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From Struggles to Success: Javon Williams and the path to a career

Picture of Centennial College Alimni Javon Williams

No matter who you are or where you’re from, you deserve an education. At Centennial College, we believe in removing barriers to education and have many success stories as evidence. We provide the resources, and our students make it happen with their determination. Javon Williams is one such success story.

A resident of the Malvern area, Javon faced barriers to a career and education in his youth, which ended in his incarceration. Determined to make his education and career work out anyway, he enrolled in Centennial College’s HYPE program. Next, he moved on to our Digital Visual Effects program, and then to a career with Vice Media, among other things. His work can be seen on his website, Visuals by Von, and its Instagram page. His transformation and experiences through the college are a true story of persistence and the value of an inclusive environment. Here’s the story of his journey.

Coming to Centennial

Unique to Centennial College, the HYPE (Helping Youth Pursue Education) program gives young people new confidence to return to school. We provide a six-week on-campus, tuition-free learning experience that includes transportation and food costs to reduce as many barriers as possible to postsecondary education.

“When I came into HYPE, I was 19, but before that, before HYPE, I was incarcerated,” Javon says. “I did a month in Central East, and when I came home, it was house arrest for four years, but … I got a bail variation so I could go to HYPE.”

Javon would use HYPE to successfully transition into full-time studies, and enrolled into the College's School of Business Entrepreneurship program.

“Our business teacher taught us how to write our own business plan, how to work in a team, how to develop presentations, all that stuff,” Javon says about the Entrepreneurship program, “and every Thursday, we’d have a big workshop with every HYPE student, and they’d teach us financial literacy, personal development, gaining confidence in yourself, all types of stuff.”

“A lot of it helped me,” he continues. “With the financial literacy, I learned about budgeting, and with the business program, I learned a bit more about accounting, how to take care of my finances and how to present myself in a room of people who don’t have the same background as me. It taught me to be comfortable being uncomfortable.”

After two years in that program, Javon decided to make a change, transitioning into a field where he could embrace his true passion.

Making video

“When I was in high school,” Javon says, “I used to film my boys freestyling, and make videos on movie maker. Later, I learned Premiere Pro. I started my own video production company, called Fluental Films, and I used to shoot music videos and make webisodes. I learned all of that by myself, on Google and YouTube.”

“I stopped doing music videos because I found that it wasn’t profitable, and I started doing photography,” he adds. “I started another company, Visuals by Von. Right now, that’s growing.”

In 2015 Javon switched programs, enrolling in Digital Visual Effects at Centennial’s Story Arts Centre. “When I heard visual effects, I thought it could better my craft,” he says. “What sold me was all my teachers come from the industry, they’re still in the industry.”

Digital Visual Effects is a new program at Centennial College taught at the Story Arts Centre. The campus has labs equipped with modern hardware and software, giving students the industry-standard techniques and core skills used by professionals to make photo-realistic visual effects.

Javon learned 3D modelling, some animation, photo manipulation, compositing, rendering, texturing and more.

He particularly liked working with his fellow students. “We would have all-nighter [work] parties,” he says, “and that’s what I liked about it. The class had about 13 of us, and we’d stay all night, bring food, everyone would work, and no one’s leaving till everyone’s done, and then we’d go to class the next day and do it again. Now my class has worked on Fast and Furious 8, Spider-Man and King Kong.”

Javon also found time to work on his companies while in school. “The campus is open 24/7,” he explains, “so any project that I would do, I’d be thinking of it like, this will look good on my website or my portfolio.”

How to make a career happen

Before he’d even graduated (the first in his family to do so), Javon would be employed with Vice news media and also involved with Toronto's Remix Project. Javon learned about Vice from a colleague from the equipment room, Cecillio, after expressing his concern about getting an internship. Cecillio had met a man from Vice during a workshop.

Javon contacted Vice, asking to meet to talk about how he got where he was and how Javon could get there. Javon was surprised when he received a reply to his email.

“He said ‘Come at ten o'clock on Wednesday.’ I came at nine thirty,” Javon says. “I was ready. I asked him questions, then he asked if I wanted a job.” Soon, Javon was working as an assistant video editor.

“I’ve worked there since April as an intern,” he says “It’s amazing. The culture is nice. You don’t feel like you’re at work because you’re creating.”

The Remix Project

Javon’s other major effort at the moment is the Toronto Remix project.

“Remix Project is a HYPE program for creators,” Javon explains, “so they specialize in music production and creative business. I’m in the photography stream. They give free space in a studio, and we have to do ten hours a week of free time working on a project, basically like our own little office. Then they have workshops on industry connections, how to get into the industry, making pitch decks and how to brand yourself.

“Once every month,” he continues, “we sit down with our mentor, and we create a nine-month plan on how to get where I’m at to where I want to go. Me, I want to have my own art and photography exhibit.”

“I’ve covered events like Manifesto and Afro Fest,” he says, “and right now I’m working with a concept project. Basically, I’m planning a shoot that’ll be good for Puma, for Rihanna’s new slippers. I’m learning to be a creative director.”

“Right now, everyone needs a photo shoot,” he says of where his companies are at now, “so I’ve scaled back on visual effects, and I’m just pushing the photography.”

What happens next?

“I just look at myself like, I’m just a young guy from the hood, trying to do good, trying to change the community a little bit, but I had to change myself, too,” Javon says about his career and life so far.

“It’s all coming true,” he says. “I remember sitting down in my cell, and I planned this all out. To finally see it come true five years later, it’s crazy. Right now I want to focus on growing my brand. I want to work for big clients.”

“Invest in yourself, believe in yourself, and definitely shoot your shot.”

By Anthony Geremia