When I was a boy, about 5 years old, right before my sister was born, my mother had taken me to a play that my father was in. A play called “A Raisin In The Sun”. It was at a little theater at the time called The Henry Street Theater. And we had arrived about 10 minutes late and the employee that inspected our tickets asked if we wouldn’t mind sitting in the mezzanine. He said that sitting in a front row reserved seat might disturb the performance. Thinking back, mother probably only agreed because she was partial to sitting in the mezzanine, especially when watching her husband.
My father played the lead, Walter Lee. And I didn’t know people could turn into other people. I didn’t exactly see it that way. Everything he said I thought somehow was related to me. There was one part I never forgot. At the end of the play when the white real estate man comes to give the black family money not to move into his neighborhood, my dad began to speak. And no one moved and no one talked. No one made a single sound. They all listened to him as though he were a saint. He talked about being plain folk, about pride in being plain folk. And he calls a boy over, his son, and says how proud he is of him. And I knew he was really talking about me.
For years I thought he wanted me to act just like him, to be a black actor, like Danny Glover or Sidney Poitier or Morgan Freeman. Just like my dad. But I was never black enough. My dad died last year. And only then did I realize how ignorant I was. The lack of credit I had given my father. My dad was a black actor. But he wanted me to go one step further. He wanted me to be an actor. Just an actor. That’s what he meant when he said proud.