Will Haynes has no problem telling you what’s on his mind. Just ask him.
Or don’t. He might tell you anyway.
“What am I concerned with?” Haynes asks rhetorically, “I am concerned with getting myself out there to change the world.”
No aim is too high for the brash, quick-witted 16-year-old, who is a junior at Kennedy High School. He loves history (“my favorite, no doubt,” he says) and is inspired by the titans non-violent resistant.
“I read about Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi, and yeah, I want to be that kind of person,” Haynes says. “When we talk about people like that those guys, I pay attention to that.”
Haynes admits his attention has wavered on a few other subjects. His grade-point-average is about 2.5, he sheepishly confesses, glaringly-low for someone of his sizzling intellect.
“I am not even sure why it is where it is, but it won’t be there much longer,” he assures.
While Haynes has some work to do on his grades, no one can consider him to be underperforming in another pursuit: Writing, filming, producing and distributing Web videos.
Dozens float around youtube.com, amassing thousands of views. Haynes has taken on prejudice, violence, stereotypes and other weighty topics. Sometimes, his videos are spare and hard-hitting, focused solely on his face, a curious mix of youth and wisdom (Think a young Lawrence Fishburne), enhanced by his sweatervest-and-bow-tie ensemble.
Other times, he stretches his multimedia skills to create visually-appealing effects.
Most of the filming takes place in his bedroom.
Haynes is one of the promising young Richmond students who frequents the RYSE Center off of McDonald Avenue in Richmond. The center was selected for the location in late 2005 when Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, youth nonprofit groups and others settled on a 6,600 square foot vacant county building.
Today, it serves hundreds of kids as a comprehensive youth center, including education programs for media arts, where Haynes unsurprisingly excels.
Haynes was born in Oakland, but his family moved to Richmond when he was a small child. Two years ago, they moved to Hercules, but Haynes insisted on staying in the local school system. The youngest of four, Haynes gives a reason for commuting back to his hometown to attend Kennedy grounded in a sense of dedication beyond his years.
“I’d really rather be here in Richmond than making a change somewhere else where I am not needed as much,” he says. “I want to do more with my life, and I want to do it now and in the future.”
Haynes says his inspiration for his anti-violence – or, as he prefers it, “pro-peace” – video was Dan Reilly, a multimedia instructor at the RYSE Center.
“There was a lot of bad news about violence in Richmond, and he said ‘hey, do a video about this, about stopping the violence.’”
Reilly remembers it similarly. As someone who has worked closely with Haynes for more than a year, Reilly said he knew his protege had the flair and panache to make an impact.
“Violence in Richmond is a serious issue,” Reilly said. “And strong voices speaking out against it are important. Will is very adept at delivering messages about serious issues in an appealing, powerful way.”
Despite the sometimes solemn subject matter, Haynes maintains that his real forte is comedy. Chris Rock and Bill Cosby are his idols.
He hopes to go to UCLA to study film.
But for now, Haynes says he still has work to do in Richmond – and on raising his GPA.
“A lot of people my age aim to do a certain job, but I am not doing that,” he says. “I am aiming to be a certain kind of person.”
Visit www.rysecenter.org to see more work by local youths.
Go here for more work by Will Haynes.