The more I get to know Nina Parks, the more I realize she is one rebel with a cause. I met Nina (whose birth name is Leah Weitz) through Jason Wyman (at TILT) when he told me about a local movement called Taking a Stand SF. Jason had been collaborating with Nina for an event taking place in the heart of the Mission a few weeks ago. I met her there, in person, and the wheels started turning. I noticed what a wide range of people were there as a direct result of her passion for communities, unabashed honesty, and unapologetic fierceness. I also noticed that she'd been working on a beautiful black & white photo series - essentially portraits of SF residents holding a sign declaring "I'm Taking a Stand for SF." It's this kind of "I'm just going to go out and do it" attitude that turned my head and convinced me that she would make a powerful local ambassador. Let me introduce you to my latest girl crush: Nina Parks
Who are you and what is your profession?
I'm a struggling entrepreneur and thriving artist. I'm in between jobs right now. I was blessed to work in my (15 years old self's) dream job as an after school educator and case manager for the past 5 years. My job became difficult for me to do when I came up against a system that has a history of criminalizing brown and black youth and community politics. I realized that I had a lot more to learn about life and myself before I could be effective in that kind of working environment. So, here I am pursuing a passion for learning how to tell stories, in the infant stages of a career in filmmaking.
Can you tell us a little about your background and upbringing?
I'm a middle class, Filipino-Jewish American kid from a divorced family with a passion for photography, movies, and loud music. Art has always been a natural coping and reflective medium for me and I believe deeply that art is the truest expression of the human spirit.
I grew up in a martial arts studio and in SF's public school system until my parents pulled me out because I was stealing from Walgreens, tagging on buses, and running away from home. In my own defense, my home life wasn't pretty at the time and I fell in love with the freedom of being outside in the world. In hind sight, I was irresponsible with that freedom.
I was then sent to school in Pacifica and was asked to leave in 10th grade after I refused to take a standardized test. Instead I wrote a short essay on the Scantron which stated that I didn't believe that filling in bubbles and answering questions posed by institutions (that aren't regionally relevant) was the most productive way to gauge the aptitude of students or effectiveness of education. I also advocated for teachers to gain more support and resources. In the months prior to being asked to leave, I organized with a youth organization called 3rd Eye Movement. We organized against investment in the prison industry (in the form of CA Proposition 21) and advocating for investment in educational resources.
My school and parents felt like they didn't know what else to do with me, so I was sent to a Scientology boarding school in New Mexico. When I finished the program, I came back to the public school system to discover that none of the academic work I did at the boarding school transferred. Going back to high school was no longer an option in my mind and I decided to take the California High School Proficiency Exam to begin an Injustice Studies program at San Francisco City College and later at San Jose State and San Jose City College.
During my time at SFCC, I lost several friends - one to murder and the other, my best friend from boarding school, to cocaine. All of which just created a deeper desire to study healing practices and criminal justice. At the age of 24, I got my job working at the Excelsior Community Center down the street from my house. After a few years there, I got burnt out by the politics. I began focusing on taking photos and shooting short videos of my friends who are hip hop artists in the Bay. In 2012 I began to seek out mentorship in documentary filmmaking and found Debra Koffler, a producer and one of the camera women for A Tribe Called Quest: Beats Rhymes and Life. She was hiring a manager for her youth documentary film program, Conscious Youth Media Crew. It was the perfect opportunity and I seized it. I began working 30 hours a week for that program and 15 hours organizing youth summits designed to encourage law enforcement and youth communication in hopes that it would bridge a gap. I began to see the value in the community being confident in capturing their own stories. Since then, I have been determined to learn how to create digital media.
What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
My passion for filmmaking began with my father. He used to ask my brother and me questions and record (on video) our answers when we were kids. My pride for the community and the need to process through experiences of youth is what really brought me to filmmaking.
Who or what do you most admire?
I admire those who are open minded and willing to speak up for what they believe in, as well as those who are willing to work in order to create the world they hope to live in. I also admire compassion and the gumption to work through tough periods in order to get something done.
What do you love about SF?
Aside from our vista points and beautiful water front views, I love the people of SF. They are proud, dedicated, creative, open minded, green, and socially conscious. We have so much flavor, class, culture, and a deep sense of freedom of self here in SF. I love the hustle that the city creates. It's, of course, slower than places like NYC or LA, but it's also because we take the time to enjoy our atmosphere.
What do you fear most for SF?
I fear we will lose the culture that people fought so hard to build here in SF. The heart of the city seems to be under attack, a target of assassination by new money. SF feels extremely divided right now.
What do you hope for SF in the next 20 years?
In 20 years, I'd like SF to find an equilibrium. There has to be a way to build communities that invest in its people vs investment in acquiring material status. I don't know how that would be achieved, but one can hope, right?