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My Conversation with Charles Holt: Actor, Storyteller, and Author

I had a great conversation the other day with a guy named Charles Holt. As a young man, his grandmother hoped he’d be a preacher (“Martin Luther King, Jr. was a preacher, and you could be preacher, too!” she said). His parents hoped he would be a leader in business. His brother and his uncles wanted him to be a football star. And in order to appease them all, he tried all those things. All of 'em. But in the end, after giving all of those things a fair shot, with just $400 in his pocket, he struck out for the bright lights of New York City on the recommendation that he ought to try out for a role in Smokey Joe’s Café.

That was the beginning of a bright career as an actor, storyteller, recording artist, and author. Mr. Holt was in the Broadway cast of The Lion King for more than four years. In Europe, he was the first black actor to play the lead in the stage version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He’s currently touring a one-man show about the Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the songs of the Civil Rights Movement called Martin and Music.

With a resume like that, you’d think he’d pretty much be thumbing his nose at his family, saying “See, you all wanted me to do other things, and here I am, doing the thing I was born to do. Shame on all of you.”

You might think that.

Rather, Charles Holt gets all reverent when he talks about his grandmother – the one who wanted him to be a preacher. She taught him to love music. Taught him his first few songs: Church Hymns. She also taught him about the Civil Rights movement, which is right at the heart of the work he’s doing now. He gets all reverent when he talks about his parents – the ones who wanted him to be a business leader. His mother told him “Get an education, son. Start with high school – that’s the only free education you’re going to get. Everything else will cost you.” Those words: That’s the only free education you’re going to get, helped him get his diploma, and set the stage for the further education he’d get in college. Even the encouragement of his uncles to be a football star taught him about having a dream, and what a dream costs to attain.

The point is, whether he saw it or not when he was a kid, Charles Holt now sees the wisdom that his parents, uncles, and grandmother had in their pockets for him. And while his dream was a little different than their dreams for him, he attributes much of his success to the influence they had on him. It seemed to me to be an important lesson: to find yourself -- your path -- but also to recognize the debt that your wings have to your roots. 

From the desk of Sam Payne, host of The Apple Seed on BYU Radio.

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