From early on, I was taught the importance of being self-sufficient, of being independent, of being able to garner your own art and to promote it and produce it. I learned that importance when I realized that there was no point in waiting on someone else. Oftentimes, the model for aspiring actors is you work on your craft and then you audition. You work on your piece and you audition, audition, audition. This is totally valid, but I feel like I want to help develop the idea that you create your own piece and invite people to your piece to make your own following. Instead of sending in my creations to someone and having it sit on a desk with a hundred other pieces, I created my own productions, and invited people to come out and see them in the community. When I was ten years old, I was a part of a junior theater company, and in order to raise funds for costumes, we decided to have bake sales. We knew that the grants coming in for our non-profit theater company were not enough and we needed to raise money for costumes, sets, etc. So that was one of the first entrepreneurial endeavors of my life.
In high school, I went to a public school and my best friend went to a rich, private school. So me and my friend would perform at the private schools, do hip-hop battles, and charge $2 from these kids and ended up making $30 from one show. Most of my artistic endeavors have been entrepreneurial in nature because I’ve never followed that worn path. I handled the management, the booking, the press, all of it. So I’ve done everything possible to promote my art. Now that I’ve done all these things, I can have more intelligent conversations with the marketing people because I’ve done the marketing before, or with the director about lights because I used to do the lights for my past productions.
My parents were a huge influence on my development as a person and guided my priorities. My parents were huge civil rights activists; my father even marched with Martin Luther King Jr. So I learned from them that the community comes first. Serving others, even if it hurts you, is the right thing to do. They were very clear on who their enemy was, even though it was not completely true; white power structure. By the time I came around in the 1980s and 1990s it was not very clear, because my neighborhood had a lot of crack and a lot of people killing each other. I could not say, “the white man is to blame”, because it was the same people I loved that also had these demons that needed to be fought. I had a deep love for these people but I was also terrified of them. My goal as a kid was to just stay alive in the neighborhood – do my rhymes, do my acting, etc. My stories were based on these situations and the people I loved.
My wife’s family is very much about, “family comes first”. In my family the community came first – African-Americans came first. “What are you doing for the community?” was what I was constanty asked.
I got a call from a friend of mine this past week asking me to talk to her 17 year-old son who had been, “acting crazy, disrespectful, has a bad relationship with his father. Do something. Help!” She’s a single mother, been through divorce, and she’s asking me for help. I wondered why she was calling me of all people for help. I know that I’m not perfect, I think my wife would tell you that, I got sides of me that still need working on, but I think that I’m looked at in the community that I came from as a success story. I was in the New York Times and I have a job at SMU. I have not gone back to where I came from because I’m trying to help out where I am now. If I ever was to move back where I grew up, I think I could do a lot more good for the community than I do now. Nowadays, you know, you read something and it’s inspirational and that’s great, but I’m not on the ground working. I think if I was there I could do a lot more community work. Wherever you are, I feel like it’s important to make that community better. I don’t know if I’ll be in Dallas for two more years or twenty more years, but while I am here, I’m trying to make the community better.
Interview conducted by Seth Ordiway.