Neighbors

Graphic novelist/cinema star gives back to Apache Junction student

Posted 4/29/22

When Joseph Yazzie, a student at Cactus Canyon Junior High School, 801 W. Southern Ave. in Apache Junction, wanted to connect to his indigenous roots and find a mentor who understood his unique …

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Neighbors

Graphic novelist/cinema star gives back to Apache Junction student

Posted

When Joseph Yazzie, a student at Cactus Canyon Junior High School, 801 W. Southern Ave. in Apache Junction, wanted to connect to his indigenous roots and find a mentor who understood his unique background as a Native American, he hit the proverbial jackpot.

With the help of Lisa Schroeder, a behavior specialist at CCJH, Yazzie was able to have a zoom meeting and interview with Jon Proudstar, a star on the television show “Reservation Dogs” and the first graphic novelist in the Smithsonian for an Indigenous comic book.

During the one-hour zoom interview, Yazzie was able to ask the Tucson-born actor, novelist and artist about his life, career, art and the source of his inspiration.

The CCJH student learned that Proudstar’s life had not been one free from obstacles. Proudstar said he was raised by his grandmother and money was tight. She could not provide her grandson with toys, video games or even new clothing, but comic books proved to be an inexpensive way to bring out her grandson’s imagination.

In time, Proudstar created his own comic book, “Tribal Force,” the first comic to feature a team of Native American heroes. However, now many know Proudstar as the character, Leon, on the highly-acclaimed television comedy “Reservation Dogs.”

However, the leap to television fame was not a straight shot.

The actor was originally cast in the pilot, but Proudstar contracted COVID-19 before the filming and had to bow out. However the show’s director and executive producer promised him a role if the show was picked up. They kept their word and Proudstar plays the role of Leon, father of one of the show’s stars, Willie Jack.

During the interview Proudstar encouraged Yazzie in his artwork, emphasized the value of education, as well as the importance of embracing one’s uniqueness.

The connection between the student and star did not happen in a vacuum. Schroeder made use of an ongoing friendship she had during a past job to bring Yazzie and Proudstar together.

“Jon came out to work with my kids on the Rez when I was an educator there,” said Schroeder, who is a member of the East Valley Prevention Coalition, Pinal County Wellness Alliance, AJEA/NEA and American School of Counselor Association. “He told me how his life was saved by a teacher. We got to talking and have been talking ever since. When I reached out, he was gracious and assisted by donating his mentoring and time.”

Recent changes in enrollment will offer a number of advantages for more students as AJUSD will welcome sixth graders to the junior high school in the 2022-23 school year. Advantages include the opportunity to take more electives, participate in sports, and access to more student wellness programs.

The school emphasizes a well-rounded education where academics, sports and extracurricular activities allow students to grow scholastically, physically and emotionally. CCJH students can get a head start on funding their college education by signing up for Pinal Promise in junior high. The program offers a tuition-free education at Central Arizona College for those who fulfill the requirements and graduate from participating high schools in Pinal County such as Apache Junction High School.

Registration for all new students who wish to enroll in Apache Junction Unified School District schools are currently being accepted at all school locations. For more information about AJUSD or its schools or departments visit ajusd.org.

Editor’s note: Sally Marks is the public relations specialist for Apache Junction Unified School District.

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