Ameer Baraka talks Bronx SIU, acting and much more. Check it out here--->>>
Ameer Baraka Actor, Author, Activist, Educator. Mr. Baraka is a man on a mission. We are hesitant to waste time with preambles because we want you to read each and every single word. But for procedural sake let us at least mention Ameer has starred in American Horror Story and HBO's Treme as well as featured in Oprah Winfrey's Black Board Wars. Now, let's start telling Ameer's story. Okay wait. Did we mention he's from New Orleans? Yes, I met another NOLA homeboy! I live! Now for sure let's begin and in Ameer's own words.
"My dreams and aspirations were basically fleeced growing up. I grew up in the housing projects in New Orleans. I hated school. I couldn't read or write. I never knew what my problem was. I was raised by a single mom. I was called "dumb" and "stupid" by my family. My brothers and sisters enjoyed and did well in school. But I couldn't compete with them. I felt hopeless. I started selling drugs very early on. I started cutting school in the third grade because I couldn't pass a spelling test. I have never passed a spelling test in my entire life. I was always good at Math. I had no problem with Math. But other than that I did absolutely nothing in class. They just passed me on from grade to grade."
It was at this point we had to stop Ameer and ask him a question. We hear, you hear, about people who cannot read. To be totally honest, this was the first time I had ever spoke to someone who couldn't read or write. We know it's not uncommon. I looked it up. Approximately 14% of adults in American can't read; 14%. I was curious and had to ask Ameer. "How does someone function, navigate through life when they can't read?" "How can you function? You sell dope. You steal. You rob. That's what you do. Or you get a meager job anything where you don't have to read."
Ameer completed the eleventh grade. He was on his way to his Senior Year when he dropped out of high school. His lifestyle caught up with him and he had to flee to California. Ameer's lifestyle caught up with him there too. "I got in a gang of trouble. At 23 years of age, I was arrested for drugs and was sent to prison."
You have heard us say this before and we will say it again. What is for you is for you. When you are on a collusion course with destiny, if you don't find destiny, she will find you no matter where you are. Destiny found Ameer in prison. "There was a teacher, white teacher, at the prison that really cared about black men. He noticed that I couldn't read or write. He was familiar with dyslexia. I wasn't. He brought a lady in from the outside who had me screened. I was diagnosed with dyslexia. That was the first time I ever heard the word. I thought it was something horrible. I thought it was something that meant I was "throwed" off like my mom said I was. But it wasn't like that at all. I was told Albert Eisenstein was dyslexic. And that they had great people who were dyslexic. And that's when my self esteem started to build. Yes, it was a disability but it didn't impact my intelligence. When I heard that, I said I could be somebody. That was when the light turned on."
That light lit a fire inside of Ameer. A whole new world of potential and possibilities opened up to Ameer while he was still in jail. He was in prison but not imprisoned. We could chew on that one for awhile. But that's a subject for another day. Ameer was determined to learn to read. He taught himself to read in prison. Another not so uncommon occurrence. But again this was my first time being able to talk one on one with somebody with a journey like Ameer's so my curiosity arose again and I asked, "How did you teach yourself to read in jail?" "I wrote down every word I didn't know, they, the, tomorrow, yesterday any word I didn't know, And at night I would just go over and over and over them. I didn't waste any of my time. I wanted to learn to read. I knew if I didn't learn to read I was coming back. I studied the dictionary and increased my vocabulary. I obtained my GED in jail."
Ameer shared with us that he was one to always take care of himself and his body. When he got of jail, he stayed in New Orleans for about a week and went back to L.A. There he saved money for a modeling portfolio. Rapper Master P (grew up in the same housing projects with Ameer, The Calliope) hired Ameer to model his new clothing line. Ameer used the money he made to enroll in acting classes. His interest in acting had been peaked in prison. "We would do skits for kids who would come in off the streets. The warden would bring in kids off the street to scare them straight. I became interested in drama in prison." Again, destiny found Ameer in prison.
Master P would assist Ameer in jump starting his acting career just as he did assisting him with modeling. "Master P was with Endeavor Agency back then. I went on my first audition and booked the role in The New Guy with Sony Pictures. From there one thing lead to another. But it hasn't all been easy. I've had some very rough times and some rough patches. But I was determined never to sell drugs again. There was a time I was thrown out of my apartment and slept in my car. There were other times that I slept in the racetrack which was where the L.A Rams play today. I would sleep there then get up and wash my face, brush my teeth and go looking for work. I made it through all of it."
He persevered which is always rewarded. Ameer's acting career continued to flourish. One of the highlights of his career has been his six episode arc he did on American Horror Story. He played Bastien, a fictional slave turned minotaur, Angela Bassett's love interest. He was honored to work with Angela and with other greats such as Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates. Ameer spoke about his experiences working with them. It was one particular experience with Kathy Bates that Ameer will never forget. "We did a scene together. It was so powerful and so real. After we finished the scene Kathy told me, 'Ameer, your work was true and strong. You are a great actor.' I said to myself if Kathy Bates told me I was good, it must be true. I never forgot that."
Ms. Bates was right. Of course, she is Kathy Bates! Ameer is now an Emmy Nominated Actor. He received a Daytime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Lead for his role as Darius in Bronx SIU. Ameer had worked previously with Dan Garcia the show's Creator and Producer. Dan came to me and said, 'Ameer, I have the perfect project for you. You will be playing a cop.' Dan couldn't know this. But a year ago, I made a vision board. And on the board I had that I wanted to be a regular on a detective show and play a police officer. Low and behold Dan contacts me about the character. I fell in love with Darius. I understood Darius. I related with his emotions. It was the perfect project for me."
It sounded like it. Ameer couldn't say enough about the show and his co-stars. "The writing is good. It's obvious the acting is good (three Daytime Award Nominations). Shanti Lowry is so talented and just a wonderful person to work with. She is wearing the role. Brian White is such a good actor. Everyday I had to come with my A game. I enjoyed working with Brian. He kept my game sharp. Listen to me. Jillian Ferry is one to watch. I'm telling you she is good. She is a talent. Another talent on set, Khalil Kain. Really everyone there is."
Ameer enjoys and is grateful for his career as an actor. But Ameer sees it as so much more. "I'm using acting as a platform. Acting is a job. I have been called. I have a purpose in life. Let's use Lebron James as an example. His profession is basketball. But he can speak to a group of kids and they light up like a Christmas tree. They are listening and hanging onto every word he has to say. That's power. We all have to use whatever power we have directly and purposefully. We have to get divine instructions on how to use it. We can change what we see. I'm on a mission."
One thing Ameer knew for sure when he got out of jail was that, "I wanted to be a voice for the people." Ameer's voice speaks truth in volumes in his book; The Lies I was Told. The Streets Lied to Me. "I was lied to. I was told in order to be a real man you have to kill. I was told you have to sell dope. You have to beat your woman when she gets out of line. All these lies festering in our community."
Ameer's book is one of the best antidotes for lies, the truth. Ameer is also shedding light on the truth that we have a literacy crisis in our country. This crisis doesn't start and stop with the individual who can't read. The repercussions and consequences can spread and spill out into our cities and communities. "When you can't read or write, you do just what I did. You rob people. You steal. You sell dope. If I don't feel good about myself, I won't feel good about others. So this is the problem we are having. We have to address it."
That's exactly what Ameer is doing. And it never hurts to have friends in high places to help. "Senator Bill Cassidy (LA) gave me an award about five years ago at LSU for overcoming dyslexia after hearing about my story. I became friends with Bill and his wife, Laura. Senator Cassidy met with Jared Kushner in the Oval Office. He told Jared everything about me and what I was doing. Jared and Bill got together and signed the First Step Act and put my story in there. The Act mandates that every federal prisoner be screened for dyslexia and mediated for it. My story is in the First Step Act." Did you catch that? Ameer and his story was instrumental in the development of a federal mandate for every federal prisoner to be screened for and mediated for dyslexia. Yes sir, Ameer, that is being a voice for the people.
In closing, from the Oval Office to Gucci, Ameer leaves no stone unturned in his mission to be a voice for the people. He is working on closing a deal to partner with Gucci to help get rid of the stigma associated with dyslexia; The Sexy Dyslexic. Yes! We love that!
We were inspired, energized and motivated to be more and give more! From sleeping in your car to having your story spoken about in the Oval Office; Ameer is indeed a man on a mission!
Fam, watch Bronx SIU! (Prime Video & UMC).
If you missed our other Bronx SIU related interviews in our #DontSleepOnDigital Series, you can read them here and here.
I AM KP Smith