VENICE, Calif. — On a sunny Friday around noon in Venice, 61-year-old Gary Tyler and his colleagues are working the streets.

“We’re on an outreach mission to look for young people that are in dire need of services,” said Tyler.

They hand out protein bars and information about a Safe-Place for Youth, a local non-profit dedicated to helping end homelessness which disproportionately affects African-Americans, and which rose among youth in L.A. county by 24 percent from 2018 to 2019, according to L.A. County’s Homeless Count.


“Homelessness, abuse, sexual abuse, peer pressure, bullying. These are the things that are affecting a young generation out there,” said Tyler.

A generation he’s pulling off the streets and into the classrooms, the majority of them young black men.

“This is an outlet. You let it out. Where you’ll be better able to deal with it when you’re out in the streets,” said Tyler to the students.

But art imitates life, today’s theater class is a skit -- a meeting between officials on how money should be used to address homelessness. The same homelessness that many of these youth struggle with. 

“I’ve seen young men and women come here, I mean, it’s like they’ve been beat up by the world, but when they get in that art room, they transform” said Tyler.

Art is helping keep many of these youth sane, Tyler would know, after all, when he was their age, art is what kept him sane while serving a four-decade prison sentence. 

“Can you imagine, being found guilty of first-degree murder, having to be charged, tried and convicted and you knowing what you’re being tried for something that you didn’t do?” Tyler asked. 

He was convicted by an all-white jury, and was the youngest sentenced to death row, and spent years in solitary. His sentence was overturned and he was released in 2016. 

And while it might be too late for him, since his release, he has spent the majority of his time as a free man, trying to save the lives of other minority youths.

“When you’re in a cell 24 hours a day, it gives you a lot of time to think, to think about what it is that you can come up that is ingenious to make something out of nothing,” Tyler said.

Make something out of nothing… for the poor, the wrongly accused, the disadvantaged.

“I know that my mother would be pleased with what I’m doing and how I’m living my life. Knowing that I haven’t given up one bit, and that I’m able to make something out of my life despite all I’ve been through,” said Tyler.

Maybe the quote in the classroom says it best ‘what we have done for ourselves alone dies with us, what we have done for others, remains and is immortal.’