At the age of 16, Jahi Di'Allo Winston has already played Kevin Hart’s son in The Upside, co-starred with Taraji P. Henson in Proud Mary, and depicted a young Ralph Tresvant in The New Edition Story. That’s not to mention cameos in movies by Jim Jarmusch and Melina Matsoukas, nor co-leading Netflix’s Everything Sucks! “I’m proud that so early on in my career, I’ve been able to be an example for little black boys and girls for what’s possible,” Winston says. “I sometimes feel I’m not worthy. I also feel like I haven’t touched the surface.”
An Atlanta-based singer, dancer, writer and actor, Winston launched his multi-hyphenate career on Broadway as Simba in The Lion King. The movie and TV roles swiftly followed with an emphasis on thought-provoking material. “My creative manifesto is to challenge the status quo through my work,” Winston explains, “as well as to spark conversations about black masculinity in a way that hasn’t been done before.”
That will be evident in Winston’s upcoming movies, Charm City Kings and The Violent Heart. “All Ms. Maya Angelou wanted us to do was to tell the truth,” he adds. “Being as truthful as possible is the most powerful thing one can do.”
How did you start doing the work you do, and what inspires it?
Jahi Di'Allo Winston: I started doing the work I do by simply being myself. Over time, as I grew older, and started developing as a young black man in America, I realised that the issues plaguing my community were too complex for me to just sit back and reap the benefits of an incredibly rich industry without paying it forward. I had to not only do, but be the change I wanted to see. With that being said, I’m inspired by the brave black artists that came before me, who did exactly what I aim to do, and much more.
What issues or causes are you passionate about and why?
Jahi Di'Allo Winston: Everything goes back to mental health. I’ve had to check in with myself when I’ve felt overwhelmed by whatever’s taking place in my life. I’m reminded of how severe the mental health crisis is when I go back home to Atlanta and hear of heinous crimes and events taking place 20 minutes away from my house. It’s hard to disconnect with what’s happening when it’s all so close to me. That said, it’s important to check in with loved ones and yourself, and to allow emotions to exist fully. It’s also important for me to implement these things in my community, given that a lot of young black men don’t know how to deal with trauma because no one ever really taught us how. So really, my mission comes full circle.
“I’m inspired by the brave black artists that came before me, who did exactly what I aim to do, and much more” – Jahi Di'Allo Winston
What creative or philanthropic project would you work on with a grant from the Dazed 100 Ideas Fund?
Jahi Di'Allo Winston: I’d create a documentary centred on the mental health crisis in marginalised communities, and make sure that 100 per cent of the proceeds from the film go towards individuals in those marginalised communities. This would not only bring more awareness to the mental health crisis across the nation, but also help bridge the gap between black and brown people in marginalised communities, and the wealthy, privileged white girl in Beverly Hills who may be suffering from anxiety or depression.