AT THE TOP of November last year, I sat in front of my computer screen, much like I am now, contemplating my relationship to Social Media and the digital world as a whole. Why am on it? Is it really adding anything to my life? What would happen if I... Yup, I deleted my accounts. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, all tossed in a can and lit with a proverbial match to watch it all burn to [electrons?]. Admittedly, a part of me wondered if it was the right move. But, even before the end of the 30-day "just in case you change your mind" holding period that each platform graced before "deleting" my profiles - we all know nothing really dies in the digital world - I was done. No remorse, no residual attachments to any of the posts, likes or followers. It was all now behind me. I was free! ...until a week and a half ago.
Just before the end of 2021, I acquired new Management here in L.A.; not bad for someone living here for seven, right? They were excited, I was excited, they were ready, I was ready, and then HAPPY NEW YEAR! A somewhat sobering entry into 2022, considering we had lost dear Betty White to the ancestral plane, but I digress. There I was, gearing up for my first full Pilot season as an L.A. resident, when a text with the big question came crashing into my world like an avalanche: "What are your Social Media handles?" *mouth. drops.* My Social Media handles?? I thought I was past that? I felt like Ralphie from A Christmas Story, when he asked for that Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle, and Santa said, "you'll shoot your eye out, kid..." I leveled up, like Ciara sang. I didn't need Social Media, Social Media needed ME! Okay, I didn't actually say that, but I was thinking it. After I cooly replied "oh, that? I haven't been on the medias since November," like I were newly enlightened after some 12-year pilgrimage through the Amazon - in South America, not the digital store - I was met with a bit of (professional) discernment. Suffice it to say, my sabbatical had officially ended and it was "highly advised" that I rejoin the fold. And so, here I am. Sooo... Follow me! Thanks.
In a moment of stillness, my mind went back to my childhood. In mere moments it was as if twelve years of my life were spread across a large canvas, in a collage of images and moving memories. I conjured all of the ones that viscerally connects to my creativity. Since most, if not all, of my biggest influences come from what my parents and grandparents indulged in, it is no wonder why I grew up an "old man." Specifically, my maternal grandmother is the greatest reason I can sink into a black & white film without an ounce of hesitation. She is the reason I appreciate Black films the way I do. She is the reason I can wrap myself in Mahalia and Louis Armstrong like I were at every live performance. She is very much connected to my Legacy manifesting. Two of the films I absolutely loved to watch with her were Cabin in the Sky and A Raisin in the Sun. Those reading this who know me might say, "of course, because you're an [Actor]," but may it be known that I had no idea, nor interest, of any possibility of becoming an Actor, then. It simply was not a thought until later in my adult life.
Ah, the many times I watched those two films. Cabin in the Sky was a joy to watch and sing along with - yea, song after song, word for word - but it was A Raisin in the Sun that ignited something in me that I would not quite be able to articulate, until that later point in my adult life. It was visceral. It was passion-driven. It was cathartic. At the time, I knew nothing about what it meant to be a 35-year old black man navigating the streets of Chicago, holding tight to a crumbling dream - I had never even been to Chicago - but I remember thinking, "that man is going to pop a blood vessel if he don't achieve it." To say that I was moved by Sidney Poitier's performance would be a debilitating understatement. I was changed. His Walter Lee Younger was the first I had ever seen, a performance that affected me so much that every other film I saw Mr. Poitier in, I would hope he had not lost anymore money to a gamble - though he very much had - and that he eventually came around to appreciating eggs. Every time, he was even better than the previous time. Every time, my posture corrected, my head lifted a litter higher, I grew taller.
When I heard news of Mr. Poitier's transitioning, there was a hush in my spirit. A physical void had temporarily appeared, as if he were the favorite Uncle I got to see every year, who was now no more of this earthly plane. I was as speechless as I was when I first witnessed Walter Lee; only this time, I was hurting more than he was when he lost that money. I lost a mentor he didn't even know he was teaching all these years. Then, I pulled up an image of him and, in that very moment, my back straightened and I grew again. In that moment I was reminded of every lesson I did not know I learned from him - from child, to man, to Actor. He unknowingly contributed to why I became the Artist I am today. The Legacy he curated during his life taught me that no matter what came my way, I had the power to maintain my Self and my integrity, proving to rise above and be better than my circumstances. Only now am I able to fully articulate this, because his spirit filled the physical void with a knowing that can no longer be denied. Thank you, Sir Sidney Poitier, for Being and for paving a way for regular Black boys to be extraordinary Black men. I won't let you down.
Donnell E. Smith