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Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Brandon Johnson of Create Now Is Helping To Change Our World

Be yourself: With a title of CEO, I came in thinking I had to change who I was. I thought I had to become the CEO that I’ve always seen on TV, but that was not the case. I’m truly my artistic and creative-minded self in this position and that’s exactly how it should be.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brandon Johnson.

Brandon Johnson is the CEO of Create Now, a nonprofit organization that empowers at-risk and high-risk youth and young adults from ages 3 to 24. Brandon and Create Now offer a variety of arts programs in multiple disciplines that help these youth to not only heal but also to thrive.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

While working in the entertainment industry, I would also volunteer through Create Now in my free time. Create Now is a non-profit organization with a mission to empower at-risk and high-risk youth and young adults from ages 3 to 24 through a variety of arts programs in multiple disciplines that help these youth to not only heal but also to thrive. Through volunteering, I became a part of the organization and worked my way up from volunteer to teaching artist, to board member to board chair.

I left my studio job in 2021 to pursue my own creative ventures. At this same time Create Now’s board had requested that I consider becoming the new director of the non-profit to allow our founder, Jill Gurr, the chance to step back from the intense workload it entailed. Even though I wanted to focus mainly on my entertainment journey, I couldn’t say no to Create Now as I could tell they needed me to step up to this position. I would become the new director of Create Now in July of 2021, and it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Becoming CEO of an organization that someone else started can be a mental overload.

Our founder, Jill Gurr, started Create Now 25 years ago. She put her heart and soul into this nonprofit and I could see that throughout our 7-year friendship. When it came time to announce that Jill was stepping down as CEO, we both felt the emotional tension. I could tell she was scared but also relieved to pass on the duties to me. For months, as I stepped into this role, Jill guided me through day-to-day activities and taught me how she operated Create Now.

In January of 2022, Jill sadly passed away. During this time, I began to realize the weight of leading this non-profit. The last thing that Jill said to the public about me was “I’d like to welcome Brandon as our new CEO. I know he’ll do a fantastic job,” and that is exactly what I will do. Even though I’m not the founder, I still have love and passion for Create Now and for all the youth here in Los Angeles that we are serving.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

During our annual holiday party for our youth, we had a summer Hawaiian themed party here at our office. During the party, kids were able to do many different activities like drawing, coloring, playing with creative apps on iPads, and, the #1 activity, playing in the Hawaiian pool room. The room was filled with confetti that imitated snow, pool toys, and beach balls. The kids loved this room, but I quickly realized that this was a HUGE mistake. Over 50 kids interacted in this room and over 50 kids were covered in confetti. The cleanup was horrendous, but seeing how much the youth loved the holiday party made it all worth it. We STILL have confetti lingering around our office space.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

As I mentioned, our mission at Create Now is to empower at-risk and high-risk youth and young adults from ages 3 to 24 through a variety of arts programs in multiple disciplines that help these youth to heal and thrive. Recently, we were a recipient of the Quest Rookie grant, which awarded Create Now a $20,000 grant to help further our positive impact on the local community. Receiving the Quest Rookie grant was a pivotal step for Create Now, as we will use the grant for events and programming in 2022 — which will directly benefit the lives of the youth we serve. Here at Create Now, we implement a wide variety of arts programs in everything from music to fashion, offering signature classes and customized programs as well as field trips to concerts, plays, circuses and more — to help each individual on their own personal journey. One area that we are working on expanding is our culinary arts program, and with the Quest Rookie grant we will help teach our youth skills in the kitchen and lessons on balanced nutrition.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

My Director of Programs, Laura Kelly, is truly indispensable. From when I was a volunteer all the way until now, she has had my back every step of the way. What we do as a non-profit is all based on team effort, and Laura is truly an MVP. Laura has worked tirelessly for Create Now for over 8 years and understands the mission, the youth, and the way the educational system works. With all of this knowledge she is my go-to for anything that I might not know or understand.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

1- Donate: All nonprofit organizations usually need funding. This is how we are able to survive and keep providing programs to our youth, while also handling overhead for the nonprofit and our employees. Through funding we are able to grow and reach more youth that need us. We are so thankful for the generous grant and support from Quest, which will help our organization and the youth that we serve.

2 — Volunteer: We need help in all different ways; not all of which are related. We need passionate volunteers who we can count on for many different tasks such as administrative work, marketing, outreach, events, committee leaders and much more.

3 — Spread the word: We understand that everyone might not be able to volunteer or donate, and we get it. If this is the case, then we encourage you to help us spread our mission to others who potentially might be able to help. For Create Now, to be located in the most creative city in the world and not get the support from the industry doesn’t sit right with me. We struggle at times just to be heard by the bigger people in the city. We would love for more people to talk about us and get our mission and message out there.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me, leadership is defined by two words, perseverance and uplifting. A leader is someone who never gives up no matter what and always uplifts and helps others on the way. There have been times where I beat myself up after making a mistake or for not knowing something, but I always fight through those periods. I feel those down moments are usually the times we make ourselves stronger. Also, uplifting people is a positive interaction and when you help and surround yourself with positive energy from others, you yourself will definitely grow as well.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Be yourself: With a title of CEO, I came in thinking I had to change who I was. I thought I had to become the CEO that I’ve always seen on TV, but that was not the case. I’m truly my artistic and creative-minded self in this position and that’s exactly how it should be.

You are always learning: I don’t know it all, and I never will. I’m confident enough in myself to know when to seek help.

Have fun with it: With Create Now, focusing in the area of empowering youth, sometimes you have to think like a kid in this position. You have to dig deep and imagine what you wanted at their age and try to deliver it the best way you can.

Own the space: I truly have to own this space as the Director of Create Now. I’m the face of the company and I truly have to own that. At the beginning, I didn’t realize how impactful leaders are to the community, but now I have a better understanding and grasp on this.

It never ends: Even when we finish a project, another one must start. At times, we as a team are working on 4–6 different projects and assignments at once. I thought that once we got done with something hectic that it would be the end of it, but we always fall back into more and more work. This is a beautiful cycle that just allows us to reach more and more youth.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The biggest movement I would bring is to make the arts more accessible and impactful in the life of youth. As adults, we sometimes don’t realize or remember how the arts as a kid impacted us simply because someone older told us it wasn’t important. The arts are extremely important, not just for a career path but for your mental health. Participating in the arts can help with many different mental health issues including trauma and depression, that the youth we serve might be facing.

Building more safe places in communities that need it most and providing art services is something that I truly advocate for. This is what Create Now strives to do. Hopefully one day we can have an actual art center that provides constant art services with our doors always being open to the public.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“No matter a person’s race or sexuality, we all need one another to survive.” My Grandfather taught me this at a young age. Over the years I truly have come to appreciate this lesson because it’s very important and true. We can’t get anywhere in the world without one another, and it’s important that the youth understand this at an early age. No matter a person’s lifestyle or situation we must all come together and look towards the future.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Shaquille O’Neal is definitely the number one person in the world that I would love to meet and just talk to. Shaq has always been a person I looked up to ever since I was a kid. I loved the fact that he wasn’t just an amazing athlete but also a kind and smart person off the court. Even now as an adult I truly appreciate his energy, drive and work ethic, especially in the community. I had the chance to meet him one time for all of 3.9 seconds and that just wasn’t enough for me! Lunch at one of his restaurants where I could really pick his brain would be sooooo amazing!

I always grew up saying I wanted to be just like my father, my grandfather, and like Shaq!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find us on Instagram at @Createnowarts or at my personal account @TallQue. We also encourage you to follow our journey at @QuestNutrition on Instagram.

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.


Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Brandon Johnson of Create Now Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.