“I painted these walls black, this floor black helped hang those candles,” Anthony Anderson said, ticking off his long-remaining craft before sitting in the front row of the theater’s black box at Howard University, ” Black-ish “will soon star alma mater.” All you see here right now is what we did back in 1988. “
1988. That was when a theater kid from Compton, California, flew about 3,000 miles from home to begin his first year at “Mecca,” what Howard students call the talent’s historic black fountain. But the actor’s journey to his diploma got his teenage years on the sidelines. Now, three decades after Anderson was due to receive his bachelor’s degree, the 51-year-old has returned to the place where it all began to finally hear his name called.
But first there is all the nostalgia to contend with.
“Yes,” said the TV star with a deep sigh. “It’s all coming in full circle now.”
“I did not know it would be as emotional as it is.… To enter this room, to enter this building, to see faces that were here when I was a young, 18-year-old, light-eyed dreamer, He said, slipping into a contemplative mood.
Such a face appeared in the theater to congratulate him – a professor who taught him back in the 80s. “Lord have mercy,” cried Anderson. She had not seen him in decades. Really, not even on TV? “Oh, you know, I don’t usually look at that kind of thing,” she explained. He promised to come by her office later and then maybe even come back to college to teach one day. “It’s always been my dream.”
Growing up ‘Black-ish’: The show’s young stars reflect on its heritage
For most university children, the exam day is not the finish line, it is the starting block. The eyes are forward with a focus on the future, not the past. But on this rainy Saturday in May, Anderson’s eyes are on everything and everyone at once.
The threads that tie together the actor’s exam are thick. In an hour, his good friend Taraji P. Henson, who attended Howard with Anderson, will give the opening speech. Veteran actress Phylicia Rashad, best known for her role in “The Cosby Show” – a forerunner of Anderson’s own “Black-ish” – is the dean of the renamed Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts. Anderson’s son, Nathan, came to Howard four years ago. The plan was for the two to go on stage together.
“Real life got in his way,” said Anderson, who knows that story all too well.
As a senior in high school, Howard was the only school on Anderson’s radar, the only one he applied to. The halls, he said, were sacred. His first visit to Washington was to the NAACP’s ACT-SO national competition, which recognizes talented high school students across the country. The boy from Compton received the gold medal for performing with a Howard University T-shirt he had bought from a street vendor draped over his shoulders.
What was that for a student?
“If I was amazing, then I would be done in ’92 when I had to,” Anderson said. “But I did not. I had too much fun.” By the second year, he was on academic probation and unable to renew his scholarship.
To pay for school, he worked odd jobs, including as a singing mascot for a gourmet dessert delivery company. Yes, there was a costume. Somewhere out there, there may be a picture of Anderson in black dance tights, a Lone Ranger mask, and a pink cap that reads, “If you ever need to be rescued, call 797-CRAVE.” But eventually his money ran out.
“I could not call home and ask my parents for it because I had three brothers and sisters who were still at home. So I left after my teenage years and I had every intention of coming back to get my degree, ”Anderson said. But life. He became a father, married his college girlfriend and started working. “And yes, here we are.”
When the clock ticked, Anderson needed to get his dark blue graduation dress over his suit. “We pushed it for you,” said Denise Saunders Thompson, a dean of the College of Fine Arts and a former classmate of Anderson. Saunders Thompson was behind Anderson’s triumphant return. The university decided that his 25 years in the industry counted for the 15 points he was missing. “I had to write a few papers, though,” he added.
“Full circle,” Anderson said for so many times as Thompson and his son Nathan helped him into the ceremonial decoration.
The Flood outside made a ceremony at Howard’s iconic farm impossible, so Anderson hopped on a shuttle to “The Burr,” the university gym, with other VIPs, including Dean Rashad, who he couldn’t stop smiling at. Before joining his other 2022 candidates, he considered his current “change season”: “Black-ish” ended last month after eight years in the air, and Anderson moved to New York to repeat his role as detective Kevin Bernard in “Law” & Order “comeback.
What would he tell the new alum sitting next to him on Burr about the next 30 years?
“Stay on task, never give up, and it all happens on time. But more importantly, it happens when it’s meant to happen,” he said, before making it clear he did not mean to be passive. “Get ready. That way, you do not waste time getting ready, because you have no idea how long that window of opportunity will be there. ”