July 6, 2017
by Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Osahon Tongo circled around the other day, passing through Atlanta and stopping by Georgia Tech to revisit the roots of his flight plan — which is by no means static — and the former Yellow Jacket linebacker found himself connecting with several of his “light warriors.”
This is not to say that the newly minted filmmaker closed any circles.
Tongo will be back, and his next visit to Tech is likely to merge profession and passion — storytelling and the Yellow Jackets. He’s hoping to help breathe life into the vision of athletics director Todd Stansbury by helping to tell the stories of Tech and its student-athletes via video, film and interactive media.
With air beneath his feet following the June 15 world premiere of his short story, “Iman and the Light Warriors,” at the American Black Film Festival presented by HBO in South Beach, he returned to The Flats, where he played, studied and discovered possibilities from 2006-10. He left recently with the goal of expanding more horizons. (Photos from “Iman and the Light Warriors“)
“Hopefully, I’ll be back in Atlanta more often. I’m going to be able to help with some of the story telling at Georgia Tech,” Tongo said. “Todd Stansbury is really trying to make Georgia Tech what it can be, and what I imagined.
“Even if you go in his room, there are quotes on his board, like, `Our responsibility is to create leaders who will change the world.’ I don’t know that any other ADs have that priority, just balancing budgets.”
Tongo has a term, “light warrior,” for those who aid, guide and even protect. Tech gave him many light warriors while he was a Jacket.
Teammates, coaches, professors and others helped the management major conquer adversity, choose prudent paths from countless options, solve problems, and even learn to assist others. Tongo wants to be a light warrior back.
He’s already been one, actually, as he played a supporting role in “Iman and the Light Warriors,” a fictional story he wrote about a 10-year-old boy in the dangerous post-revolution City of Aya. Iman’s light warriors, who each have developing superpowers, help safeguard him on the way to school so that he can profess his love to his friend, Crystal.
Tongo, who earned a graduate degree in April, 2016, from the USC Cinematic School of Arts, originally made the film, with director, friend, and classmate Jarrett Benjamin Woo, as the final project for one of his last classes, Film 546, Production III – Fiction. Later, they polished it up, and submitted it for a spot in the Black Film Festival, which chose it and a few others from roughly 100 applications.
Motivations for his script were drawn from Tongo’s personal experiences and observations of the world. Iman was borne from observation, for example, and Osiris from experience.
“I originally wrote that three years ago. I’d watched this movie (Five Broken Cameras) about a Palestinian on the border, a human story about kids walking through a war zone to go to school,” Tongo explained.
“My best friend’s brother, Dejavonte Moore, died growing up. He was hit by a truck. He went through gang territory going to school. It was always on my mind.”
The movie’s credits dedicate the film to “The Fallen Light Warriors,” a combination of nine people in the lives of Tongo, Woo and other production and cast members who have passed away — like Moore.
A 10th spot is dedicated to Trayvon Martin — an unarmed 17-year-old African-American shot and killed in 2012 by George Zimmerman, who reported Martin as “suspicious.” In the movie, Iman places a package of red Twizzlers (licorice) at a shrine to Osiris while on the way to school. Martin died with skittles.
“We cut out a [full] scene where he goes to the grocery to get Twizzlers,” Tongo said. “It’s an analogy to Trayvon, somebody killed because of someone else’s fears.”
Tongo’s conquered fears, and grown them into action items.
“When I was at Tech the last semester [spring, 2010], I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he recalled. “I had a year of eligibility. I had a hip injury from 2009, and I had a panic attack on the practice field. I was freaking out, my hands shaking in the dirt, and I didn’t see a therapist. I just slept for the rest of the day.
“I didn’t talk to anybody for two days. I finished spring ball and got a job [foregoing a final season of football].”
That job, in digital marketing at CNN, came in part through networking with a Tech connection, current assistant athletics director for brand & ideation Simit Shah. A Tech graduate, Shah in 2010 was director of web operations at CNN and helped Tongo get on at CNN after graduation. Soon, he figures to again work with Tongo, at least part time, at Tech.
After nearly two years at CNN, where he grew his digital skills and did more and more video and social work, Tongo executed an internship he’d earned at Tech. Off to Greece he went, “to work in a humane society through AIESEC. We went to Greece and met Tunisian revolutionaries at a conference in Athens; it was an incredible experience.”
Back in the States in 2012, Tongo worked in the office of admissions for Emory University’s Gouzieta School of Business MBA program. While working at Emory, “I started working on film sets,” he said. “We flew around the country to tell these stories, not just write simple stuff.”
Before long, an itched developed and Tongo went to USC’s SCA — the largest school of its kind in the world — to scratch it.
He’s learned and practiced just about every aspect of film making, including sound, special effects, casting, filming, you name it. Tongo was even an assistant director on Iman for a day, filling in, and helped find film sites for the crew.
“The director and I hit it off as [screenplay] writing partners, and I kept getting pulled in directions. We were in the Scientology commune building used by [Scientology founder] L. Ron Hubbard; we shot in there for two days,” said Tongo, who’s directed a few short films. “That scene where [Iman’s] getting out of his house, the graffiti, we painted it back the way it was before we left.
“The trains and the mural [shrine to Osiris], that was in the arts district. That’s tagging territory [where L.A. graffiti artists are prevalent]. We did our graffiti, and if you tag over someone else’s [graffiti], they’ll tag over yours so . . . the director (Woo) and production designer slept over to make sure we didn’t get tagged.”
Tongo’s been tagged several times, actually, called upon to assist a number of productions in a variety of capacities.
Before going to the American Black Film Festival in Miami, he was working in Hawaii on “Paradise Run,” one of Nickelodeon’s top shows (Click Here).
“One of my professors, [executive director] Scott A. Stone, the professor for my reality TV class, asked if I’d like to go to Hawaii and be a production assistant,” Tongo said. “I got to learn on the job.”
The mind of Tongo, who was at Tech from 2006-10, is a fascinating place, and it travels. His itinerary is a chore to keep up with, as are his churning dreams and visions.
Always learning on the move, he left Atlanta for a wedding in Dallas and is now spending time with his family in Naperville, Ill. Then, back to Los Angeles, where he, Woo and others are trying to convert Iman and the Light Warriors into a TV series, albeit with a more adult orientation than that of the short film.
He’ll return to Tech, too, where he built memories and hatched ideas.
For all the many visions he has and the paths he takes, some of his opinions are clear and constant: keep an open mind, embrace love, remain ever on the road to discovery and work with others to make the world a better place.
Former teammates Dominique Reese, Sedric Griffin and many others, coaches, professors, academic advisors, Shah . . . they’re all light warriors, lifting Tongo and others so that he might lift others in return.
That’s what Iman and the Light Warriors is about, and it’s Tongo to a T.
“The whole message is how do you fight fear? With love,” he said. “Keep your heart open when you’re dealing with adversity. We’re all light warriors even though I don’t understand my powers yet.”
The origin of Tongo’s mission is cast in celluloid (or the modern equivalent), as the movie’s final credit line explains the inspirations behind it:
“Based on the fact that all my homies are super heroes on a quest to unleash their superpowers.”