Malik Yoba is a man of many talents. An actor, producer, writer, author, philanthropist, and marketing guru; he’s dedicated his life to using his successes in life to promote change and do good. In our interview with the multifaceted star he delves into his current projects, views on the responsibility of artists, thoughts on Jesse William’s Humanitarian Award acceptance speech, and who he’ll be supporting in the upcoming Presidential election in November.
Audiences haven’t seen you on their TV screens since your character Vernon Davis was killed during the Season 1 finale of Empire, tell us what have you been up to?
I’ve been running the world. [Laughs] I have been very busy with the company I co-founded Iconic 32. It’s a branding and marketing company that works at the intersection of pop culture and social good. At this point in my career it’s more about being the boss. I’m working on several projects. There’s Little Brother a series of short documentaries being shot in different cities that focuses on black boys and love. From an executive producer and writer perspective just busy creating and working content. Iconic 32 is working with TV One. Our relationship with TV One is growing, and we did movie the Bad Dad Rehab. The movie follows four fathers who have a lot of growing up to do as fathers and men. On their journey of maturity, the men find themselves enrolled in a focus group that supports men striving to become better fathers and men. This subject matter makes what we’re doing together really important. They’re this small scrappy network and I’m really proud of their new direction. It’s been a great couple of months getting to not only do the film, but being a part of the strategy. We knew we had something special at the American Black Film Festival. We’ve had screenings and you see the impact. In Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco, Florida, New York we hear from community groups and churches. I spoke with DJ Kut in St. Louis from 95.5 he goes “Why’d you do that to us” and then he tells me everyone was in tears. There’s power in that, it’s resonated with so many people.
You’re really dedicated to telling the stories of black fathers. This is the focus of Daddy Don’t Go, the documentary you executive produced with Omar Epps, can you tell us more about it?
Daddy Don’t Go is something we worked on for a couple of years. The response has been amazing. That and Bad Dad Rehab were both in ABFF (American Black Film Festival) at the same time. It follows four economically challenged young men over the course of two years who ride for their kids despite all the odds, always doing the best they can for their children. Part of the narrative that we don’t hear a lot of. What you hear all the time is about what men don’t do; but these guys really ride hard for their kids. I think that’s an important message to put out there. It’s funny I mentioned the reception around the country, I was on the phone with a woman from London who came to the screening in Miami. So we’re making arrangements for me and some of the other casts members to go to London. Same thing in South Africa. Someone else saw the film that wants us over there. So it also has a global appeal just like Bad Dad Rehab.
It’s clear that you’re passionate about the work you do in the community. How do you feel about Jesse Williams’s speech at the BET Awards?
I loved it. What I love about that is that the Humanitarian Award speech has gotten more love than any performance and that’s why we do what we do. Jesse, we’ve met over the last few years and he’s been very involved so I’m not surprised. He’s a very articulate and passionate dude. I’m very happy that people are paying attention, that’s a true artist. Make no mistake about it that was written and scripted and he delivered it like a great performer should. There are those of us that are very proud to pass the baton.
I was interviewing John Lewis last weekend in Washington, D.C. at a scholarship gala. In 1989 I was a part of the 25th Anniversary of the Freedom Ride. John Lewis was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders. I used to wear the uniform; blue overalls, a white t-shirt, and old school glasses. I’m 21 years-old, the same age he was when he joined the Civil Rights Movement and we were talking about how do you bring the Civil Rights Movement into today.
There were some young men and woman who were receiving scholarships or a part of our youth Phi Beta club for the kids. So in this situation where young people are sitting in the back of the room and this is a room of about 400 people; I moved them to the front and had them sit on the floor in front of the stage literally on the floor. I drew the connection between the fact that this man John Lewis was just leading a sit in a few days earlier in Congress and he hadn’t done that in 53 years. Here are these young people who have no idea who he is, but it was like a fireside chat with grandpa and he was able to pass on the knowledge. I said to him that’s where I was at 21 years-old, now I’m 48 and the youngest kid in that room was 7 years-old. When they shook his hand knowing this was the same hand that shook Martin Luther King’s hand, and then he told the story about what it was like to meet King for the first time; if you could see the look on these kids faces like “Oh my god” it was as if they had died and gone to heaven. That’s what it’s about. It’s about understanding our place in the matrix, using our gifts to make a difference; if we’re artists as Paul Robeson said we’re gatekeepers of truth. So whether it’s Jesse doing his thing or, whomever we’re all here to inspire and to motivate people and to move the needle. We’re not here just to entertain, make money, and to wear fancy clothes. People are suffering, especially now. With the political climate, race relations in America, and hatred in the world; we have to be the counterbalance.
Who will you be voting for in the upcoming election, if it’s you don’t mind me asking?
I think it’s time based on who we have in front of us, it’s time we had a female President.
Bad Dad Rehab premiered Sunday July 3 on TV One. If you missed it you can watch the first 30 minutes below. To catch the remainder of the film lookout for encore showings or screenings and make sure to pick it up when it’s released on DVD.