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Ajani Charles and the Young Visionaries [Interview]

Toronto, ON – It’s rare and refreshing to see someone successful give back in his or her craft to the communities that raised them. Ajani Charles, a Toronto-based published photographer, has founded a brand new program based on educating youth in the GTA about photography and cinematography. Read more about the Young Visionaries program and how to apply, after the jump.


HipHopCanada: Describe to us what the young visionaries program is?

Ajani Charles: The Young Visionaries is both an educational program and a collective of visual artists and educators, wherein the education of youth in Toronto takes place, specifically providing education on the subjects of photography and cinematography. The organization is based at 377 Dundas Street West (in the downtown core of Toronto) and was founded by myself. The Young Visionaries gives priority to youth from the developing parts of the GTA; areas which are commonly referred to as priority neighborhoods. Through photography and cinematography, The Young Visionaries will improve these areas and will empower the program’s youth and youth throughout various priority neighborhoods. I
should also note that the program started Wednesday Januarry 25 and the first session was hugely successful. We are still taking applicants until February 3rd and will be conducting the last round of interviews over the course of the next two weeks.


HipHopCanada: What inspired you to create such a program?

Ajani Charles: I was inspired to create The Young Visionaries because I’m passionate about helping others. Also by the fact that many talented youth in Toronto, throughout the rest of Canada, and throughout the world, don’t have the opportunities or resources to develop their artistic talents in the way that I did, as a child. I was also inspired to create The Young Visionaries by my parents and by one of my mentors, Edward Scott Day. Many talented artists and youth leaders in Toronto, that I am connected to, also had a profound influence on my decision to launch The Young Visionaries. These youth leaders and artists include: Kate Fraser, Craig Goodwill, Suzanne Lindsay, Shahina Sayani, Neil Donaldson, Gavin Sheppard, Andrea Zammit, Jessie Cortes, Tiffany Naval, Robin Lacambra, HipHopCanada’s Jonathan “Bizz” Brown, Laura Metcalfe, Bryan Brock, Norman Alconcel, Kim Crosby, Davin Black and many others. I have a fine arts background, as outlined in my biography at, and I attended a specialized arts school known as The Claude Watson School for the arts at the age of 9, where I was immersed in all forms of art, including theater, dance, music and visual arts, on a daily basis. By the time that I was in high school, I was a visual arts major as part of The Claude Watson Arts Program at Earl Haig Secondary School here in Toronto. In addition to Claude Watson, I studied at The Art Gallery of Ontario and at The Toronto School of Art as a child and I also attended countless workshops and camps. As such, I was fortunate enough to have great parents that encouraged me to be immersed in the arts and I received a great deal of formal training at a very young age. The arts have provided a richness to my life that I definitely can’t imagine living without. With that being said, I wanted to provide an opportunity that was similar to many of the opportunities that I received as a kid, to Toronto-based youth that lack the resources to specifically learn about photography and cinematography — the art forms that I have been the most immersed in, over the course of the last five years.

HipHopCanada: What do cinematography and photography do for these young minds?

Ajani Charles: Photography and cinematography have been such powerful tools and art forms since they first came into being. For those of us that are lucky enough to live in the developed world, photography and cinematography are a part of our day-to-day lives and the art forms have definitely had a profound impact on our world and how we perceive it. What’s more, photography and filmmaking often include and/or document a myriad of other art forms, which make the art form of picture taking one of the most dynamic, from my perspective. I intend on showing my students that photography and filmmaking will provide them an opportunity to produce incredible and empowering stories for ideas or causes that are of great importance to them and to their communities. Moreover, I want them to understand that photography and cinematography are not separate from or independent of other forms of visual arts and I intend on opening their minds to the possibility of exploring other art forms. For those youth that are from priority neighborhoods, I believe that The Young Visionaries will help them to produce sustainable and creative art projects that can improve the communities wherein they reside.


HipHopCanada: Can you tell us about some of the sponsors and how they have helped your program?

Ajani Charles: The Young Visionaries has been generously funded by ArtReach Toronto, which is an amazing organization that provides funding for youth-based arts programs in the GTA; programs that specifically educate and empower youth from Toronto’s priority areas. The Young Visionaries have also been supported by my photography company, ajani photography: digital image solutions, Schools Without Borders, The Grassroots Youth Collaborative, The City of Toronto, Lighthouse Innovations, The Remix Project, HipHopCanada, Peace Quest, Stolen From Africa. The Manifesto and also by ArkMedia.  The previously mentioned organizations have provided invaluable constructive criticism, a space for the organization/program, mentors for the program’s youth, equipment, press/public relations opportunities and other human resources (for outreach-related purposes, for the development of The Young Visionaries website, etc.), The Young Visionaries definitely could have never come into being without their help!

HipHopCanada: How can we expect the young visionaries program to grow in years to come?

Ajani Charles: I intend on acquiring more funding, mentors, guest artists, program coordinators, equipment and possibly a larger space for The Young Visionaries. I also intend on working as diligently as I possibly can, so as to render The Young Visionaries the best photography and cinematography program for underprivileged youth in Canada! Also, because the program aims to educate youth from Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods, The Young Visionaries will be an intellectual incubator for arts-based projects that can improve Toronto neighbourhoods that are in need of cultural, as well as socio-economic growth and improvement!

Interview conducted by Christina Parihar for HipHopCanada

Any Toronto-based youth who are interested in joining The Young Visionaries should definitely check out


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