How digital workshops can equip youths with tools to overcome life challenges: Q&A’s with Taysean Wilson-Nolan
#RisingYouth Alumni Taysean Wilson-Nolan is the youth behind Vision Infinity, a program offering free and accessible digital workshops for youths in the Greater Toronto Area. We have the chance to learn more about his story, motivations and the people around him who helped him bring this idea to life, and in term, the ideas of others as well.
Where are you from? What place do you call home and why?
My name is Taysean Lee Wilson-Nolan, and I am from Rexdale, Toronto, a neighbourhood in the west-northern region of the city. The title Rexdale is often associated with its poverty and high-crime activity. Conventional wisdom tells us that all individuals who come from high-crime-rate and likely to be in urban neighbourhoods become negative products of their environment. But my experiences have taught me that adversity is the greatest test of a person’s heart, and areas like Rexdale, where there is much hardship, produces the greatest of people. The most influential people I’ve met have come from Rexdale or similar neighbourhoods.
What community/communities are you part of ?
I am apart of the Rexdale community, more appropriately known as Etobicoke North. Although I was born into poverty, I was fortunate enough to have relatives who worked hard enough to escape this condition. My elder sisters, Nasha Nolan, an active French teacher in the Durham District School Board, and Lilisha Nolan, a manager for Ricoh Business Solutions in downtown Toronto, paved the way for success for me at a young age. Following in their footsteps I received my honours award in Junior High School, but the struggles of living in Rexdale would continue to test my character. Eventually, I would stray away from the focus I initially had on my studies. Upon my graduation from high school, I barely had the grades to go to University.
Before going to college, I connected with several individuals in Toronto, from different high-crime-rate and urban neighbourhoods, who lead me back on the path that my sisters had originally placed me on. Zya Brown, the founder of Think 2wice, a non-profit organization that supports youth from gang-affiliated neighbourhoods, taught me the importance of depending on Jesus Christ and establishing my faith in God. This would eventually become the pivotal turning point in my life.
What are you passionate about? What are your hobbies?
My strongest skills are film directing and youth program coordinating. I began working in the digital media industry in 2017, with Mars Reel, in Los Angeles, California. During that time, I did work for major brands, such as Chipotle, and high-profile athletes, such as Zion Williamson and LeBron James Jr. In 2019, during my first year of college, at Gavilan College in Gilroy, California, I began making my shift into television and film. That year I was granted two president scholar awards and received a Best Editing nomination for my video, Gavilan Hype (2019). After this, I decided that it was time I pursue a career in the television industry. I moved back to Toronto and was accepted into York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering. Moreover, I began two Canadian corporations. The first was HZ Studios Inc., a media and production company, and the second was the Hour Zero Foundation, a non-profit organization that uses its resources for the advancement of education.
In 2020, HZ Studios Inc., publicly known as Hour Zero, produced Your Destination, an animated short film. That year, the film received an award-nomination for Best Editing and was distributed on Amazon Prime Video. I decided to broaden my horizons by partnering with Myck Kabongo, former player for the San Antonio Spurs, and Dane Smith, professional basketball player and film producer. Their common faith in Jesus Christ made them perfect business partner, and we decided to produce our first television documentary film, called Unconventional Paths. The film is currently in post-production and is anticipated for release in 2021. Nevertheless, the creation of this film was only made possible with the support of Andrade Forden (London, Ontario), Johnnie Roy Skinner (California), Warren Smith (Colorado), Jamal Burger (Toronto, Ontario), Jesse Dart (Toronto, Ontario), and Mark Myers (Toronto, Ontario).
I have learned how to use my business solutions for a social mission. In the summer of 2020, I began the Masterpiece project, a non-profit arts program that provides youth, between the ages of 13–29, with free digital media courses. Masterpiece is run by the Hour Zero Foundation and supported by ArtReach. I began this program because I am passionate about helping others overcome their challenges. My passion is rooted in my love for others and it derives from the love of God that was expressed through Jesus Christ.
How did the idea for this project come to you?
The idea for the Vision Infinity program was birthed from a reflective experience. My family-friend, Jamal Omar, a Canadian professional photographer, would challenge me to find new ways of educating youth. Masterpiece was an amazing program for providing youth with hands-on activities and helping them develop both hard-skills and soft-skills. But we needed a way to thoroughly teach our participants how to efficiently use advanced-level applications. The solution to this was having workshops that focused primarily on learning the software. With the empowerment of TakingITGlobal, through the #RisingYouth project, we were able to turn this idea into a program, and it was called Vision Infinity.
What was your motivation behind this project?
The motivation behind Vision Infinity was my desire to provide marginalized youth from Toronto with the opportunity to join advanced-level digital media workshops for free.
Based on the 2016 census, Statistics Canada has shown that just under 30% of census families are run by a lone-parent. In these private households, more than 50% of people are earning less than $30k a year. Approximately 55% of those individuals have either not moved beyond a high school diploma or have even graduated at all. We believe that if youth are given the tools to be successful, they will more likely be encouraged to pursue higher education.
By providing youth, in the Greater Toronto Area, with workshops through Vision Infinity, I was able demonstrate how students can use education to find opportunities to work in fields they enjoy once they have a full understanding of the material.
How did your community react to your project? Have they been encouraged to get involved in any other ways?
My community had a very positive reaction to my project. Allie Harvey, from ArtReach, supported Vision Infinity by participating in the social media marketing campaign. My relatives, Nasha Nolan, Lilisha Nolan, and David Nolan, were involved throughout the entire project as process consultants. Jamal Omar was very encouraged when he received the news that the project would be empowered by TakingITGlobal and funded by the Government of Canada. Shortly after, he agreed to provide his media artistry skills alongside our associate Jermaine Shand. Within just a couple of weeks, we received our maximum number of intended applicants.
Varna, a non-profit organization, played a key role in the establishment of Vision Infinity. Their team consisted of Dane Smith, Nehnika Williams (Nehnika Smith), and the many smiles of their beautiful daughter, Kalliyah Smith.
In retrospect, what was the impact of your project?
To maximize the impact of my project, we offered the online viral classes on Hour Zero’s External Learning Platform and ran in collaboratively with Masterpiece during the 2020 Christmas break. Youth received coverage for digital media applications, web hosting and domain registration. New studio equipment was donated to Heaven’s Lighthouse Ministries International, a third-party non-profit corporation.
One of our participants, Zachary Neptune, an uprising college student, used the skills he learned from Vision Infinity to start his own podcasting business and design a website. Upon completion, Vision Infinity covered all website subscription fees for the first year. Today, Zachary actively runs his business at www.theentertainmentresort.com.
Jamal Omar, a staff at Vision Infinity, was not held back from receiving the project’s benefits. As a former youth leader of Masterpiece, Jamal received coverage by Hour Zero for his website’s domain and hosting plan. During the term of the Vision Infinity project, Jamal took advance of the Christmas break to complete his website, and with the assistance of the Vision Infinity team, he was able to publish it at www.jamalamaj.com.
How has the project impacted you in your everyday life?
The project has impacted how I value the lives of others. The Vision Infinity project allowed me to create bonds with more youth in my city. I was able to learn that as an instructor, I may end up learning more from my students than they learn from me. It is an exchange of hard-skills for soft-skills. I am sharing the knowledge I have in my field of expertise and they’re sharing their optimism, inspiration, and positivity.
Were there some bumps along the road or things you may do differently in the future?
Reflecting on the Vision Infinity project, I genuinely believe that if the program was longer, and more workshops were offered, it would be more impactful and memorable for the participants. I found that the participants had many questions after each class, and that was because they were given a lot of information in a short time. As a result, I had to sacrifice a lot more time after class to help the students understand the material. In the future, I will prepare more workshops and cover less material in each one, so that the participants will have more time to develop their understanding on each topic.
What would you say to a youth who is thinking about doing a #RisingYouth project?
At the present moment, I know several individuals who would be perfect program coordinators for a #RisingYouth project. Those individuals are Nicholas Williams, Christian Williams, and Ketsia Ndombele. While in high school, the three worked collectively and created their own shoe restoration business, called Aristokicks. Moreover, they have demonstrated their selflessness and goodwill by volunteering their summers to serve The Kickback, a non-profit organization in Toronto.
My word of encouragement to the three would be to continue on their path and broaden their horizons by finding new ways to use their business solutions through Aristokicks to serve a social mission. Since they already have the support of The Kickback, and the mentorship of its founder, Jamal Burger, I believe they’re already prepared to run a successful #RisingYouth project.