GROWING UP: I am from Baltimore, Maryland. I grew up in the public school system in Baltimore. I graduated from the Carver Center for Arts and Technology with a focus on acting, singing and dancing.
CURRENT GIG: Take one guess, I am acting…and singing and dancing! I moved to LA after spending some time in New York and years on Broadway. I am here making more of a transition to on-camera acting.
EXPERIENCES WITH RACE: The biggest situation that affected me, was while I was doing the Lion King in Toronto, Canada. After the show an older Caucasian couple was waiting for the elevator. It was myself with maybe 3 other people from the show with me. We were all waiting for the elevator together. The elevator came, and the wife of the couple grabbed her husband and said “no honey, don’t get on this elevator. We’ll wait for the next one.” It was so weird cause I grew up in Baltimore, in the city and from a mostly African American cultural around me, so growing up I didn’t experience racism, like really….I don’t have memories like that. But when this couple reacted like she was so afraid to get on the elevator, it was the most shocking thing. It boggled my mind because she just got done watching us on stage, paid $100 to see us perform for her and then dared to not even know who we were but to put that fear of what ever that was on us. The doors closed and I just remember that feeling of whatever that was crushing down on me. Woah, how did I become that guy that makes white people afraid to be around me or scared to get on an elevator? I mean, what are we going to do to you? We just got off the stage, singing and dancing…I don’t think we’re going to pull out any guns or knives. You know, I mean it was a completely unfathomable reality. It was so weird.
And I will share this about moving to LA. I grew up in Baltimore, lived in New York and now LA. Growing up I never had any police brutality towards me at all. Now living in LA, the first year I lived here I have had more “walking while black” experiences from the police than I would’ve ever imagined in my life. Walking down the street one day, I was going to a call-back audition. I got pulled over by the police while I was walking down the street. They drove past me 4 times and then they “woooopppp woooopppp” with the sirens and after I kept walking. They called out to me “Did you not here us siren at you?” And I said “I’m sorry, I was supposed to know that was for me?” and he said “Who else would it have been for?”. So that’s the mindset they have in the city of LA. It was the most unrealistic thing to me. Then they got out of the car and asked me if I had any weapons in my briefcase. It had my headshot and resume. And I was like, “NO!” I told them I was on my way to an audition and the cop told me to get up against the wall, then turned me around. He held my hands as he rummaged through my bags. I asked why he was doing it and he said because they had gotten a call that someone broke into a house and I fit the description. So I asked what the description was and he said an African American guy in a sweater. And I said, “Ok that’s an interesting fact because I am not wearing a sweater and theres a lot of African American men walking down the street AND I’m walking down the street with a suitcase.” I mean, I am not a criminal and I have no idea how they think, but if I was one I would think that I would be running from the scene and not being seen by the police walking down the street. It was unrealistic and I have to wonder if people don’t realize that they are being racist towards you because it’s just how they are. The policeman said he was just doing his job. After all was said and done, I asked him what I was supposed to do with this. I am going into my day knowing that I was an innocent man walking down the street and he made me feel like a criminal. So those two experiences shaped me and shook me to the core realizing how people view me. I never knew people saw me as a threat or as a criminal. It awakened my reality to what people think. It’s unfortunate, when my perspective of myself is changed because of someone else’s reality.
FINAL THOUGHTS: I come from a great family that taught me to respect myself and to respect other people, to love other people as I love myself. I strive to encourage people to be the best they can be as I walk in the world to do the best that I can. I want people to know that it is my life’s goal to inspire other people to reach for their dreams, that you really can have and do anything you want if you put God first and work hard and believe that it can be achievable. I want people to know that I’m just like them. I think it’s funny that the campaign is called I am just like you, because when I walk down the street I think that. I don’t think I’m special because of the things that I’ve been afforded in life and that because we are different it doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of similarities.
People would not expect that I didn’t grow up with a dad and didn’t learn how to be a man from a man. I feel like I walk in the world as a very proud man, but I think others expect someone who didn’t have that example in their life. Especially to be the type of man I am to other kids. I love being a mentor and giving back in way that I didn’t have.
Photographed by Renee McMahon