CUI alumnus Jon-Thomas (J.T.) Royston ’15 is helping give voice to the world’s conversation on racial injustice through film, acting as a producer in the 2020 film Black Boys. The project is a tribute to young black men and boys in America that honors his upbringing.
“I’ve always had a faith-based background. My parents instilled the importance of fairness, respect, and identity in me at a very early age” stated Royston.
Jon-Thomas (J.T.) Royston, ’15
Growing up he accompanied his father to distribute dinners to the homeless on Thanksgiving and participated in various mission trips, including a service project in Roatan, Honduras. “My faith was the impetus for my involvement in justice work. I often viewed it as being fundamental to my life’s purpose.”
Royston came to Concordia Irvine in fall of 2011 as a student-athlete where he participated in track and field for three years and basketball for one year while pursuing a major in business marketing.
“It was a time of tremendous growth for me. I also was blessed to be involved with a relatively diverse group of people and learn about myself through the process. Had I not shared in that experience it’s unlikely that I would’ve had the mentors or the confidence to be where I’m at today.”
During his time as a student-athlete, Royston rooted his identity in sports, something he recognizes many young black men and boys often do. But he ultimately wasn’t comfortable in solely defining himself this way, and believes collegiate athletics is often complicit in limiting the self-identity of young black men.
“Many of the successes I achieved became the basis for the way in which I perceived my worth as a person. Ultimately, I had to work to unlearn those limiting self-concepts and discover that I had more to offer. This was a significant part of my growth process.”
After graduating, Royston got a job at a marketing agency but quickly realized that he wanted more out of his career. A serendipitous trip to a conference opened a path that aligned with his passion for social justice.
My faith was the impetus for my involvement in justice work. I often viewed it as being fundamental to my life’s purpose.
“While there the material I had to pitch was pretty dry: specifically online advertising and email marketing, but I also had the ability to hear the pitches of other attendees. One pitch in particular included a woman discussing her newest film... reimagining what success looks like for young black men in America. In contrast to email marketing and advertising I thought this is much more in line with my passions.”
The woman was Sonia Lowman, the director of Black Boys, and Royston soon found himself a job as a producer for the film.
“Sonia explained she wanted to create a piece that showed the totality of humanity when it came to the portrayal of young black men and boys. A love story to young black men and boys and a call to action for other people to love them as well,” Royston explained.
Royston worked for two and a half years on the production of the film. Released in September, Black Boys contributed to the national conversation on racial injustice and garnered national media attention. CNN, E! Online, The New York Times and many more took notice of the timely and important message of the film.
As a producer, Royston hopes to open the conversation about prejudice and induce hope in young Black Boys.
“What I’m hoping people get from this documentary is for young black men that look like me, and Black Boys, to see people that want to champion them not for what they have to give, but for who they are. They have intrinsic value even though the world says they don’t.”
Royston continues, “For those who aren’t people of color watching I’d like them to understand that they have the ability to be a vocal catalyst for creating social change, and through the process of loving us, we all elevate.
Never Whisper Justice (NWJ), is the production company Royston co-founded with Lowman and Chad Williamson, who also worked as a producer on Black Boys. The company aims to connect storytelling with concrete social impact, and has a new slate of films in the works.
His first film, Black Boys, can be found on the streaming service NBC Peacock.