by M. Abdul-Qawiyy
For New Pittsburgh Courier
As Black History month came to a close, on Feb. 29, one of Hollywood’s leading African-American actors spoke to students at the University of Pittsburgh in the Alumni Hall.
Arranged by the Black Action Society, the actor was not only welcomed, but caused a ripple effect of shrieking when he walked in the room. As he entered and sauntered onto the stage, a constant murmur buzzed among the students—mainly among the female students. They were ogling at the graceful stature of Terrence Howard.
TERRENCE HOWARD IN ‘RED TAILS’
Howard was asked to speak about his experiences as an African-American actor in Hollywood and offer advice to young Blacks who are aspiring entertainers. However, Howard said that he was not only touched when he saw a room full of diverse students, but also was inspired to speak on other issues rather than focusing on his career.
“I know you’re expecting me to talk about the movie I just did, the Tuskegee Airmen,” Howard said. “But you guys represent the physical manifestation of what they did and I’d like to talk to you.”
Before Howard graced the stage, the national Black anthem was sung beautifully by Amber Phillips and Taylor Monahue, which Howard commented, “Where I come from everybody sang the national Black anthem. You need to remember why they sung that song. I expect all of you to remember and sing that song for the next time.”
Some were surprised that for part of his childhood, Howard grew up in Monroeville. Unfortunately, due to familial matters, Howard not only emancipated himself from his parents at the age of 16, but two years later moved to New York City. This is where he was discovered and started his acting career.
During his talk Howard touched on many subjects and the “Hollywood” glamour faded, as he was no longer, only, a famous actor, but a human being; a man speaking honestly to a group of students. In some moments Howard embodied the inspirational tone of a motivational speaker. “Don’t be self-effacing. The truth is that we all come from God and were made in his image. You were made to be great.” He continued to encourage students to believe in themselves, “You’re powerful. You have a purpose. You have to unite within yourself. Don’t ever forget how powerful you are.”
When Howard finally commented about the Tuskegee Airmen movie, “Red Tails,” a film which focused on African-American pilots during World War II, he stated, “I learned the importance of serving the community. Everybody worked as a united front. What they were doing (Tuskegee Airmen) was a service to the rest of the world and now we have something to show.” Howard continued, “the nature of life is cooperation. Learning to cooperate will help you get things done and that is what they exemplified.”
Howard was disappointed that in a lot of communities, people “unfortunately break each other down, like it’s necessary. It’s not.” He encouraged students to support one another and unite for a positive purpose, “Purpose does not end.”
During his talk Howard asked, “Do you all want me to continue?”
“Yes!” The audience of students replied.
“Oh OK, you all started to look bored.” To lighten the mood, Howard promised a sequel to the movie “Hustle and Flow.” “Well DJ gets out of jail,” he laughed. “There’s also ‘The Best Man 2’ coming out. So check me out in that as well.”
During the question and answer portion of the program, Howard was asked about his childhood of being bullied due to his lighter skin. Howard stated that the Black children would hold him down, “Watch him turn red.” They would say, while pulling his hair. “I grew up in Cleveland for sometime too, one of the most racially segregated places in the world. But I walked away from where the depression of racism is taking place. And now I don’t see race. I see God’s people. There’s this little piece of God in everyone and that is who you talk to.”
Even though Howard was targeted because of his race, and is the farthest person from being racist, he admits that he believes everyone has a little prejudice in them. This became apparent to him during the filming of “Crash.” “That was the hardest film I ever had to do. It is showing that each and every one of us has prejudice within and we need to look at that,” he said. “Dr. King saw everyone as being cut from the same cloth. That’s why he was adamant about defending the equality of all in a nonviolent way.”
By the end of his talk Howard became emotional, as two women mentioned his deceased mother. Howard’s mother once worked at the University of Pittsburgh and according to the women was always talking about how proud she was of Howard’s work. “Respect of your family is precious. Have pride for each other. There’s nothing more than that, in seeing the humanity in each other,” he said.
Howard ended his talk by stating, “I feel like, in some way, everything has led me to this moment. To encourage you. It’s all been worth it because I’m here to encourage you. You are jewels of creation, God’s children.”
Shawna J. Porter, a student at the University of Pittsburgh, commented, “It was really inspiring to see Mr. Howard speak. I think that too often we forget just how blessed we (African-Americans) are to be here and have so many opportunities. His words really reinforced those ideas and reminded us to be appreciative.”
Halim Genus, BAS president commented, “We are excited to close out the month with this event to celebrate Black History.”
Howard, most noted for his acting career, is also a singer, songwriter and musician. His album “Shine Through It” was released in September 2008.