He’s a high school junior, but Chicago teenager AJ Carr already has a recurring role on a hit TV series, has formed a nonprofit and plans to expand his youth-focused outreach on a national scale.
Carr stars on Lena Waithe’s Showtime drama “The Chi,” which depicts day-to-day life in a neighborhood on the South Side.
The 16-year-old plays Stick, a misguided but well-meaning kid who appeared in five episodes last year and also is part of Season 2, which premieres Sunday.
“Last season, the biggest thing that meant a lot to me was people that watched me grow up approached me, like, ‘Man this is crazy, it was so accurate,’ saying they could relate to it,” Carr says.
He says he hopes everyone but “especially the black community in Chicago” will be watching the new season.
Carr landed the role after an appearance on “Chicago P.D.” in 2017.
He had been interested in acting since before second grade. He says his family “came from struggle,” but his mother Dorecia Carr worked hard to help him achieve his goal. In 2012, he and his mom moved from Chicago to Atlanta, figuring it would be easier there to gain a foothold as an actor. They now split their time between the cities.
“He does love being an actor,” Dorecia Carr says. “But, to him, the most important thing is his community work.”
At 13, young AJ created Building Bosses, a not-for-profit organization to teach kids about entrepreneurship and leadership. People tend to pay attention to kids when they’re messing up, he says, but not as much when they’re doing something positive, which he’s aiming to change.
“It’s actually worse, I feel like, especially when young black kids try do something good, there’s not enough support for them,” he says.
AJ says his passion for helping youth is inspired by his own upbringing. His mother wasn’t able to finish school at Columbia College in Chicago after having him, and they didn’t always have all “the physical things” they needed. But they had hope, AJ said, and he wants to use his background to inspire the same in others.
His latest plan is to go to schools across the country on a “Youth Empowerment Tour” with 16-year-old author Essynce Moore, an idea he says came out of the “need for kids to see other kids who are doing great things.” The two want to address youth-centered topics like bullying, gun violence and self-esteem.
On Wednesday, AJ visited Dyett High School in Chicago as one of the first stops in about 25 cities and he hopes to also enlist other teenagers who have appeared on “The Chi,” including Jahking Guillory, who played the murdered Coogie.
“It’s going to help build up more kids to fight through a lot of adversity and obstacles like me,” Carr says. “A lot of people thought when I was coming up, ‘That kid’s just going to be another statistic, there’s no way he can make it with his background situations.’ And I did. And I just hope to encourage more kids and let them know they really can do anything too.”