29 Feb Confessions of an Artist: Why Being Just an Artist is Not Enough
“You can’t help it. An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.”
It was a hot spring day in Sunny Southern California, Los Angeles to be exact, when my eyes were opened and my purpose became clearer than ever. I was living “High on the Hog”, a phrase I heard many times while eavesdropping on adult conversations back home in Tennessee. Owning a company, international campaigns running simultaneously, waking up without an alarm clock, and living the life I always dreamt of living was my reality and a damn good one. I was in my mid-twenties with a high metabolism, great friends and an even greater relationship with God when I was asked to speak on a panel in South LA to students wanting to learn about careers that weren’t all mainstream. Due to the fact that I controlled my own schedule I happily agreed. Being the youngest on the panel, a man of color and having a seemingly desirable life, I felt the pressure to represent like crazy. The students wouldn’t take their eyes off me because of the age difference between the other panelists and myself and I just knew they wanted to know who this skinny Black guy was that smiled way too much.
The panel went even better than I imagined but it was what happened after the panel discussion that changed my life. Students were in lines waiting to talk to me and not because of my amazing personality as I originally assumed. It was because they hadn’t met any other young Black guy that went to college or became successful without doing it illegally or through athletics. The stories of school lunch being their only meal for the day, being afraid of getting jumped into gangs while waiting for the bus, scared to walk home alone after school for fear of being raped and failing in school because they couldn’t read or count well and their parents couldn’t help because they worked two or more jobs just to make ends meet brought tears to my eyes in front of the students. I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon, more like a wooden spoon, but because I had family, church members and mentors pushing and forcing me to greater heights, I never knew there was something I couldn’t do or obtain.
That afternoon on the drive home I promised God I would never settled for being just an artist, that I would give of my time, talent and treasure to help those less fortunate than myself and change as many peoples’ mindsets in the process. I always knew I would give back once I made it big in Hollywood. Then I would have the money, voice and position to make a ‘real’ difference in the world. That was not good enough for God and soon not good enough for me. Because I wasn’t on set seven days a week filming or traveling around speaking forty hours a week, I could start now. I joined the board of a few organizations that specialized in sending minority kids to college, consulted and volunteered with organizations that brought drinking water to villages in Africa and tutored kids in Southern California who couldn’t afford it but needed it the most. I started accepting speaking gigs that didn’t pay but where I could make a real impact. Mentoring kids from all over the U.S. pretty much became a part of my newfound job description.
One of the best parts about this new found avenue towards living my purpose is finding out I’m not alone. Celebrity friends such as Hill Harper, Derek ‘Fonzworth Bentley’ Watkins, Tai Beauchamp, and many others live this same kind of life. The world needs more people with a heart for people and not just love of self. We have to be the voice of those who are being discriminated against, abused, underserved, forgotten and left behind. Other powerhouses that I’ve been afforded the opportunity to work with, meet, and support such as Billy Goldberg, Marc Hankin, Erika McCall, Scooter Taylor, Jasmynne-Shaye Robbins and many others have imprinted on my heart that we can have it all: the career, the success, the wealth, and a heart and action plan for changing the world for the better.
“My life changed the day I realized that other people’s lives were directly dependent upon me discovering and living my purpose.” -Justin Key