Actor ("All of Us," "Half and Half," "Why Did I Get Married?" and "Meet the Browns"), sex symbol and entrepreneur, Lamman Rucker, visited Memphis on Friday, May 3, in conjunction with Teach for America Week, supported and sponsored by FedEx.
He sat down at Clear Channel Media studios with TSD President and Publisher Bernal E. Smith II to share his passion for education, his affinity for Memphis and words of wisdom to younger generations, among other things.
Following the interview, Rucker spoke at Overton High School, where the listeners included FedEx executives, who spent the day at Overton as guest teachers – another element of Teach for America Week.
Bernal E. Smith II: You're in Memphis today to speak to a group of students over at Overton High School in conjunction with Teach for America (TFA) Week. Why the connection to that? Why is that important for you?
Lamman Rucker: Well, primarily because it focuses on education. It's a big part of who I am, what I'm about, my life is about, what I have come to accept my legacy is going to be about. But also what I believe is my responsibility ... giving back, uplifting my community, doing the best I can to touch and inspire and encourage, to motivate and mobilize our young people. It is about action not just feeling good, but actually getting up and doing something, you know.
I think there are a lot of people who believe in all the things that we are talking about, but they are not doing anything. I just always try to make it a consistent thread in my life to be active, to stay engaged in the community. There are a lot of people whose lives are significantly different because they didn't have access to a quality education. They don't have good teachers around them. They don't have access to adequate resources. They are suffering from bad leadership. They are suffering from bad politics and policy. So I just think TFA and FedEx's generous sponsorship of TFA ... made perfect sense for us to join forces.
BES: I mentioned to you I had an opportunity to speak to The Three Doctors, and Dr. Rameck Hunt, one of the three, was speaking on our young people. He spoke of a sense of entitlement in terms of American youth, and this hyper-focus on thinking that (they are) going to become the next big rapper, the next Lebron James. As a celebrity, from your perspective, how do we help our kids have a greater sense of reality in terms of what it takes to be successful?
LR: Those are only two things, and that is two of two million different things they can do. The problem is that there is, to use your word "hyper", exposure to those two things. And the reality is that they are not learning about ALL the other things they can be. So all they know, unfortunately, because they ain't been on the planet but for so long, all they know is what they see. So just knowing that, it's our responsibility to show them more, let them see more, expose them to more possibilities ... expose them to other places, other communities, other industries, other jobs.
And what you then begin to expose them to is how much they are capable of doing, some of these other things. Do something that you believe in. Do something that is actually connected to what your purpose or your passion is. Do something that is actually you, not just something that is going to revolve around some public image, and somebody else is going to be shaping that image.
They want to be the center of attention, but they don't actually know what it takes to actually be in power. They don't know what it actually takes to actually make some real money. If you think Lebron is making money, imagine how much money the owner of the Heat is making. If you think Nike can pay Lebron that kind of money for that endorsement, wouldn't it be smart for you to be a shareholder in Nike? You don't even have to be the one person who starts Nike, but how about learning how to invest in Nike stock?
BES: Share with our readers what your background is -- educationally, where you grew up, and how you got to this point.
LR: It was all just one step at a time, man. That's why I'm saying a lot of it was really just exposure. I learned about the arts because I was exposed to the arts. I learned about business because I was exposed to business. I learned about education because education was emphasized and not just reinforced, but enforced. I didn't have a choice, and there were times when that sucked. Like any other your person, there were times naturally when I wanted to do other things. But when I also understood how important it was, and when I also was privileged enough to have teachers who made it fun, who made it engaging, that got us out of the classroom sometimes, I thrived. But trust me I was just as tempted to drop out. I was just as tempted to sell drugs. I was just as tempted to just focus on being a certain type of person, but luckily, my exposure to other information and my exposure to other opportunities, and my exposure to the arts made me too busy to get in trouble.
BES: Old School up bringing!
LR: It was just from one opportunity to the next -- one exposure to the next exposure. Once that exploration starts to happen, that also becomes normal. Like now, if I am sitting around for too long, I'm restless. I can't do it. I got to go find something to do. And not just something to do--
BES: Something positive, something productive.
LR: Not let me go call this "Lil Shorty", you know, like some of the stuff that people will do just to distract themselves. I'm like, Okay, what is my spirit telling me to be investing my time and energy in. Let me find something positive to do with my time. Maybe it is just to sit and be silent -- pray, meditate, whatever it is, if it is to go to the gym. There are all kinds of things that people just don't take advantage of about where they are. Like spend some time with some other good people. If you don't have anything to do, go find somewhere to volunteer. Give away your time. Share your expertise and your knowledge. Just share your testimony.
BES: Where are you from originally?
LR: I was actually born in Pittsburg. So I know there are a lot of Steeler fans in the south.
BES: I'm a Steeler Fan, baby. What's up?
LR: My man!
BES: Black and gold. (Showing him my black and gold bracelet).
LR: I saw that! I was eyeballing that I think I'm going to need me one of them. Where did you cop that? I like that... (LR continues...) I grew up in DC as well. I have had the privilege of traveling the world in between since then.
BES: How did you get into acting?
LR: Again man, both of my parents are artists so that helped a lot being born into that kind of environment, born into a family where that was encouraged and supported. That's the other thing.
BES: You were part of the N-Secure movie done by Julius Lewis, promoter and movie producer here in Memphis...
LR: Yeah, right. A Steeler fan, too.
BES: Yes, exactly...he is my man. Love him to death. We support one another and he is a big supporter of the Tri-State Defender. Tell me about your role in that movie, how that came about, and how was your experience working on that film.
LR: Yeah, I met the director in LA. Actually, he and I had worked together on one of my previous shows, a show called Half and Half. I was already somewhat familiar with the project but, I had to audition like anybody else. Unfortunately the lead role was already taken because that is what we were also talking about. You know, "Aw somebody is already attached to that role." Because, you know, I would have torn that up too!
BES: You know that would have been a different role for you because most of your roles you portray more of a nice guy...
LR: You have no idea. A lot of people are familiar with me being a villain from my early days on the soaps operas. I was always a bad guy. I always played those kind of charming, you know, with an edge kind of guys. And then gave them smoothness and a little bit of 'hood' but always had on a suit and tie, you know.
BES: Right, right.
LR: But most people who don't know me from then, and they have only been introduced to me on All of Us, and Half and Half and Why Did I Get Married? and Meet the Browns, they see me as a good guy. [It] definitely would have thrown a lot of people for a loop to see me as a villain or somebody with a dark side. But we had a great time, man. It was a good film. It had some other really great talent in it. Tempest Bledsoe, Elise Neal, Essence Atkins. And it was a really strong cast. Memphis opened up its arms to us during our stay here. It was fun playing that character and then mixing it up with Essence, causing some trouble for her. I didn't mean to cause no problems for her or nothing like that. [Laughter]
BES: And then you end up getting taken out in the end.
LR: Big time! I couldn't see that scene too, you know. They had me laying on the stretcher, glass is in my face... I was like, I can't see that scene. That was a strange image to see myself like that. But that was fun.
BES: It seems like Memphis is big on you. They love Lamman Rucker.
LR: I get a lot of love here. I was here for -- shout out to the Memphis Black Expo ...
BES: Yeah, a good friend and business partner of mine, Viara Boyd produces that event. As a matter of fact, I am an investor in the event and was excited about having you here.
LR: Yeah, man. We had a great time with that and then I got out and even partied a little bit with Memphis. My parties are always hot! So that was a good time and so yeah, any time I have the time to get out here I do. I go by St. Jude's Hospital every time I'm here. I always try to do something in the community or in our schools every time I'm here as well. I always try to support the arts as well while I'm here. I've been to the museums -- the Civil Rights Museum and Stax Museum. I've done a little bit of all of that. I try to show Memphis some love because they definitely show me love. The Tri-State Defender is top of the list as well.
(For more information about Teach for America, visit www.teachforamerica.org.)