As I sit and listen to the special edition episode of Off Book Podcast, they talked about the people who inspired them. When I think about the actors I watched growing up, there were three people that come to mind growing up. Ironically, they are all people from my home church. Sharalyn Garrard Bailey, Corey Bradley, and Sionne Neely are the first actors that I saw that were doing what I wanted to do and be.
Growing up Sharalyn was active in the Drama Ministry and her mom served as one of the directors of the ministry. I knew that at some point in her life she lived in California and was chasing her dream out there. As a child I did know that Hollywood was in California, so I knew this was huge. Over the years she encouraged me to continue pursue acting through the church and outside spaces. I truly appreciate the light she has been in my life.
Corey Bradley and I were in “The Wizard of Oz” at Theater IV (now known as VA Rep.) I knew he was extremely talented from things he did at church and having been around him in “The Wizard of Oz.” What really inspired me about Corey was that he went to New York to pursue his dream. I knew that New York is where Broadway resides. Over the years we have connected via phone and he was still actively auditioning in the Big Apple.
Sionne Neely was someone that I truly followed in her footsteps on multiple occasions. When she was in high school, she was in a program through our school system for the Arts. She did several plays throughout her time while in the program and I went to see her in at least one show if not more. When she went to college, I considered going to the same school for a brief moment. Then, she went to Howard University for Grad School. My mom helped me understand Howard’s impact in the arts for black people. It was then that I knew I wanted to go to Howard. In high school, the opportunity came to attend the Arts and Humanities Center, which was where Sionne went, and my mom helped me to take classes there and I was in classes all the way from my freshman year of high school all the way to my senior year. I mainly took acting classes, but dabbled in a few others to broaden my artistic horizon. When it was time to apply for college I knew I was going to Howard to study theater. Somewhere along the application process I decided I wouldn’t be an acting major because I wanted to take math. I made this decision because I liked math a lot and if I studied acting, I wouldn’t be take math. Instead I signed up to major in Theater Administration. This way I could take math. This was the second time I followed in Sionne’s footsteps.
Each of these people inspired me not because they were actors, but because they were actors who I had a connection to spiritually. I knew part of their life experience was growing up in or being connected to our church. I thank them all for letting their lights shine. I hope I can make footprints for someone else to follow and shine my light bright enough for them to see where they are going.