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5Q4: Amos White

For a little over three years now, I’ve been a very blessed actor, performing in Words That Made the Difference, a play by Dr. Cindy Acker that tells the story of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown vs Board of Education decision. Extraordinary narrative, such talented good people telling it, but the best part of all has been being able to portray Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren on one end of the stage, while the amazing and wonderful Amos White becomes Thurgood Marshall at the other end. I’ve known Amos for years, we’ve shared poetry, tales from our past, discussions on current events, but to be present while he brings his voice and heart to Mr. Marshall is a beautiful and memorable experience. Deep thought and passion from the source, channeled by someone equally thoughtful and passionate. Here are his remarkable answers to 5Q4:Amos White.

Alameda Post - Amos White speaks and gestures
Amos White works with the nonprofit he founded, 100k Trees for Humanity. Photo courtesy Amos White.

At what moment did you discover that you wanted to be an artist?

I was born an artist. My mother played snare drum in high school in the ‘50s, and my father played cornet and went to college to be an orchestral conductor. There was always music in our house. But I had a love for comedy and would follow Nipsey Russel, The Flip Wilson Show, The Bill Cosby Show, and Sanford and Son just for the way their humor brought joy into the world, one skit at a time. I started to compose orchestral music in fifth grade. Got my first electric bass in seventh grade. Joined a rock band in ninth grade. Then I composed tragically horrible lyrics I called “poetry” from 10th grade thru senior year in high school. I composed my first real poem in college after I approached the Head of English Department with my 170 page tome of lyrics. He gently directed me into a creative writing course and within one semester my artistic life had been sealed.

Who was the most influential person who helped you achieve your goal?

My mother and my father were two of the most influential people in Columbus, Ohio when I lived there, and still remain so. There is no hyperbole there. My father served on 32 boards and organizations when I graduated from high school. He was a founding member of his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, in Columbus in the early ’60s, founded and held the first Martin Luth King Jr. Breakfast in the country in the 1970s, and his doctoral dissertation served as a foundational document to Boston’s school busing initiative, the first in the country.

My mother also was a powerhouse and a guiding light, who in her career as a “mom” in the ’60s wrote grants for community-based programs that operated out of church basements, to help establish them in the first wave of nonprofits in the mid-’60’s. She got her law degree while her three children were in elementary and middle school and passed the Ohio Bar Exam. She was tapped by President Carter to be one of 50 Americans sent to Iran to negotiate the American hostage release. While she was there, her ankle was broken in a stadium riot and collapse, and she was held captive for more than 100 days.

They both helped guide me in my achievements and continue to do so.

Amos White works at a 100k Trees for Humanity event. Photo courtesy Amos White.

Tell about the best—or a best—experience you had as a performer?

One of my best experiences was being asked to play on stage with the band REM during their Reconstruction Tour performance at my university. #Unforgettable.

Conversely, tell us about a pretty bad experience?

There are no memorable “bad” performances, for nothing is ever flawless. And “perfection” is the fleeting shadow of last night’s dream. There are only mounds of lessons learned in reflection at the close of every performance—after the clap, after the lights have dimmed, after the next day’s reviews. There is always something, if even a kernel, for you to build upon at the next concert, the next session, the next reading or performance—the next day.

Any advice to folks out there hoping to pursue a life in the arts?

First, keep your day job unless you have a solid community to support you, both emotionally and financially. Second, go all in with the curiosity of a child, the avaricious appetite of a student, and the patience of a saint. Third, seek everything that is new—especially things, people, languages, and experiences that are unfamiliar. Lastly, be confident in your delivery and open to the muse. You never know when serendipity will sweep you into a completely new company or direction.

Gene Kahane is the founder of the Foodbank Players, a lifelong teacher, and former Poet Laureate for the City of Alameda. Reach him at [email protected]. His writing is collected at

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