to high school in a little town southwest of Austin called Wimberley — they were renowned for running one of the most successful public High School Theatre programs in the state and my Freshman year we were the UIL State Champions in the 3A division of competitive one-act play performance and returned to state competition all four years of high school (this is the same governing organization that runs the state football program so it was kind of a big deal). Read more>>

Gina Weber | Hula Hoop Artist/Dancer/Actress

I grew up in a very small town called Chilton, in Wisconsin. It’s just outside of Green Bay and yes I am a Packers fan! The Midwest work ethic you hear about is definitely true and I’m grateful to have grown up there. Having to shovel your own car out from under a snowbank in -30° weather and get yourself to work or school on time without complaining, is a feat but daily life there. I grew up in the country. My mom, dad and 4 sisters. Read more>>

Bodgan Odulinski | VP of Product at SolveiQ

I have been passionate about personal computing since my teens programming as well as building computers to pay my way through college. Then, after a decade consulting to Fortune 500 companies in the 90’s, I had the opportunity to work at Dell to lead the launch of several apps and services installed on millions of PCs. That experience got me hooked on helping end users get more out of their tech. Read more>>

Laura Smith Biswas | Health and Wellness Entrepreneur & Author

I am a California native but grew up living in a lot of places including Buenos Aires, the Washington D.C. area, the intermountain west and the northeast. I returned as an adult to California which has always felt like home to me. Along my journey, I experienced my fair share of difficulties. My father, whom I loved very much, died of a brain tumor when I was starting college. This was soon followed by the death of my brother, Spencer, at age 21 in a hiking accident and then my youngest brother died from sudden heart failure. Read more>>

Jacob Yanes | Sculptor

I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1992 I left to attend St.John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The St. John’s “Great Books” program is based on the foundation works of Western thought and is rooted in classical texts and languages. There I learned ancient Greek, which I studied for the next several years with the intention of becoming a classicist. I left St. John’s with a strong conviction in the value of dialectic inquiry and the (often misused and misapplied) foundation works of classical thought. Read more>>

Abby Wu | Creative Producer

I was born and raised in Guangzhou, China. It’s a metropolitan city in southern China northwest of Hong Kong on the Pearl River. Growing up, I was immersed in Cantonese culture, especially films and music from Hong Kong. From there, I moved and lived in New York for 6 years, and I recently relocated to Los Angeles. I think my background is made up of constant interactions and clashes between cultures and opinions, which turned me into someone who’s always culturally curious and interested in the diversity of opinions. Read more>>

Susan Vizvary | Photographer and Designer

Born and raised a true valley girl from Encino, California I have pretty much not moved too far from where I came. Maybe that’s one reason I enjoy traveling so much. Growing up I lived a very normal life. Family, friends, schooling…I loved to be active outside but in the evenings, like most other families, we would watch TV. I instantly found myself more interested in the sets of each program than the program itself. I would ask myself “who picked out that couch?”, “How did they make those drapes in that color?”…and from there my love of interiors began. Read more>>

Brodie Mullin | Actor, Dancer, Singer

Where are you from and how did your background and upbringing impact who you are today? I am from Atlanta, Georgia. When I was dancing around the living room to “So You Think You Can Dance,” my parents enrolled me in dance classes. When my dance school gave me a role in the recital, I started acting classes. A role that I wanted to audition for required singing so I started taking voice lessons. My parents are supportive of my interests. They let me try different things and they never hold me back. They have taught me to have fun with whatever I am doing and to try new things. I know that wherever I go or whatever I do, I have my parents full support. Read more>>

Mela Green | Artist

I’m from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and I moved to Los Angeles 7 years ago. Before that, I had never lived in another country. There had been stays for a few months here and there around the world because of work, but leaving everyone and everything behind to start over long term was something new. The irony is that I never considered L.A as a landing spot for me. I grew up in the theater, working in theater companies since I was nine, so New York or London always seemed like “the place for a theater actor”. But, the universe had different plans for me. This whole path started with my parents. Read more>>

Corbin Jones | Multi-Instrumentalist & Arranger

I like to say “California-born, Colorado-raised” when people want a more in-depth understanding of my beginnings (which is generally never). I was born in San Jose in NorCal, and my parents were born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, so almost all my family is in California. When I was 5 turning 6 years old, my parents moved us to a suburb of Denver, Colorado for a job, so I lived from ages 5 -18 in Colorado. I really didn’t identify with what I considered stereotypical Colorado-isms, and I used to claim that I was LA among many of my peers… then I moved here to attend music school LOL. Read more>>

Kiran Joan | Illustrator

I was originally born in Muscat, Oman and then moved to coastal city in India, Mangalore. Since it’s a small city, there wasn’t a lot of opportunities in illustration apart from traditional art classes. But I was always surrounded by lush greenery growing up. There was always fruit, vegetable trees and coconut trees (!!) growing outside our home. This gave me a strong feeling of abundance and community. I like to channel this energy of abundance in my work as well to manifest more of it in my life and give back to my community. Read more>>

Aaliyah Nelson | Zaire Extensions LLC Owner

I am born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. Inglewood to be exact! Lol I would say that being from Los Angeles in general its always way harder for you to be successful in your own city so you have to work and grind ten times harder. As the late and great Nipsey Hussle would say “On a mission your worst enemy is idle time” has always been something that has been instilled in my everyday life. I know that everyday when I wake up I need to do something for my business, something that will grow my business. If I’m not doing anything, my business will be stagnant right? Even if its something as small as reaching out to an influencer on a social media platform or simply just making sure I post on my business page. I know that hard work concludes with great results. Read more>>

Chrystofer Davis | Fine Art Photographer & Teaching Artist

I’m from Newark, NJ and it’s played a big part in my successes. Being from here, I often heard the swear campaign from the media outlets and outsiders and wondered why they chose to speak ill of this beautiful city. While growing up in Newark, I’ve seen nothing but positives hear from my teachers, peers, and more. I chose to utilize the power that I had, I picked up a camera and chose to change the narrative of the real Newark. There are negatives here in the city, just like anywhere. However, I often think of the quote of my colleague and friend Gabriel Ribeiro: “You’ll always find evidence for what you choose to believe in.” From my beliefs that Newark is a place of love and community, it reflects in the work I show. Read more>>

Kimesha Malone | Registered Nurse, Children’s Book Author, & Mommy blogger

I am from downtown St. Louis, MO (the Show-Me state). Growing up in the city and attending public, Visual & Performing arts schools early on in my childhood definitely inspired the creativity within me. Unfortunately, my biological father lost his life when he was 28 and I was only 10 yrs old. I felt like I had to make a decision in life: To go down the negative, vengeance route of the streets or turn tragedy to triumph and flip the script. Dance, writing, and music were therapeutic outlets for me. The stage became my best friend (well, aside from God of course). Read more>>

Carl Seaton | Director

I’m from Chicago, which is a blue collar town rooted in working hard and enduring very tough weather. Growing up in Chicago gave me an insane work ethic, grit to handle hardships, and hustle to maneuver through or around obstacles. Read more>>

Marla Lou | Artivist and Founder & CEO of Claim Our Space Now

My upbringing as a Haitian Immigrant and Jehovah’s witness are the backbone of my whole story. I was born in Haiti and came to the states undocumented when I was 8 months old. In my early development (up until I received US citizenship in middle school), my “illegal” status impacted me directly because I had to hide my origins to attend school and feared many activities in the city like a doctor’s visit or trip to the mall. I distinctly remember the fear of being separated from my family off of an anonymous tip if I told anyone where I was from or if there was a way for people to just look at me and decide to report me for looking foreign. Read more>>

Daria Seok | Actor & Writer

I’m from Kazakhstan, been raised in the south in a small town called Kyzylorda, spent quite some time in the capital Nur-Sultan as well. On top of that, I was raised in a Russian-Korean household, so my experience was always pretty diverse as Kazakhstan itself is a melting pot for different cultures. It makes you more open-minded and want to explore what’s outside of your country even more because you’re so used to discovering different cultures from your youth. I like to think that because the cultures I grew up in are so different even in the overall spirit I adopted different perspectives on things, and sometimes they battle inside of me. Read more>>

Ellery Sablan | Guam Artist & Music Teacher

Being from Guam has taught me to celebrate the small things (since a lot of what’s in the mainland, we don’t have in Guam…like Target or Starbucks) and strive towards the great things. The Chamorro (the ethnicity of people from Guam and the Mariana Islands) culture has impacted me in such a way that I treat everyone I come across with respect and want to make people feel welcome, and I feel especially led to do so with my music. Read more>>

Kat Uyenco | Television Executive Producer

I was born in Cebu City Philippines and my family immigrated to the United States when I was 8 years old. My parents divorced when I was 9 years old and my mother raised 5 children mostly on her own (she had a 2nd husband that helped when I was a teenager). But I always think of my mother when it comes to how I became the strong independent woman I am today. She was always selfless and put her family above everything else and never failed to provide for us. She held 2 jobs to make ends meet and taught us about hard work and sacrifice. Failure was never an option and I carry that belief to this day. Read more>>

Andrea Cadioli | Architectural Designer

I was born and raised in Italy, in a small village in the Alps north of Turin. Before operating in the design field, I have worked as a musician and tv presenter for MTV and EMI, traveling for shows and allowing me to fall in love with the culture of my country. After years of intense and rewarding experiences, I moved to Beijing to complete my first Master in Architecture at Tsinghua University, ranked number 1 in the best Universities in Asia. Read more>>

Malissa Page, LCSW, BCD | Psychotherapist & Clinical Social Worker

I lived most of my life in Tacoma, Washington. During my childhood I lost my father due to gun violence and was raised by my mother. She taught me to go after what I want in life and to follow my heart. Although I had my family’s emotional support, my own limiting beliefs were preventing me from embarking on my dream to become a psychotherapist. In my early twenties I was severely disatisfied with my job as a bank teller and started therapy for grief related to my father’s traumatic death. Read more>>

Xinovia | Music Producer & DJ

I am from Perth Western Australia and I’ve lived in LA since late 2016. The biggest impact my upbringing has had on me and who I am today is within my personal relationships with the people in my life. Perth is a small nit community and I was brought up to be welcoming and helpful to others around me, strangers or not. This quality in people I think really gets lost in a city like LA where lots of us are struggling to make ends meet, the film industry is so go-go-go all the time, and just due to size of the population here it’s chaotic, so I find everyone quite reluctant to go out of their way for others. Everyones time is so valuable here in LA so I completely understand, but being welcoming and helpful to others is definitely an aspect of myself I try to keep alive from my upbringing as much as possible. Read more>>

Shayla Racquel | Writer. Director. Artist.

I am a true Southern belle – born and raised in South Carolina to a large, close-knit family who seemingly goes everywhere together (even if its just to get a quick chicken box from Bernie’s on a random Friday afternoon). Storytelling is a major part of Black Southern culture and I grew up listening to my grandparents share stories of vulnerability, resilience, conquests, setbacks, failures, and triumphs of my people and my family as they grew up in the Deep South during the Jim Crow era. Read more>>

Jenithursday Miller | Peer Support Specialist

I am so proud of being from the San Gabriel Valley and growing up in Alhambra California. I was exposed to the brilliant Suburban culture and had access to delicious candies from the countries that makeup the Pacific Islander Nations. I learned so much from my classmates at Ramona Elementary school such as being detail oriented and having great work ethics. My childhood upbringing was challenging due to being enrolled in the special education program and secretly experiencing incest abuse within my household. Read more>>

Christopher E. Richardson | Actor, Model, Dancer, Director, Inspirational Speaker, Entrepreneur, Fitness Trainer, Men’s Mental Health Advocate

I am from Stuttgart, Germany with my dad being a retired US Army Veteran and my mom being a model, seamstress and administrator from Jamaica. To say that our household was rooted in discipline would be like landing on the sun and calling it warm. My brother and I definitely knew what it was like to be kids and play but there was structure and an order to our lives. I feel that from my mother’s womb, I was destined to clash with anything authoritative that was based in tradition. Being brought up in and around structure, disciplined approaches to going about life and everything having order to it all but forced me to question the origin of those things. Read more>>

Namita Paul | Visual Artist

My formative years were nomadic; my father’s work took us across India. I grew up in four different states, each with its own cultural identity. I studied a new language with each move, adapted to new foods, clothing, and customs, and learned to celebrate the novelty of the experience, overcome challenges, and feel comfortable being the Other. Such a diverse upbringing prepared me well for the field of fashion, a highly interdisciplinary arena. After graduating from fashion school in India, I joined the apparel design world. Read more>>

Ashley Marie Manzo | Jewelry designer & photographer

I was born and raised in Boyle Heights, CA. Growing up in Boyle Heights and within close proximity to Downtown Los Angeles, impacted my art and my personality in many ways. My grandmother who would often sew, would take me and my sister to the fashion district on the bus and there I became familiar with Downtown Broadway and all the buildings. Once we would get to the fashion district, I was in love with all the bolts of fabric, buttons, trims, all of it. Fashion and the freedom of expression really spoke to me as I was growing up and I attribute these spontaneous trips to that feeling. Read more>>

Zoé Arkfeld | Custom Picture Framer and Art Store Owner

I grew up in Atascadero, where I live now and run my family business, The ARTery. My parents met in an art class in Pasadena, a serigraphy class in particular, and my mom has continued her art career as an oil painter throughout my life. She worked at an incredible art store in downtown San Luis Obispo called Law’s Hobby Center where I have many fond memories learning, creating, and causing a little bit of trouble. She decided to open her own shop in 2002. I turned eleven just a few days before we opened the shop. Read more>>

Hazel Clayton Harrison | Author, Educator & Editor

I grew up in Steubenville, Ohio, a small steel town along the Ohio River. My family migrated there in the early 50s to escape the Jim Crow South. My father worked in the steel mill, my mother worked part time as a housekeeper, and we lived in a poor working class neighborhood. Though we did not have a lot of money, we had a tight knit family and community. By example, my parents taught us the values of hard work, education, and family unity. Neither one of my parents finished high school, but they were very intelligent. Read more>>

Kevin Brewster | Musician & Singer

I was born and raised in Grand Rapids. Michigan, and growing up in this beautiful city full of art and culture has impacted me greatly. Being brought up in a Pentecostal Church has also really built the foundation of the artist I am today, from singing in the choir, playing drums, then to playing the saxophone in church. Doing this taught me how to act as a performer with knowing how to speak/engage with the audience and express myself musically. What also helped me was being involved in music in school. The school district I attended from kindergarten to my senior year of high school is full of so many different ethnicities and cultures which is why I feel that I have gotten so much of a better experience as a musician from being in that environment, I learned to appreciate music way more by understanding different cultures and being able to play/hear the music from different cultures. Read more>>

Krista Parkinson | CEO and Founder of GET HIRED WITH KP, Career Coaching Expert

My name is Krista Parkinson. I’m a former WME Agent and started my own business: GET HIRED WITH KP (formerly known as My Grads Get Jobs), a company dedicated to helping driven, committed, and passionate people get hired in the entertainment business. Whether it’s a college student landing their first internship or a seasoned professional looking to level up their career, I want to help people realize their dreams. But before all of that, I lived a very different life. Read more>>

Maeve Thompson Osgood | Actor, Singer, Writer & Model

I was raised in Durham, North Carolina by two parents from the Northeast. We were a very close family growing up, and still are. My parents did a wonderful job of pushing my brother and me to do what made us happy, and it has made all the difference. There are endless traps for parents to fall into, whether it’s pushing your kids too hard, making them do something that’s “good for them”, or even not pushing them hard enough. My parents walked a very thin line between helping us pursue our passions and making sure we were mentally healthy adults. Growing up in a small town with Duke University right across the road, there was a lot of pressure from my peers to either be the best or disappear. Read more>> 

Michelangelo Rodriguez | Composer for Film, Television, & Multimedia

Growing up in Austin, Texas, I was exposed to many different genres of music, (its the “Live Music Capital of the World” after all!), so naturally, I was surrounded by inspiration. My dad plays mariachi music, so I was especially exposed to that! But funny enough, I really started to get into music at my local Target. When I was in sixth grade, I was passing through the aisles where I found a small Casio keyboard that lit up when you pressed the keys and I was obsessed with it. I got it and instantly loved it because it was fun to play, plus I just really liked the lights :). Read more>>

Cesar D La Torre | ACTOR

I was born in Maracaibo Venezuela, I think who I am today it is because of my past and my background, when you have a hard past you appreciate more things you achieve, you become stronger everyday and that is what happened to me , I think I am not the same, I am stronger now, My past did such an impact on me that I fight harder to reach my goals and dreams, and never give up. Read more>>

Damari Gold | Tax Accountant

I am a first-generation American. My mom was a Salvadorian immigrant. Like most immigrant families, we were poor, and I grew up in the projects of East Los Angeles. Being a first-generation American impacted my life significantly, not only because of the opportunities that I now have but the ability to create generational wealth. Money was a means of survival; my mom understood that the only way she would be able to eat and feed her children was by working hard, accepting any job, and hustling at all costs. Read more>>

Laura Grizzlypaws | Education Developer, Policy Analyst, Fitness Athlete Bodybuilder, Artist, Dancer, Singer Songwriter

I am from the St’at’imc nation. A small tribe within the central interior of British Columbia. Known as the Salishian People. The community I am from is Xwisten (Bear Clan Community) we are known as the smiling people, My background is truly I believe what has shaped or contributed to my current identity as an Indigenous woman. I was born and raised in Lillooet BC, However, I am a daughter of survivor of the Indian Residential School. I spent a great early years of my life with my grand parents, harvesting, working the garden, our on the land and down the fishing rocks. However, when my Kwekwa7 (grandmother) passed away, my life transitioned to a cycle of neglect and abuse. Read more>>