Student turns burdens into blessings


Noldon Starks has been through a lot – but thanks to faith, family and friends, he’s been able to transform burdens into blessings.

The 20-year-old Mercyhurst North East student outlines his struggles in “Outcast,” a short film he wrote and co-directed that premiered at last week’s Cleveland International Film Festival.

“It’s a movie, but it’s really more than a movie to me,” he said. “It’s a personal message to people all around the world, that they can overcome anything with God and people in your corner who are positive.”

The film outlines Starks’ experience living with Joubert syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects balance, coordination and speech. The condition makes it challenging for him to do simple tasks, and it made him a target for bullying in his high school years.

Originally from Shaker Heights, Ohio, Starks said people have asked him if he would live without Joubert syndrome if he could. In the past, the answer would have been a definitive “yes.”

But now, Starks said, he has a different perspective.

“This is who I am now – and nobody can change me,” he said. “Those experiences in the past have made me a better man that I am today.”

Starks, who studies liberal arts at North East, wants to transfer to the Erie campus to study communication next year. He dreams of being a professional screenwriter – but he wants to stay true to his roots. “I know that this industry is hard to get into,” he said. “But I’m a hard worker. I will get to where I want to be in life. I’m going to stay humble, because I’m a man of God.”

Starks partnered with teaching artists Jen Poland and Evan Lieberman to create “Outcast” during a summer internship with ArtWorks, an arts-based jobs program facilitated by Young Audiences of Northeast Ohio.

He’s thought about hosting a screening of the 10-minute film on campus, but hasn’t started organizing the details. Starks said he is grateful for the opportunity to share his story through his beloved medium of film. With bright eyes and a big smile, the young filmmaker shines as a beacon of optimism and positivity.

“Even though I have Joubert’s, there are a lot of other people in the world who have more severe cases than me,” he said. “I’m blessed. Even though I have Joubert’s, I can do a lot of things.”

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