During his early years of theater and indie film acting, Luiz Guzmán did a spell as a youth counselor in New York City. The actor with a grizzled countenance and a world-weary voice appears to have tapped into those memories for drama “Story Ave.” The actor brings an anchoring warmth to his portrayal of the MTA conductor who is held up by the unsure and anguished, but also infuriating, protagonist in Aristotle Torres’ affecting debut feature (co-written with Bonsu Thompson).

Asante Blackk — of “This Is Us” and “When They See Us” — is Kadir, a high-schooler and aspiring artist whose younger brother has just died. A post-funeral reception makes clear that he and his mother (along with her boyfriend) are not a comfort to each other in this time of grief. Kadir is bedeviled by vivid nightmares that seem to damn him for not having done something to save his brother, who had cerebral palsy. His notebook brims with sketches of his beloved younger sibling.

Capturing Kadir’s two reflections in a bathroom mirror and then watching him float (not unlike Spike Lee’s signature double-dolly shot) back into the reception, the film hints at Kadir’s dual temperament and his disconnect. He’s wounded. He’s there and not there. Like the cinematography, the sound mix is also a palpable presence throughout the film: with its whispered conversations, its subway brake squeals and rail clatter, its well-modulated music, and the clackety-clacking of shaken spray paint cans poised for art and vandalism.

Missing a sense of belonging at home, Kadir seeks membership in a gang of street artists known as Outside The Lines (or “OTL”) led by his best friend Moe’s older brother, who goes by Skemes. Portrayed by Melvin Gregg with a mix of bombast and street allure, Skemes comes by his nickname honestly.

Alex Hibbert (of “The Chi” and “Moonlight”) plays Moe. Torres’ highly personal film is no miserabilist drama trading on impoverishment. Moe and Kadir are two Black boys together, trying to secure a place in their world. They have one another’s backs. They possess skills and even some support. Kadir is encouraged by at least one concerned teacher. His mom (Cassandra Freeman) has likely been there for him before but is too plunged into her own sorrow and anger at the death of her youngest to be there for Kadir.

Skemes’ crew initially seem benign enough. The gang’s thick blunt-hazed, neon-hued and blacklight-bathed base feels more clubhouse than lair, and the crew more edgy artist collective than criminal enterprise. “Story Ave” offers an argument about the different forms of mentorship available to a young person in Kadir’s position. Offering a kind of familial affection in exchange for fealty, Skemes tries to shape and exploit the teen’s desire to be recognized, to be seen. He’s canny at spotting vulnerabilities and leveraging them. His reasons may be complex but his motives are self-serving.

Torres ably walks the line between establishing Skemes’ charisma and critiquing it. Later in the film, another artist, whom Kadir meets at an art gallery, provides backstory, but long before that Skemes challenges Kadir to prove his mettle with a handgun.

Enter Luis Torres, a subway conductor at the end of his shift and headed to his favorite diner for a Cubano and a beer. He’s big bellied and walks with a kind of one-foot-in-front-of-the other fatigue. Torres doesn’t soften the meeting of these two souls on a train platform in the Bronx. Kadir is scared and all the more dangerous for his adrenaline. In his jittery hands, that gun could go off.

Luis talks him down or at least strikes a bargain: He’ll give Kadir money, but in exchange, the boy must agree to join him for a meal. It’s clear from Luis’ banter with the server Gloria (Coral Peña), a photography student, that the restaurant they visit is his go-to spot. Not only is Luis patient with Kadir, but the filmmaker is equally prudent in revealing this subway savior’s background. Luis’ steadfastness came at a cost. He too has demons created out of mourning. Even so, Guzmán makes it easy to love him for his compassion and equanimity.

A gang initiation night gone violent, leading Kadir back to Luis. At the same time, a teacher intervenes, suggesting possibilities beyond his spray-paint brotherhood, including art school. Kadir’s compelled (he makes a heart-opening trip to the Hispanic Society where he discovers painter Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida) but prickly, too, in that “hurt people hurt people” way teenagers can be toward those who offer help. His resistance extends to Gloria, as well as Luis, who becomes more human and messier as “Story Ave” unfolds. For Kadir, there will be reckoning and remorse, but also the kind of rebirth a very hard year and the kindness of a stranger might nurture. With a first name like Aristotle, it feels apt that Torres ends Kadir’s story with catharsis.