Good Karma brings music and career to Santa Clarita

The music could be heard nearly a mile away as the Santa Clarita Skate Park hosted the annual Good Karma Music and Arts Festival on Saturday, attended by more than 3,000 guests.

Put together over the course of nearly a year by The Yes I Can Unity Through Music & Education, a Santa Clarita nonprofit, the festival was led primarily by artists with disabilities who benefited from mentorship and hands-on experience working in the entertainment industry.

Attendees crowd the stage as they listen to rapper Too Short during Yes I Can’s Good Karma Music & Arts Festival held at the Santa Clarita Skate Park in Santa Clarita on Saturday, 110423. Dan Watson/The Signal

Yes I Can is a 12 month program consisting of two 21 on siteSt– Century Career Skills courses, two days a week for two hours a day, community training and career exploration three days a week for up to six hours a day through various corporate industry partners, according to the organization’s website.

To qualify for the year-long program, individuals had to be found eligible through the North Los Angeles County Regional Center as well as graduate from high school. A new cohort is formed every July, adding to the existing members – the program is just under 100 people, 12 of whom lead the production of Good Karma.

Concertgoers enjoyed a hip-hop setlist with Berner as the headliner, as well as food trucks, a beer garden, local vendors and skateboard displays.

Ashley-Monique Sanchez eats a snow cone while recording EMM's performance on stage during the Yes I Can's Good Karma Music & Arts Festival held at the Santa Clarita Skate Park in Santa Clarita on Saturday, 110423. Dan Watson/The Signal
Ashley-Monique Sanchez eats a snow cone while recording EMM’s performance on stage during the Yes I Can’s Good Karma Music & Arts Festival held at the Santa Clarita Skate Park in Santa Clarita on Saturday, 110423. Dan Watson/The Signal

Deputy director Kirsten Fitzpatrick said the program helps many of the students and seniors who may be trying to find work in the entertainment industry without previous experience.

“I found that people with disabilities who had completed their education had gotten everything they needed, but they still didn’t have work experience and because of that they had trouble getting internships,” Fitzpatrick said. “So it’s like a Catch-22.”

In addition to the challenges any new graduate would face, young people with disabilities feel the added pressure of defying stereotypes in front of employers.

Artist Jimmy Oviadia creates an onstage painting of rapper Too Short as he performs during the Yes I Can's Good Karma Music & Arts Festival held at the Santa Clarita Skate Park in Santa Clarita on Saturday, 110423. Dan Watson/The Signal
Artist Jimmy Oviadia creates an onstage painting of rapper Too Short as he performs during the Yes I Can’s Good Karma Music & Arts Festival held at the Santa Clarita Skate Park in Santa Clarita on Saturday, 110423. Dan Watson/The Signal

“A lot of employers think that people with disabilities can’t work in this type of job, but that’s absolutely not true,” Fitzpatrick said. “The whole point of this program is for these people to be able to use their skills and everything they’ve learned in their training program, but also get a year of production experience so that goes on their resume as well. ”

Joshua Cajulis, who was part of Yes I Can while transferring to a four-year university in 2019, reflects on his experience as an aspiring voice actor.

“I’ve been participating in Yes I Can since 2019. It’s a really great program. It teaches you very good skills. When I first came, they taught basic job skills classes and made you go through a whole curriculum. Once you graduate, they mainly focus on getting you through internships,” Cajoulis said.

Brett Lieberman, founder and executive director of Yes I Can, started this program in 2009 when “a group of [his] students [at Golden Valley High School] asked if they could produce a musical event for the school to bring neurodiverse students and typical students together for a social event,” according to the Yes I Can website.

Kingston Ramirez eats ice cream while joining Heather Marquez on the grass during Yes I Can's Good Karma Music and Arts Festival held at the Santa Clarita Skate Park in Santa Clarita on Saturday, 110423. Dan Watson/The Signal
Kingston Ramirez eats ice cream while joining Heather Marquez on the grass during Yes I Can’s Good Karma Music and Arts Festival held at the Santa Clarita Skate Park in Santa Clarita on Saturday, 110423. Dan Watson/The Signal

“In 2009, the nonprofit was established, and at that time we were really working with high school students. We transitioned to working with young adults after they graduate from high school,” Lieberman said. “That’s really been the mission for the last five years — focusing on students who, given opportunity and exposure, could get jobs.”

Yes I Can’s core mission is to ensure that people with disabilities can support their own careers and live independently.

“Our main mission is to help people with disabilities at no cost to them and their families, to provide them with career training and 21St-century career skills that are needed to land a job in the entertainment industry,” Lieberman said. “The reason we’re focusing on the entertainment industry is because these are such lucrative jobs that pay extremely well. We want our people to be able to live their own lives at some point, to be independent of their parents, to be able to buy a house and provide for their own families.”

EMM performs on stage during Yes I Can's Good Karma Music & Arts Festival held at the Santa Clarita Skate Park in Santa Clarita on Saturday, 110423. Dan Watson/The Signal
EMM performs on stage during Yes I Can’s Good Karma Music & Arts Festival held at the Santa Clarita Skate Park in Santa Clarita on Saturday, 110423. Dan Watson/The Signal

In addition to learning the right techniques to fit in the real world, Yes I Can offers a paid internship with one of its industry partners.

“What’s really unique about Yes I Can is that we have a paid internship program and we fine-tune and try to match the individual with the right job so that they thrive,” Lieberman said. “They are hired when they finish their internship, sometimes even before the internship is over. We found that companies hire our students because they don’t want to lose them.”

Since its inception, Lieberman has cultivated a program with an active waiting list and has worked closely with Fitzpatrick to teach and provide ample opportunity to the people who are a part of Yes I Can. Thanks to their efforts, graduates have found employment in industry.

“We have students working with lights and sound, traveling with bands and artists. We have students who work with Ten Fifty Entertainment who handle all the accessibility for events like Coachella and Stagecoach. We have students who are composers and provide music for video games, movies, TV and movies,” Lieberman said.

Lieberman’s advice for anyone interested in the highly sought-after program, especially those still in high school, is to start early.

“Eleventh and twelfth graders should start the process by making sure they are at the Regional Center and letting them know they want to be a part of the program. As soon as they graduate in June, it’s a seamless transition for them to start with us in July, and that helps with a smooth transition to college and career,” Lieberman said.

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