Villy Wang: Using Storytelling to End Racism

Villy Wang

We were very lucky to host Villy Wang, Founder, President and CEO of BAYCAT, a film studio and academy, which has now educated over 4k kids, aimed at opening up the world of storytelling for students and young people. Villy gave a #LendUpTalk on how her background led her to create BAYCAT, and how she and her team are using storytelling to fight racism and open new doors. Below are a few of our favorite moments from the talk.

On BAYCAT’s work to end inequality and racism through powerful storytelling:
“As a kid growing up in New York, with a single mother working 3 jobs at once -- if I wasn’t working in a sweatshop, I was sitting in front of a television. The power of media has always been a big part of my life: television was essentially telling me what a “perfect family” looked like. I was very influenced by the Brady Bunch! But when I thought about my story, I realized my dad never came home, our house didn’t look like their house. And basically the message was: there’s got to be something wrong with my family, because our problems weren’t solved in 30 minutes.

The power of story and the power of perception has shaped every single day of my story. And surely it’s done the same with countless other kids. Whether it’s conscious or unconscious, it’s very visible. With the explosion of social media and storytelling -- we each have the power not only to be the consumers, but the creators of these stories. We must let our stories be heard. I believe if we can change who the storytellers are, we can change reality for people. We could use them to start breaking these stereotypes, which are the fundamental root of racism and other societal issues.”

About combining a for-profit and not-for-profit business:
“When you think about working with young people coming from historically underserved communities -- which was me, too -- I thought about what the access points were. Of course education is important. But you also get the patronizing “oh that’s nice, you want to be an artist.” So I wanted to make sure there was an entrepreneurship side, too -- a side that really helped our young people build themselves up. Education and entrepreneurship can get people out of a bad spot. Storytelling and the media can make all the difference. Don’t feel sorry for our kids -- engage with them.

I wanted to launch an academy and a studio together. I wanted to prove to the rest of the world that these people are employable -- right away. What we started with was an academy that teaches kids as young as 11 to be storytellers, and our studio has an internship program, launching careers of 18-25 year women and diverse storytellers. Then we serve corporate clients like the Golden State Warriors and others, which earns the capital that, along with donors, helps our academy run. We’re trying to change the ecosystem -- change the ways corporations interact and donate to organizations. Again, don’t feel sorry for us -- engage with us as a client, donor or employer. When you hire us, you keep the academy alive and you allow us to hire more interns -- and often the companies who hire us end up hiring those interns when they graduate the program. It’s redirecting the ‘cycle.’”

About cultivating talent that is just starting out, while still producing top-notch, professional-quality work:
“We hire our young adult interns to support the Studio, and our 11- to 17-year-olds learn in the Academy. All of them find us because we’re in the schools and in the community organizations they’re going to.

We also rely on parents, family and friends. Our favorite thing is when parents come to us and say “oh my gosh I thought my child had ADHD and they were just doodling all the time. But you mean they could be an animator for Pixar??” The lightbulb goes off and then they ask: “what can I do for my kid?” That’s the best marketing tool right there: word of mouth. On the studio side, we’re working with 100% underemployed or unemployed young people. We do outreach at community colleges and other organizations that work with the same population. It’s a job in training for them -- our internship helps them make that first introduction, and places like Pixar, Lucasfilm, and the Golden State Warriors have hired them.”

On her advice for others who want to make a difference:
- “There’s an ecosystem that we’re trying to change together, there’s a conversation that we need to have, and we can’t be afraid to have it. We need to bring access to all new fields -- creative, finance, government -- everyone has work to do.”
- “Connect your own personal passion and sense of belonging with your professional life. Wherever you’re working, your power to give back is at your fingertips. Don’t be afraid to dig in. Be innovative about the change you can make, because there are opportunities everywhere, every day.”
- “Come to our next showcase, and bring a friend! It’s December 7 -- visit our website, where we’ll post more information soon.”
- In the meantime, check out Villy’s latest post on LinkedIn: Harness Hope Not Hate: BAYCAT's Response. Comment and share Villy’s and BAYCAT youth stories.

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