I was asked to put down some words of advice or lessons I have learned in my career so far. To be completely honest, I feel as though I am just now beginning to learn how to work in this industry—how to differentiate between industry and artistry, and how I can best serve my spirit and communities in the work that I do. It has been an honor and a joy to work on the character of Marcus in the world of “Hacks,” and I am still learning from this experience.
That said, there is one lesson I was taught many years ago that I wish to share with you today, reader. I learned this lesson in college, when a fool of a man who called himself a professor insisted that if I didn’t keep my focus on roles centered around Black oppression, I would not have much of a career.
As many of you know, Black artists have had historically limited avenues of expression. It is only in recent years that we’ve had the opportunity to expand beyond the tropes and confines of 20th-century portrayals onstage and onscreen. Therefore, I do not fully blame that fool for his limited thinking. And I am grateful that, early in my training, I was able to learn this lesson: Don’t ever let somebody else tell you what your God has in store for your life. Do not let the limitations and boundaries of the past dictate the blessing that is your future.
If you’re not careful, someone else’s dream for you may overtake your focus and change the entire framework of your imagination and expression. Do not give anyone that power. If someone sees your work and wants to help you improve, excellent. If someone has something constructive to add or a new approach for you to explore, please do explore and play and adventure away! But if someone’s assessment of who you are or will be is based on the values of hate-based hierarchy and social constructs that benefit the few, get as far away from them as you possibly can—quickly.
Our institutions of study and development need to stop employing fools like that man; I have encountered far too many of them. Maybe you have, too. If so, I hope you are healing well. There are so many incredible stories to tell, and they need each and every kind of person to tell them—not just the “conventional” or the “all-American,” but all of us. We each have the gifts of our own experiences to bring, and it is paramount that we develop those gifts so we can grow into the beings we are, not the types we supposedly fit into.
You are not a type. You are a beautiful spirit having a human experience that includes artistic expression. Please do not allow outside assumptions to dictate your possibility.
This story originally appeared in the Aug. 12 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.
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