The Groveland Four
I became aware of the auditions for this film through a good friend of mine. Before auditioning for this film, I had no idea of the circumstances surrounding these four men. When I started to research in preparation for the auditions I was floored at the fact justice had still not been served even 70 years later. After hearing about the four in his American history class at UCF, John Ventakaraman created an online petition calling for the exoneration of the four men and justice for their families. Check our the original petition here.
So I go into the audition and do what I have to do. I don’t remember if there was a callback or not lol I think there was but either way, I got a call from the director and producer offering me the role. I was so excited. Then it hit me. I’m going to be inhabiting the life of a person who once lived on this earth, who faced the highest level of injustice, and it will be on tv and could be used as a catalyst for their exoneration. Ah shit. Pressure. Unnecessary pressure. Ego pressure. Could I do this? Could I pull this off? I had to remind myself no matter how cool it may be to be on something that will be aired on TV and discussed by many IT IS NOT ABOUT ME. I need to play my part in conveying the truth of what happened and represent Charles Greenlee to his core.
We shot the courtroom scene during the first day of production. I was so damn nervous and ultimately I felt I sabotaged myself with all my unnecessary inner chatter. I felt I could do much better but when I met his family later they were pleased and believed I got to the truth of his innocence so that’s all that matters.
In preparation for the rest of filming I went and trained with Erik Singer an amazing dialect coach. You can check out his YouTube channel here. We would go on to film several more times afterward and eventually, the time came for the premiere screening. Seats went extremely fast. There was a lot of talk within the Central Florida community about the documentary so tickets were in demand at the time.
Despite my moms wishes, I went to the exact spot that Charles was arrested back in Groveland, FL. I had to go. I needed to feel the essence of that area.
And finally. FINALLY. Justice. Check out the USA Today article here.
This will always be of of the most fulfilling moments of my life and I’m thankful God chose to include me in His plans for this.
The story behind me getting involved with this film is crazy! You know for a fact that God’s hand was on this. A little under a year before this film was made I saw a listing for a short film being shot by Valencia College in Orlando called “One More Rock” I would travel anywhere for acting as it’s one of the things I love most but when I saw the audition was in Orlando naturally there was a small piece of me that contemplated not going. Ultimately I felt a strong pull in me as if I was being pulled towards this whole situation so I said you know what I’ll go. I went to the auction and got the role. I LOVED the script and loved the team working on the production. The director Shane was amazing. We are still in contact.
On that set, I met someone named Bobby who I also consider to be a definite friend of mines. He brought it to my attention that he would be casting for his film in the coming weeks and invited me to audition. I was excited about it for sure. When I read the script it seemed very dark so again I hesitated, questioning whether or not this is what God wanted me to do. Again, something in me turned and I said you know what I’m gonna do it. I went for it and got the role. The film was called The Donation.
Fast forward a few months and Valencia college is having their annual film celebration in which they screen all of the films made from Valencia that year. AGAIN I wasn’t sure if I was going to make the trip to Orlando to go but I said: “you know what, I’m gonna go.” Lol.. so my mom and I headed there. Now what I didn’t know was that a feature film was also being shown there. I believe a group of Valencia students worked on the project even though the film was not fully in association with the school. If my memory serves me correctly the director of the film had been asked to screen the movie at the celebration which I do not believe happens too often if at all.
Because this film happened to be screened at the same time as the film celebration I was able to meet the angel herself Erin Beaute who God would use to open doors for me left and right. So, back to the story. There I am sitting watching all the films come on. The two films I was in happen to play back to back which was really cool. The lights come up after the film I think it was for intermission and I get a tap on my shoulder. It’s Erin who I am now meeting for the first time. She says she loved my work and would like me to audition for her film coming up. We exchanged information and I went home very happy. Come to find out Erin is an amazing actress who has been on shows like The Vampire Diaries, Shots Fired, and more. So now I’m even more excited. *pause for a quick disclaimer* I didn’t even mention that on this exact day I released my first ever poetry book titled Weather Through Death (more on that later.)
So fast forward about a week or so and I’m at the audition for Erin’s film Birds Eye and I’m having an amazing time. There I meet Molly Smith, one of the most gifted people I’ve ever met. She’s helping out with the casting process of Birds Eye and lets me know she’s casting for her upcoming film called I Don’t Know and would I be interested in auditioning. She says it will have to deal with spoken word poetry and do I like poetry at all or am I interested in something like that. My mouth drops. “I literally just published a poetry book on Amazon” I said. She lights up, I light up and it’s a definite cool moment. Bird’s Eye is now being made into a feature film!
I Don’t Know
Now if you took the time to read that extra-long story underneath the Birds Eye tab you’ll know that I essentially got this role through meeting Molly at the Birds Eye audition. This role right here is a blessing on so many levels that I don’t think I could properly articulate how I feel about it. I play Micah in the story someone who comes to use spoken word poetry as a release of all of his past traumas. This story was monumental for me.
Growing up I experienced a lot of the same situations Micah found himself in. Before this role, I was in need of a therapeutic outlet for those deeply surpassed childhood traumas. Molly was able to write such a universal screenplay that related to not only just me but to the lives of many others who have gotten to see the film. Molly is truly special in my eyes besides the fact she is a gifted artist she was able to write about the African American experience in a way that was no way cliche and in no way stereotypical. I think it’s safe to say had you not gone into watching the film knowing she wrote it you would think another black man or women must’ve written the script. I don’t know what gifts God has placed inside of her nor is it my place to try and dissect and understand those gifts I just know she’s amazing and I’m blessed to know her and her family.
Through this film, I was able to attend many film festivals and before this, I had only gone to one. I got to walk red carpets, talk to media, be a part of an award winning film, and many other things. All of which I had never done before. I can’t wait until we have the opportunity to work together again.
Getting the role of Pass Over is to this day one of the happiest moments of my life. I’d been praying for an opportunity to get out of Jacksonville and do what I loved and this was it. I flew back and forth to LA for the audition and the callback. I saw early on in the audition process how God's hand was on this. I originally went in to audition for the role of Kitch but read for Moses as well. I immediately felt a loving connection with the director, casting directors, and the team of people in the room. During the call back I was called back for Kitch again and as I left the audition I felt good but something felt strangely incomplete. I headed down the street to call my lyft ride and head back to my Airbnb when I got a phone call out of the blue from my friend. I found a nearby bench and we talked on the phone for a minute before one of the casting directors came to see if I was still outside, they wanted me to read for Moses again. I quickly hung up the phone and ran in. The audition went GREAT. I was notified while on the flight headed home that I would be getting the role of Moses. Had my friend not called in that exact moment I would've been around the corner walking to call my lyft. That is God's hand. Of course, everyone's next question was "where are you going to stay?" with which I would answer I don't know but I'm not worried I know God will provide. So as the move inched towards being a month away doubt started to creep in and I started searching instead of waiting. My friend Eric helped me search but every option I found wasn't affordable at all. It was two thousand dollars and up or right under two thousand. Out of nowhere, the next day I get a text from one of my friends in LA saying one of her roommates had to suddenly move out due to certain circumstances and would be gone for the exact months I would need to be here in LA for the play. My rent would only be $800 in an amazing area and a spacious apartment. I packed my bags and moved to California. I knew I needed to put everything I had into this. I sacrificed a lot and knew I would miss my family and friends. I knew I’d have to sacrifice that time with them. In my mind, this was my one shot.
The entire process of rehearsals and everything was really beautiful. Over several months, I bonded spiritually and emotionally with Mosses, the directors, the cast and the creative team. We woke up and worked hard 5 days a week 4 hours a day including two back to back 10hr tech rehearsals during the last run of preparation. Everyone involved worked extremely hard to make this production the best they possibly could. The week of opening everything went downhill literally in 24hrs. I will not go into full detail. There are articles in the LA times, and KCRW about it. Our director was wrongfully fired the week of opening during our tech run and the creative team stepped down In solidarity as well as the cast. I’ve experienced significant disappointments and suffered through depression but this was undoubtedly the most heartbreaking moment of my life. I lived in LA in 2016-2017 while I attended Stella Adler and those close to me know that was the year I went through a lot and contemplated suicide every single day. I left to come back to Florida and get myself together. That’s where I discovered poetry was therapeutic for me. So me building up the courage to come back to ground zero for a majority of my pain was a big deal. This whole experience with Pass Over getting canceled was very traumatizing and triggering.
.... I wrote this when I moved back to LA before rehearsals began.
I sat and cried in the dentist parking lot before I officially stepped down and talked to God. I trust Him and I know He didn’t bring me out here for no reason. I know He has a plan and a Will that is being accomplished and that is bigger than just my own personal interests and goals so I need to remain obedient to what I feel Him telling me to do and get out the way. I KNOW and BELIEVE this with everything in me. At that moment we did what we knew was right. Great things WILL come from this. I know God is just setting the stage for a platform bigger than any of us could even fathom all for His Glory.