Eleven-year-old Zola Johnson is hard at work. The KIPP Academy sixth grader has been commissioned to make a short animated film. It’s a promotional video for five local businesses participating in the upcoming H Street Festival on Saturday, September 15.
Zola was hired to produce the animation by Carolyn A. Thomas, proprietor of the C.A.T.Walk Boutique (1000 H St. NE). Custom lipstick and lip gloss creator Ki Ki Hunter of Luxe Vie, jewelry designer Dook Staples of Dook Jewelry and window design graphic artist Ebony Kirby of ArThySelf will participate in a pop-up inside the boutique with henna artist Galley Saleh of Ghenna Design outside the shop. All will be promoted in Zola’s piece.
Thomas has long cultivated relationships with youth, working with teenagers and children in the neighborhood. “I have this big window on a major throughway in DC,” she said of her H Street shop windows. “It’s such a great place to showcase our local talent.”
Thomas talks to children walking by her boutique, asking them about their creative side, often featuring their art in the window of her shop. A few years ago, a family of children began decorating her shop windows for Halloween and Christmas. After four years in Spain, the family has returned to DC and the youngest has already reached out to ask her if she can decorate the windows again this year.
In addition to featuring the work of neighborhood children in her shop, Thomas has spoken to teenagers about entrepreneurship. She is interested in building relationships with youth in the community, supporting their creative endeavors while helping to expose them to the ins and outs of business.
“A lot of kids in the neighborhood don’t have an outlet,” Thomas said. “I’m trying to introduce them to the business world, give them a little exposure to that side of things.”
Now Thomas has provided an opening for a up-and-comer, Zola who has been asked to produce a short cartoon for the five businesses that will get people excited about their pop-up presence at the upcoming H Street Festival. The video will be shared on the businesses’ social media accounts starting September 1.
Zola has just started the sixth grade at KIPP. She carries a bag containing her drawing notebook and laptop computer with her everywhere she goes. “My child is the one that’s in the corner drawing,” said her mother, Sandrea Johnson. “She can just create.”
Zola’s laptop is loaded with animation software installed by her father, Mikhail Hardy. A professional animator, he planted the creative seed in her and taught her how to use the technology to make her drawings come alive, a perfect combination of Zola’s skills in both art and technology.
“This is her niche,” Sandrea said of her daughter’s work. “This is something she loves to do.”
Coming to KIPP Academy (1375 Mount Olivet Rd. NE), from Maury Elementary last year, Zola was disappointed to find that there was no art program. “So, as a fifth grader, she started her own art club at school,” said Sandrea. “So now they have an art program.”
The video is Zola’s first paying job, but it won’t be her last, said her mom.
Find Zola’s video on Facebook and Instagram starting September 1 by following fashion boutique @C.A.T.WALK_Boutique, Custom lipstick and lip gloss creator Luxe Vie,@luxevie_luxeface, jewelry designer Dook Jewelry @dookjewelry, window design graphic artist Arthyself @arthyself henna artist Ghenna Design@ghennadesign