One-on-One with Hill Harper
He is referred to as actor, author and activist, but Hill Harper is also an attorney and a motivational speaker who frequently connects with audiences of all ages throughout the country.
By Yussuf J.Simmonds
Sentinel Managing Editor
In the age of technological advancement and mass communication, as a reputable businessman, actor and motivational speaker, it is necessary to cover all the bases relative to communication and technology in order to maximize an individual’s potential. Hill Harper, as an actor, author and motivational speaker walks the path of all the foregoing, and has decided to participate in the 2010 Digital Empowerment Summit at the University of Southern California along with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., Julius Hollis, Malik Yoba and Mario Armstrong.
Harper spoke with the Los Angeles Sentinel about the summit in general but also about his career, and how he does what he does so well and his ability to engage audiences on a wide range of topics. In addition, Harper also spoke about his focus on acting, his time at Harvard University with then fellow student, Barack Obama and how having a law degree has greatly assisted him in his daily business life.
In describing himself, Harper exudes an air of confidence in his ability as an actor, activist, author, motivational speaker and attorney, and when asked which professional title best describes him he confidently said, “All of the above; all of us can do so many things. We start limiting ourselves when we say I can only this or can only do that; it takes away our genius. So many of us are talented, brilliant and magnificent in so many ways, and I think it represents parts of who I am.”
As one who graduated from law school magna cum laude, it was astonishing to learn that Harper used his legal expertise to complement other areas of his life and career rather than practicing corporate or criminal law. He continued, “I never practiced law (in the customary sense); I’m just a board member of different organizations. Most notably, I was recently elected to the national board of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). But my law degree helps me in so many ways even though I never used it in the traditional way.”
Recalling his days as a law student at Harvard University, Harper fondly remembered his time there with President Barack Obama. “I’ve known our president for about 20 years,” he said with pride, “and it was wonderful to see that the person I knew that was so committed, hardworking and brilliant has been able to really use all of his skills to ascend to such heights, and to have a positive effect on so many lives. I am very proud of him and quite frankly, all of the people with whom we went to school.”
Based on his career path and numerous professional and community relationships his involvement in the Alliance for Digital Equality summit seemed to be a bit different from his other choices. So he explained, “Another class member of mine and the president, Julius Genachowski, who is the chairman of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), and also a friend of mine, I was called by someone here in Los Angeles and asked if I would participate. And this is so important because when we talk about new FCC guidelines coming out for Broadband access to technology and information, underserved communities historically haven’t had access to. We really need to educate folks what the FCC is bringing to the table and also let folks know what’s possible, and perhaps what they (FCC) is not bringing, so that people can demand it.”
In spite of Harper’s background as an actor/author/activist, it was apparent that he was very familiar with technology and the digital age. For as he went on, “The world is moving so quickly in technology that the new frontier, in many ways of equality and civil rights, is access to technology.”
Moving on to his literary ability, Harper has had three books on the New York Times bestseller list, Letters to a Young Brother, Letters to a Young Sister and The Conversation. The first on the list was the first book that he wrote and it’s his preferred choice. About it, he stated, “It won the American Library Association award for best book for young adults; I’m very proud of that book because so often our young men are ignored. They fall through the cracks and this was a book written specifically for all young men to catch them before they fall, and to motivate them and tell them how brilliant they are. And I’ve also named my foundation after the subtitle of that book: the Manifest Your Destiny Foundation and we do a lot of work with young people.”
Harper has been very energetic in all the things but as far as the focus of most of his time, he said, “It’s definitely acting; I’m an actor first and foremost because that’s my career, and I’m very proud of the roles that I’ve been able to play so far. And in the future, I want to play the roles that represent the best in us.”
In addition to the books that he has authored, Harper has received numerous awards including several NAACP Image Awards; civic resolutions from the cities of Los Angeles and Inglewood; Trumpet Awards; Tavis Smiley Foundation award; Black AIDS Institute award; Morehouse College Philanthropic Service award; and UNCF Appreciation award.