CEO and founder of Arts, Film and Goods Pantry opens up about her personal experience as a foster child and the inspiration that motivated her to give back.
Written by Jessica L. Dupree
Edited by Darlene Aderoju
Ava Walker began her life in the U.S. foster care system at just 2 years old. Today, she is the proud CEO of Arts, Film and Goods Pantry, a non-profit organization which provides foster youth with mentorship and academic essentials including laptops, school supplies and creative tools for art.
As a young girl, the screenwriter never imagined that she would independently launch an organization and change the lives of children who share her story.
Today, co-founder of WACO Theatre Tina Knowles-Lawson, the U.S. Navy Seals, founder of The Shade Room, Angie Nwandu and founder of Ladylike Foundation, Leah Pump are among those who have sponsored Walker’s non-profit. She tells Heart & Soul that when she first set out to launch Arts, Film and Goods Pantry, she had one goal in mind, “Because I am a former foster youth, I wanted to reach back and help. I wanted them to know there is someone who cares about them.”
More than 400,000 children make up the U.S. foster care system, according to afs4kids.org. Walker, who was fostered beginning as a toddler, vividly remembers her nightmare of an experience, which lasted for 16 years and continues to influence her adult life. “I felt alone, like I didn’t belong,” she recalls. “Instead of people talking to me about what I was dealing with, they assigned medication, therapists and put labels on me.”
At 9 years old, Walker realized she wanted to become a writer — she began journaling short stories as a form of escapism to express her pain.
With foster children seven times more likely to live with depression and five times more likely to develop anxiety disorders than their non-foster counterparts, according to afs4kids.org, the odds were stacked against her.
“I ran away from home when I was 15 years old and 8 months pregnant with my oldest daughter. I went to visit my older brother and he molested me,” says Walker. Depressed, she eventually enrolled in college, but soon dropped out and became a writer full-time. “I had to choose between working to provide for my daughter or finishing school and graduating,” she tells Heart & Soul.
Walker went on to publish her first book I’m More Than a Foster Child in 2015. After the success of her first novel, the author was inspired to move to LA in pursuit of her lifelong dreams.
“Since I was 15 years old, I knew I wanted to live in Los Angeles,” says Walker. “At 24, I visited LA and started networking. I moved to Los Angeles with only $125 on June 4, 2019. I came to become a screenwriter, that’s all I ever wanted to become since the age of 11.”
Walker’s decision to move was just the beginning of her future as a purpose-driven CEO, author and screenwriter. Of all her amazing feats, the writer is incredibly proud to have met iconic filmmaker Ava Duvernay. She opens up to Heart & Soul about her journey from foster child to multi-hyphenate career woman — and details her encounter with Duvernay, one of her biggest role models.
Tell us where it all began.
I started visiting LA and networking at 24 years old. The first time I arrived, I felt the energy and knew I belonged here. I traveled back and forth between Ohio and LA and volunteered at The WACO Theatre with Tina Knowles and Richard Lawson for four years. It was one of the best experiences of my life.
What motivated you to become the owner of Arts, Film and Goods Pantry?
The vision of Arts, Film and Goods pantry tugged at me every single day during my first eight months in LA. At first, I didn’t want to start the non-profit because I didn’t think I was smart enough. I had no idea what to do or anything about running a business, leading youth or balancing motherhood with a social life and self-care. But as scared as I was, I feared the idea of not doing it even more. I knew I was needed. I emptied out my savings and made a commitment to do God’s will, my non-profit organization, just eight days before the global pandemic. It was bigger than me and I’m grateful to help foster youth with the daily essentials they need to survive.
Describe your first time meeting Ava Duvernay who is one of your inspirations.
She is the only woman in the industry that I ever wanted to meet. I started going to Film Fest at her studio in 2019. When I met her, I said, ‘One day we’ll be working together on a film and I’ll be on the credits as ‘Ava, the writer’ and you’ll be on the credits as ‘Ava, the director.’’ She smiled and asked me to send her my script. I was excited and emotional. That experience gave me confirmation of my purpose. When I met her, she was very humble and supportive. In fact, I just finished a show that I’m getting ready to pitch to her.
For more information on Arts, Film and Goods Pantry visit www.artsfilmandgoodspantry.com