This past week I had the privilege to speak with the well-renowned actor and active All for Africa supporter Gbenga Akinnagbe. Many know him as the assassin on HBO’s series The Wire or the Nigerian barber in Showtime’s series Barbershop. Gbenga has played roles in the films The Savages, The Taking of Pelham 123 and Edge of Darkness to name a few and most recently has been working on the upcoming comedy Lottery Ticket starring Bow Wow and Ice Cube. As the Honorary Chair of the Associate Board at All for Africa, Gbenga is as an important and very much respected member of the All for Africa family.
At the onset of our informal interview, Gbenga informed me that he had spent his Fourth of July weekend resting after undergoing a painful foot surgery carried out to correct his seriously flat feet. Despite the unfortunate situation re: his not-so-fun foot injury he was surprisingly upbeat and ready to share information about his upbringing, acting career, and his involvement with All for Africa.
Born in Washington DC, Gbenga was the first American-born child of Nigerian parents. Gbenga moved to Maryland at an early age where he grew up alongside his five other siblings. In the fall of 1996, Gbenga was recruited to wrestle at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA. Gbenga noted that he was thankful to be recruited by the Division I wrestling team as it gave him the opportunity to “go to a great school and get a great education”. He went on to explain that wrestling, “helped me to achieve many other things in life… I was able to redirect the stamina I developed from years of wrestling into other outlets of my life”.
Gbenga has always held a strong interest in the politics of the world. After graduating from Bucknell in 2000, he went on to work in the congressional affairs department for the federal agency known as “The Corporation for National Service”. He spoke fondly of his years with the agency (which serves as the headquarters of americorp) as he went on to explain that “fighting for funding for americorp members was a lot of fun for me”.
When asked what had inspired him to begin acting, Gbenga told me that a friend of his introduced him to the idea of taking on acting as a career. Unlike most of today’s actors, Gbenga did not grow up taking numerous theater classes, attending countless auditions and/or performing in various plays, on television shows or in films. He explained that it was not until after he had graduated college, had worked for the National Service and had what turned out to be a life changing conversation with his friend about the prospect of making a career out of acting that he “became curious” about the field. Gbenga quickly took action to learn more about his newfound interest, “I looked up information about acting online, bought some books and went to auditions”.
Recently Gbenga has taken his talents beyond the acting realm as he has begun pursuing a career in writing. Over the past two years he has written a few articles that have been published in The New York Times; one regarding his hiking experience in the Himalayas and another about his severely flat feet. Gbenga explained that although he “thought it might be a one time thing”, referring to his first article published in The New York Times, he has recently been given the title as a free-lance writer for the well-established newspaper!
I went on to ask Gbenga why he has chosen to support All for Africa over all of the other non-profit organizations that exist. He explained that “Aside from the fact that the organization is supporting the continent of Africa… I have chosen to work with All for Africa because the organization is procreating self sustaining programs”. According to Gbenga, “the only things that can help Africa are self-sustaining micro economies”… he believes that the “answers and solutions to Africa’s economic problems come from the continent”.
Gbenga explained that there are “few non profit organizations that promote self-sustaining programs (in Africa) on such a large scale”. He concluded that he is “excited about what All for Africa is doing here in the United States and in Africa to bring awareness to the importance of sustainable development”.
As we began to wrap up our conversation I took the opportunity to ask Gbenga a few questions about his latest work in the comedy Lottery Ticket, which hits theaters on August 20th. Gbenga filled me in on what life was like on the set of the movie. He said that he was very happy to work again with Ice Cube and that it was exciting to work with Bow Wow for the first time. He described Ice Cube and Bow Wow as “cool cats” who are “hilarious” and “fun to work with” both when the cameras were rolling and when the actors were simply hanging out around the set. Gbenga said that he has been “excited to be hearing good things” about the movie and is “excited to see how the public reacts” once it has been released.
Gbenga is looking forward to taking part in All for Africa’s Palm Out Poverty week festivities, which will take place during the week of September 28th- October 4th. These events include a Golf Outing on Tuesday, September 28th at the Glen Arbor Golf Club, an Art Festival featuring a showcase of African Art and an educational discussion on Wednesday, September 29th as well as the Palm Out Poverty Festival on Monday, October 4th which will take place at The Marquee and will include world-renown African entertainment, food and beverage, celebrities and dancing! Be sure to save these dates so that you too can join in on the festivities and help support sustainable development projects across Africa!
All of us here at All for Africa are looking forward to supporting Gbenga in his latest endeavor by checking out Lottery Ticket this summer, as he has been actively supporting our cause since he joined the organization in May 2008. Best of luck to you Gbenga with a quick foot recovery and with the release of your latest movie!
By, Meredith FitzPatrick