Last year, I was fortunate enough to develop a project with the youth charity Fixers, resulting in the creation of my short film, ‘What Would You Say’. Although my Fixers project came to an end, hundreds of young people are continuing to “fix” an issue in their community and I was able to meet up with one of them.
Jahtoya Rodriquez, 25, is developing a fix to tackle youth homelessness, by holding an event entitled ‘I Have A Voice’. Brought up in the British Virgin Islands, Jahtoya would always say hello to her late uncle,’Jojo’, who had lived on the streets for as long as she’d known him. It is her late uncle who is the main inspiration for the ‘I Have a Voice’ event. Although he had an apartment, he preferred sleeping on the streets, like many other homeless people Jahtoya later met while volunteering with the Dream Center in Los Angeles.
Jahtoya also has personal experience with homelessness, as she found herself sofa surfing for a few months while she was living in New York, “as it was quite difficult to find apartments”. She says, “I even shared a room with a couple which I am thankful for.” Not having anywhere to live until a week or two after she had moved to London in 2014 resulted in Jahtoya sofa surfing for another period of time.
‘I Have a Voice’ was established to give youth between the ages of 16-25 who have experienced homelessness, know someone who has experienced homelessness or simply see homeless people on the street each day, an opportunity to share their story in a creative way. This may be through storytelling, singing, acting, reciting a poem, playing an instrument or even beat boxing.
Performers for the event include Alyssa Harrigan, a singer and songwriter from the British Virgin Islands, actress Anita Okonkwo, blogger Kay Riley, and Ke’Andrea Nicole, a TV and red carpet interview host. The MP of Lewisham, Vicky Foxcroft, will also be the guest speaker and she’ll be discussing the plans she has to help youth in the Lewisham borough.
As well as performances and presentations, there will be food, music and blessing bags for the first 100 attendees. It is a free event for the general public to come together to listen to the youth and find ways in which they can make a difference in their local communities.
Jahtoya is currently studying part-time for an MA in Charity Management at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham and it was one of her classmates who invited her to attend a meeting with Fixers, who have partnered with L & Q Housing Trust to help young people within the local area use their experience to help others. She said: “After attending the meeting and sharing my passion for helping homeless people, I decided to create a platform for my future charity which will help empower homeless youth through self-development workshops, education and job training.”
After completing this project, Jahtoya says that she will continue doing outreach projects with people that share a similar interest and share different activities on her YouTube channel, ‘Jahtoya Rodriquez’, which will be launching shortly. However, Jahtoya’s long-term goal is to start her charity for youth between the age of 16-25, providing the opportunities she mentioned above in the British Virgin Islands and international cities like London, New York, Los Angeles etc.
Jahtoya says: “Many times people look at your success, but do not know what [you] went through to be the person you are today, which is why I want to allow youths who have shared similar experiences both directly and indirectly to share their stories, to help encourage and inspire others who are experiencing the same things.”
‘I Have A Voice’ will be taking place on the 16th April from 3-6pm at The Lewington Centre, 9 Eugenia Road, Rotherhithe, London, SE16 2RU. You can register for the event at: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/i-have-a-voice-an-event-tackling-youth-homelessness-tickets-20931069392 but be quick, as spaces are limited. There are also three performance slots available, so if you’re interested please contact EyH.London@gmail.com.