Black History Month cannot and should not be defined by one-twelfth of a year. There are issues in the schools, the workplace and the home that must be identified, addressed and resolved 365 days of the year, as evidenced by the need for the diversity summit held by BNY Mellon in conjunction with Highmark and UPMC at the Highmark auditorium in Downtown Pittsburgh.
The three corporate giants invited veteran actor/entertainer Malik Yoba to speak at the event. Some of his past works include Fox Network’s critically acclaimed television series “New York Undercover” and more recently, Tyler Perry’s “Why Did I Get Married,” and the soon to be released “Why Did I Get Married Too.”
Yoba brought his own experiences, flair and style to the symposium that appears to have been designed to deal with the continually evolving topics of achieving and maintaining racial and gender variety in the workplace. I caught up with him via telephone at his hotel room after the event ended. We talked about his career as an actor and his future.
Q: Malik, you were born in the Bronx, N.Y., in 1967. The ’60s were a decade of rapid change, especially for African-Americans. What was life like for a young man growing up in Fort Apache, the Bronx, during those tumultuous times?
A: I [reflect] on what it was like being born around the time that Thurgood Marshall was sworn into the United States Supreme Court. I needed to find a place to honor the people that live inside of me. That’s one of the things that I loved about growing up in the South Bronx. There were Irish, Italians, and West Indians. I always just felt part of a community.
Q: Malik, how did an actor such as yourself get involved in the multicultural and training business?
A: While I was here in August I met Mukami Kinoti-Kimotho, senior consultant for global diversity strategies for BNY Mellon and I told her about my one-man show “Harlem to Hollywood” and how I worked with J. Walter Thompson in New York [city] multi-cultural training in a non-traditional way in New York using my show. I have a background in arts and education. I was invited back to do the BNY Mellon, Highmark Black History Month diversity workshop. In my show I play a 65-year-old Jewish woman and an old Nigerian man, a Jamaican woman, an Englishman and a Frenchman. Also, the relevance for me is that I started out as community activist and artist.
Q: When did you realize that you were going to be an entertainer?
A: When I was four years old, I saw “Alice in Wonderland” that’s what made me want to be an actor. That was the play [off Broadway]. I can’t wait to take my kids to go see it.
Q: What are the names and ages of your children?
A: I have three, Pria is 11, Dena is nine and Josiah, he’s the baby, is seven. Pria auditioned for the part of “Alice” in “Alice in Wonderland.” I worked on the monologue with her. It was great to do that, to take on back down my own memory lane reliving the play with her that made me want to become an actor.
Q: When and where was your first professional performance?
A: Where I [actually] got paid? There were a few; one was the “Great Spacecoaster’ which I did when I was about 13 years old but I really remember a film that I did when I was either 19 or 20 years old called “Seriously Fresh” which was a film about AIDS education.
Q: Who is your favorite leading lady?
A: Meryl Streep. She’s the bomb [and] she’s the truth. There are a lot of great actresses, but she’s the measure for all of us. She’s amazing, I have a long list of actors that I respect, both men and women, but Meryl Streep is just an incredible talent. She has also had the opportunity to show her talent in a vast array of roles.
Q: When you’re career is over, how would you prefer to be remembered?
A: Just as a person who made a difference, someone who was an artist who really cared. [Also], as a person who fed into the lives of people everywhere I went regardless of who they were or what they looked like. I’ve worked in Africa, Europe, Central America and the United States. I’ve worked in prisons and colleges. I just care to share my experiences and what I know.