By Brady Rhoades
Anthony Anderson, the kid from Compton, the Hollywood power player, is his ancestors’ wildest dreams. He knows it, he feels it, but it’s not just a dream, it’s a challenge as the biggest civil rights battle since the 1960s plays out.
So he’s emerged as a prominent figure in the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We are the boots on the ground that will make change. We are the blood of each other’s blood,” Anderson told demonstrators at a BLM rally earlier this year in downtown Los Angeles. “We must operate from an economic base. Recycle your Black dollars within our own community. That is one of the fastest ways for us to make change. Also, to make a change we have to get out and vote.”
He does it for George Floyd.
For Breonna Taylor.
For Jacob Blake.
For countless others.
He does it because he could have been another name on a long list that nobody wants to be on.
“Thirty years ago, as a sophomore at Howard University, I marched in a peaceful protest in opposition of the Ku Klux Klan marching in Washington, D.C., that same day,” he recalls. “The entire route was lined with every officer and U.S. marshal in the DMV area… In my rush to get to the end of the route to make sure my voice was heard, I marched past the police splinter unit and was now caught between at least 200 officers in full riot gear… As I’m walking away a white officer hits me from behind with his riot shield. I turn around not knowing what just happened and he’s standing there wielding his baton, yelling at me to leave. I screamed back, ‘I am leaving!’ He then, unprovoked, hits me across my left leg with his baton and after that all hell breaks loose. In all, nine officers took turns beating me before they threw me off a 6-foot concrete embankment backwards, blindly, as I’m being illegally struck in the head with the steel ring on the back end of the baton. I speak out not only for those who have experienced this brutality, but I also speak for myself.”
Anderson, who stars in the acclaimed TV comedy Black-ish and hosts
To Tell the Truth, has never held back when it comes to speaking out against systemic racism.
“This has got to end,” he said. “We need reform.”
Four years ago, Black-ish ran an episode about police abusing an unarmed Black teen. Three generations of the Johnson family grappled with how to discuss the issue. ABC has rerun the episode, titled “Hope,” as America copes with its original sin. You can still view it on Hulu.
Anderson spoke with Black EOE Journal while abiding by California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order over the summer.
“You can only organize your closet so many times,” he joked, adding that he owns 300 pairs of shoes.
Truth is, he made use of his time at home—going vegan, growing his own fruits and vegetables and losing 17 pounds.
He hosted an interview with Angela Rye for BET’s COVID-19 Relief Effort, and appeared on The View to speak about staying active while at home.
He formed a thread with Cedric the Entertainer, George Lopez, Don Cheadle, D.L. Hughley and Chris Spencer.
“We do push-ups and sit-ups and plan throughout the day,” he said at the time. “We hold each other accountable.”
That’s a through-line with Anderson, 50, a husband and father of two.
Make. Things. Better.
He was raised in South-Central Los Angeles, and saw police brutality, gang shootings, crack cocaine and the criminal industrial complex wreck lives and communities.
“I knew that wasn’t how I wanted to live,” he said.
He recalls gazing up at 114 Street and Success Avenue in the City of Watts.
It was, literally, a sign.
At 9, after moving to Compton, he attended a play put on by a community theater group.
He was inspired. He didn’t know it, but he had taken his first step toward superstardom on the Big Screen and as a TV producer, actor, host and writer.
Fast-forward to Black-ish, which co-stars, among others, Laurence Fishburne and Tracee Ellis Ross (daughter of music icon Diana Ross). The show, which ABC has renewed for a seventh season, has won a Golden Globe and NAACP Image award for best comedy series, and Anderson has earned several honors for his role as Dre.
In August, he was awarded a Hollywood Walk of Fame star.
But his entertainment career didn’t start off so lucratively.
“Some of the biggest hurdles I had were not getting into a room,” he said. “Who says this role has to be white? Why can’t it be African-American, why can’t it be Latino, why can’t it be Asian-American?”
In what Oprah would call an “aha” moment, it struck him. He was sitting across tables from people who couldn’t comprehend his questions, let alone come up with answers. It was nearly impossible to jump-start a conversation about equal opportunity, diversity and inclusion.
“I have to build my own table and seat,” he said. “We don’t have to sit at other people’s tables. We can invite people to our table.”
Anderson learned how to overcome the systemic biases of the industry and society at large from mentors, such as the legendary Bill Duke.
“The thing Duke taught us about was ownership and real power.”
He was surrounded by crazy talent and work ethic as a student at Howard University in the 1980s. Sean Puffy Combs was there. Denzel Washington spoke to one of Anderson’s classes.
“I realized that I was in the right place at the right time,” he said.
As host of To Tell the Truth, an American staple that originally aired in 1956, Anderson keeps things loose and fun. Celebrity guests have included Snoop Dogg, Mike Tyson and Jalen Rose.
His witty, pull-no-punches mother, Doris, has become a fan favorite as the scorekeeper.
“If you ask her, she’s the star,” Anderson said.
Anderson cherishes creating more opportunities to work with his mother. He’s working on a T-Mobile commercial campaign and a reality show featuring the two touring Europe and engaging in fish-out-of-water activities.
Imagine mom and son skiing in Sweden, or folk dancing in the British Isles…
In a trifecta of television achievements, Anderson also is a regular judge on Iron Chef America. His past television work includes a lead role in the TV series Hangtime, and starring in the Bernie Mac Show. He had several guest roles on NYPD Blue, Malcolm & Eddie, In the House and Ally McBeal.
He was the prime character in All About the Andersons, based on the true story of Anderson moving back home after graduating from college. A struggling actor, he spent most of his time eating, leading his father to padlock the refrigerator.
His film credits are impressive, as well.
He has starred in Liberty Heights, Kangaroo Jack, My Baby’s Daddy, Hustle & Flow, Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London and King’s Ransom.
But it was Black-ish—which debuted in 2014—that made Anderson a cultural influencer by inviting Americans into an African-American family’s home in a groundbreaking way.
Anderson’s character, Dre Johnson, is husband to Rainbow (Ellis Ross), son to Pops (Fishburne) and a father of five living in a predominantly white neighborhood. Dre is an advertising executive; Rainbow’s a doctor.
Dre’s from Compton, and he’s determined to preserve his family’s ethnic identity, culture and history. He worries that his kids are soft, and a bit clueless about the realities of being Black.
He succeeds at his efforts… sometimes. Other times? Not so much. But the show—which educates non-Blacks on topics, such as police brutality, racial stereotypes and the importance of Juneteenth—is on a winning streak with viewers, mostly because of its uber-talented cast, creative storytelling and light touch.
The show features sobering scenes, as well. Following is a discussion between Dre, Pops and Dre’s son, Jack, from an episode in which Jack calls the cops on some Black neighbors who are playing their music too loud, though Dre is already at their house and the neighbors have agreed to simmer the volume.
Dre and his neighbors end up getting drawn on by police, and forced
to the sidewalk.
Jack: So, you’re mad at me for calling the cops?
Dre: Look, I should have made it clear to you that we are not just homeowners. We are Black homeowners and because we are Black homeowners, we have to look at things through kind of a dual lens. We need to think about every situation and how it should go normally and how it could go because we are Black.
Jack: Like being asked to sit on the curb while they checked your ID? They didn’t ask any of the white people to do that.
Pops: It’s different for us, baby boy.
That was true in the tragedies of Floyd, Taylor, Blake, and on and on. It was true in the long, hard, triumphant life of John Lewis, one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s finest disciples. It’s true on the streets and in corporate boardrooms.
Anderson is intimate with the dreams of his ancestors, and the challenges facing his children.
“It’s all about opportunities,” he said. “It’s up to us to create opportunities for ourselves but also others. We need to usher in the next generation, and mentor them.”