Doing the Work: Tige Charity, Kids In The Spotlight (KITS)
Doing the Work is a series profiling key recipients of HFPA Philanthropy
When Tige Charity was still working in the corporate world as an insurance specialist, her husband taught an acting course at an all-girl group home. The director of the institution invited Charity and her husband to tour the facilities. There, she noticed some girls misbehaving, but realized that “these kids were not really acting out, they were asking for attention. They wanted to be seen”. “That experience just cracked my heart wide open.”
That encounter on the premises of the group home compelled Charity to do something but didn’t yet know what. Two years later, when she was laid off from her job due to the great recession, she had to make a lasting career choice. “One night in April of 2009, I was having what I call a ‘temper tantrum with God’ … I was in a state of frustration, I really didn’t want to look for another job in that economy, I wanted to do something meaningful, to make a difference… And so, after I calmed down, I remembered those girls I met two years prior at the group home. It was as clear as day… (I thought) ‘give them something you love… and you love the arts’.”
“I was exposed to the arts because I married an actor,” she continued. “I got to see Broadway productions and all those things that I had never experienced as a young girl growing up in Louisiana. So… if (these girls) want to be seen… give them a platform to be seen… heard… validated… celebrated! I jumped out of bed wiping off my tears, grabbed a journal, and just started writing: Kids in the Spotlight, an organization where kids write, cast and star in their own short films… But you can’t stop there. (Their work) has to culminate into something amazing… an Academy Award-like event where their films are screened and celebrated… And here we are 12 years later,” she paused, contented. Charity’s mission is twofold: “I want to give (foster youths) the opportunity to share their story, to let the world know their value and the fact that foster care does not define them; and also to show the industry the hidden jewels that are in the foster care system”.
Even though KITS empowers the participants to express themselves and tell their own stories, the programs come with professional directors, cinematographers and editors. This choice, Charity explained, came from “the mindset to give the industry the opportunity to give back in a meaningful way”. “It’s one thing to give financial support to an organization, but when you put your equity, your sweat, your talent and skillset into producing something amazing on behalf of someone else… it has a way of making you realize the value of your investment in the lives of youth. And we also wanted those stories to be seen not just at our event, the KITS Awards, but to open the door to film festivals and other opportunities. The hands-on experience of learning with industry professionals is really that missing piece, I think, in terms of mentorship and opportunity. It can actually lead to jobs… And for us, that’s mission accomplished.”
The long-term goal, however, is to establish a vocational academy that trains foster youths for jobs in the industry. “It’s a two-step process,” Charity explains: “The first thing we want to do is to launch a production studio where our students would be working on their KITS or other projects; space where they could continue to make projects as well as use it as a rental facility for industry professionals – with the caveat to hire our youth. The final stage for us would be the vocational academy, where we would take the youth through certificate-training programs. We’d also provide housing because one of the barriers foster youths face is lacking a stable place to stay. So, we would like to create a model where the youths can spend a year with us, living expenses covered, engaging them in a rigorous program where they’d learn all aspects of filmmaking. Then, we’d also help oversee their career path after they graduate, linking them to internships and jobs”.
Her name was not chosen as one might think. It belonged to her husband’s family. “I tell people all the time, I was marrying into destiny and I didn’t know it,” she laughs. Despite the serendipitous coincidence, Charity is unquestionably motivated by her organization’s potential for… charitable action. “There are enough kids in the foster care system in LA County to fill the Staples Center not once but twice,” she emphasizes. This fact becomes even more severe if we consider that foster youth often ‘graduate’ into homelessness and incarceration. “There is such an opportunity for us to impact foster youth early on so that we then impact the outcome of these numbers and statistics, changing the trajectory of their path by investing in them now.”
Naturally, then, for Charity, the process counts more than the product, even if she is clearly proud of the KITS participants’ creative accomplishments. “One of the biggest compliments we have gotten is that kids that hear of our programs request to be placed to group homes where KITS is active. Often kids come to us like cocoons, hard, mistrusting and guarded – and then they leave our program looking like beautiful butterflies, believing in themselves and embracing who they are.”
“There is one story that says it all,” she continued. “I was pulling into a parking space in a Target lot in my car which is branded with the KITS logo. When I got out I saw a family rushing to me. I got scared for a moment, I thought I had taken someone’s parking space (laughter)! There were two women and a girl, and one of the women told me ‘my son went to your program and now he’s back home with me, it’s like night and day’. She said ‘you gave us our son back’.” “We were all crying.”
“It’s just so rewarding to watch our youth find their own purpose using their pain, what they’ve been through…” Charity added. She can boast a few successes with kids that finished the KITS program and now are participating in professional productions. But, again, these successes are but proof of what she cares most about – “the transformation of the soul”.
And yet, these transformative moments are just a few sparks in a starless night: “Because we work with foster care, many times we lose touch with the kids in the process of moving from one home to another. Or they lose hope when they take our program at the beginning of the year but don’t see us again until the end of the year. In the meantime, the agencies report that they lose kids to the streets, to trafficking…”. In fact, the idea for the vocational academy emerged out of the need to fill this gap. Until the funding is secured, however, the KITS Team does not remain idle. In addition to their sessions, completion of short films, and their annual awards, since last December the organization has secured streaming the films on Indieflix, a platform that shows social justice and educational content. “I think it’s a match made in heaven,” Charity smiles.
The greater context that encompasses Kids in the Spotlight is social justice. Most of the KITS participants are youths of color. “They write about feeling invisible and how they are mistreated as individuals of color,” she said. “It’s one thing to be in foster care, then add the color aspect on top of that,” she went on. “It’s like pain on top of pain, trauma on top of trauma … and they write about it, they want you to see them from their own perspective … It’s gratifying to see them walk in their truth and in their power, even though it hurts.”
Finally, KITS – and the woman behind KITS – is about saving and healing the youth: “Film is just the medium we use to reach these kids on an entirely different level. There is a lot of therapeutic intervention that‘s happening in these sessions.” Therapy and creativity merge in the KITS programs: “Art has a magic way of doing that,” Tige Charity nods.