"Mommy is gone."
I was only 3 years old so I really didn't understand what those words meant. But the reality was, my mom had died. For my three brothers and I, life as we knew it was about to change dramatically.
In 1983 people weren't really talking about AIDS the way we talk about it today. Another 8 years would pass before I learned from my stepmother, who was gossiping with a neighbor, that my mother had died of AIDS and my father was dying too.
Following the death of my mom, my brothers and I were separated. My 2 eldest brothers were sent to Florida to live with their paternal grandparents, my older brother Michael was sent to live with a great aunt, and I was sent to be raised by my godmother.
We all had different fathers and my father would become inconsistently present in my life as he battled his own disease.
A decade passed before I had contact with my brothers again, but the relationships didn't really develop. Then about 3 years ago, after returning to the United States having served overseas for 7 years, I was reunited (thanks to Facebook) with my brothers. But it was my brother Michael, who is closest in age to me, with whom I began to form a close bond.
No longer a troubled boy, Michael was now a mature, grown man with a passion for film, cinematography and dramatic storytelling. Clearly, that runs in the family. Mike began telling me about the film he was creating with his wife, Cati. He spoke excitedly about the plans they had for the film, the festivals they hoped to get into, and how he and Cati hoped to change people's perception with this important film.
The film, EKAJ, is a love story between two drifters, the naive teenage Ekaj and the sarcastic hustler Mecca, who find themselves surviving the less desirable streets of New York City - the dark, dangerous, ghetto cities one wouldn't want to be wandering alone at night.
The pair navigate the streets each battling their own demons, Ekaj, feeling abandoned, discarded and without the skills necessary to survive on the streets and Mecca, addicted to drugs, seeking the lighter side of life despite knowing he's on borrowed time and that his disease, AIDS will soon steal his life.
Ekaj and Mecca draw strength from one another as their mutual loneliness and desperation allow them to forge a genuine friendship full of love, laughter (despite the circumstance) and hope for a brighter future.
But getting from concept to production hasn't been easy. In fact, it's taken a lot of C.R.A.P. (Courage. Resilience. Authenticity. Perseverance) for Cati and Mike to get to where they are.
Today, the film has been praised by veteran actors across the globe and has already been selected into several film festivals. People will also be featuring them, but again, there was no easy road for Mike and Cati.It's taken a lot of confidence to persevere and bring this concept to life. And so I wondered, "What was it like trying to write, direct, produce and bring a film to theaters?"
Mike says it was all about, "Going for all the no's and making them a yes."
Their biggest challenge, aside from working with non-actors, being first time filmmakers, having no expertise in any area of film development and working on a shoe string budget, was losing an original cast member more than halfway into filming.
The film had to be completely re-written, a new actor needed to be cast and the budget could not be compromised.
These two hit one major roadblock after another. As the filmmakers themselves recount,
"it was a real struggle for us making this film. After we ran out of money several times our lives paralleled the script, and we had to take any job, rent our place, stay at friends houses just to be able to continue filming, and editing. Its a very common story in NYC of artist starving and unable to pay the rent. The artist in NYC is the unusual homeless. Call it stubborn, call it belief, but we never gave up even under the darkest hour."
As I listened to Mike and Cati share their journey with me, I asked myself, "Would I be willing to go through all that to bring my project to life?"
So I ask you, do you have the confidence to persevere against all odds? It took the makers of this film 3 years to complete.
Would you work for three years without seeing a single penny of your investment returned just for the chance that people will buy it?
I'd like to believe the answers to those questions would be a yes. But the real proof is witnessed every single day when you wake up and decide to confidently show up for yourself, your goals and your dreams.
Every opportunity and accomplishment is preceded by a decision to take action. What will you decide to do today?
If I may influence you for just a moment, first decide to say YES to your dreams and pursue it with relentless, confident, perseverance.
And next, decide to check out this powerful film. It's masterfully done, though I confess, I may be slightly biased. Oh and there are some really cool pieces of art clothing you must check out if you are fashion chic.
Persevere with confidence. This is your time!
Mike and Cati Gonzalez split their time between New York City and Spain. For more information and praise for the film, EKAJ, check out their campaign HERE.