Jae Williams ’08 has spent a lot of time behind the camera and in front of kids, but earlier this month he found himself on center court when he was honored by the Boston Celtics for his work with disadvantaged youth through his Forever Ink Foundation.
Williams, who is also a digital media producer for Emerson College, was recognized as an “Honorary Co-Captain” on March 2 during a game against the Portland Trailblazers (the Celts won, 116–93), following a Video Producers of the Future panel at the TD Garden. Williams sat on the panel, along with his Forever Ink co-founder, Brandy Sales, and broadcast journalist, producer, and fellow alumna Daphne Valerius, MA ’06.
Forever Ink works with children ages 8 to 19 in Boston–area community centers to teach the fundamentals of creative writing and video production over the course of 9 to 12 weeks. At the end of the program, the kids create a video, commercial, or trailer, but “it’s the journey to get to that point that is what I believe makes the program special,” Williams said.
“The whole idea of Forever Ink is your gift,” he said. “Whatever you have talent in, take that gift and share it as if no man or woman, dead or alive, can do it better. And in the process, you create a legacy.”
Each center does its own project. Students in one of his first classes were interested in only two things: sneakers and basketball.
Williams and Sales got the kids to think about why they like sneakers so much and about how having a specific pair of sneakers can make you cool or uncool. Then the kids researched how sneakers are made, what athletes have to do to endorse a product, and how sneakers are marketed to consumers.
The group produced an investigative “TV show,” researched, written, directed, hosted, and edited by the kids themselves, about the production, branding, and marketing of athletic shoes. The students learned how huge the markup is on a $250 pair of sneakers, and they learned how consumers are manipulated into paying that much for footwear that costs a few dollars to make, Williams said.
But most importantly, he said, they learned that they’re smart, capable, and talented.
“A lot of the kids we work with…They’re the kids who don’t necessarily fit in or are having trouble at home or difficulty in school,” he said. “I think the major thing for me is I want to build kids’ confidence. I’m a huge proponent of lifting [people] up, because you can’t do anything in life without confidence.”
The program started two years ago with five kids, Williams said. This year, Forever Ink will work with more than 70 youth in six different community centers in five Boston neighborhoods and Lowell, and Williams said he got a call from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation about possibly expanding the program to even more children this summer.