In part I of this exclusive interview we caught up with him during a power outage in the Cayman Islands; where he saw the finished product and admitted to crying tears that turned to joy as he watched.
Hardwick engaged us with his inspiration for writing the poem that ended up being the verbiage at the heart of the work, expressed by the iconic African American male actors in the video. The words were his direct response to an email sent by the two women creators of Icon Mann, expressing their ill feelings about the Zimmerman verdict. We continue now with part II of the interview that was so compelling to this writer, it is being shared in its entirety, verbatim.
Omari continues to speak on what led him to use the poem he had written to create the video.
OH: …immediately you could hear God’s voice; if you have any belief in, you know, whatever religion you believe in – their being a higher power and I immediately just sort of quietly listened. Seven A.M. I heard Him say, ‘You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to create it, produce it, let it be something that is resounding not just with your voice, but let the words come out of the mouths of very strong voices, plural, and important people and let it be connected to Icon Mann since its in response to the email from these two women that started it.
Hardwick says that it was at that point that they went into overdrive, all from a poem with no edit; and over a period of 5 days – which included post production – he and his good friend, Momar Crae, a young director from Icon Mann, matched what they thought to the spirits and mouths of certain people; giving specific lines to certain individuals which resulted in the finished product. Omari points out that although the video was initially inspired by Trayvon Martin, it goes even deeper.
OH: It is for every single Trayvon, and those that are being killed and slain by our own people…Everybody keeps coming at us on ways like ‘why don’t you do something on Blacks killing Blacks’ and I’m like…duh, that’s age-old, that’s a broken record, that happens everyday; and so that’s not something that we’re ever ignoring but the poem is perhaps not listened to in entirety the way it should be because there’s a challenge in the poem [of] us to do better as well, and its not just pointing a finger at injustice…The intellectual irresponsibility of folks that are going, ‘Oh it wasn’t about race’ and perhaps it wasn’t necessarily but you are intellectually irresponsible and ignorant if you think race had nothing to do with this decision.
If you actually listen to the poem in its entirety, you will notice that there is a call to action to, as Omari describes in this interview, to “Brown and Black men who are killing each other.” The line in the poem states
Our march is a march of potential instead of a real spring back to season. It speaks to the potential we have to manifest our greatness, but instead of calling upon the native, ancestral abilities we once had and can have again, we choose to take each other out. As bad as the Zimmerman decision was, its equally as bad that all of these brothers in Chicago are being shot by people that look just like them.
LB: Why Trayvon…we’re talking about all these other young Black men who are killed. Now of course the obvious, we know why Trayvon, because of all the high visibility, but then you mention God speaking to you…Have you given it any thought as to why we’ve come to a nexus so to speak at this time, because Trayvon’s death really means…something.
OH: Yes, and I don’t know if I’ll be asked, so hat’s off to you, I don’t know if I’ll be asked a better question than that because you’re cutting to the core in almost a locker room type of way or at a bar leaning over and really going, ‘but why him.’ And I think really what it is, …its most exemplified in the title…There is never a moment that I don’t see Amadou Diallo …and the countless kids that have no name…that are from where I grew up in Decatur, Georgia to South Central to Detroit to the boroughs in New York to the wards in Houston and New Orleans; all the way over to Dade County, the parts of Florida I don’t ever think that those innocent bystanders…those that have been unfairly slain…don’t think that I don’t connect them…I’m always thinking about Amadou, I’m always thinking about the fact that Tupac [Shakur] touched a very special side of me and that if I never know who took him off this earth I can say, and not in the same way of course was he important to the world that Dr. King was or Malcolm X or Ghandi or John F. Kennedy – in his soul; whether JFK could politically do things that he wanted to have his soul do or not is not the question – the fact that these men had this yearning to wake up and matter in a way that they’d literally die and they literally did die if they didn’t get out what they wanted to get out…I think that what Trayvon exemplified is all of those kids that were of course at one point, Malcolm Little; that were Martin Luther Kings, Jr., 13-years old walking around Georgia Street; that were a young Ghandi in India…a John F. Kennedy trying to figure out [how] to be different perhaps than his father who was involved in bootlegging; and I think that…we are remiss if we forget that it all started at a little innocent boy nature of like, ‘I can tackle the world’, ‘I can do and I can be and I can smile and I can frown’ but see the problem is, when he frowns the problem is, as a Brown and a Black face frowning people then point a finger and say, ‘See he’s angry, stay away from him.’
Omari believes that because no evidence in the Zimmerman case pointed directly to race, there was a judgment that this kid (who we had seen pictures of with his father kissing him in his purity and innocence) ‘turned angry and turned around and fought Zimmerman.’ In the pictures we saw him just as this little boy wonder.
“We saw him as a really good kid,” says Hardwick. “It doesn’t matter if he…did some things that as adolescents we either did or thought of doing; that people want to label him as this rough and tough kid who had it coming. And you’re like, he can’t have it coming.”
Omari goes back to the earlier point about potential. He recalls all those killed including Tupac, who he places in the company of “all those great men who had the world go forward” and points out that, in Tupac’s ignorance of lyrics at times, all the way to his brilliance at times, he not unlike all of these men, had moments when they were misguided and then figured it out.
OH: You get this little boy, who sort of is an example of all of them, and he’s just walking in life and everything is a possibility. He could’ve been me talking to you now. He could have been you interviewing me. As president Obama appropriately said, he could’ve been him…He paints the picture because of the case of ‘OK, its 2013, perhaps its not specifically about race’ but in reality it still is about race and more importantly, he’s just a 17-year-old kid who had a shot. To be now literally shot because he turned around and defended himself and then for it to be told to the ears of those who are smarter than the average human being that it has nothing to do with his skin being brown or black its very, very heart wrenching and its disheartening that we’re not in a place where the majority of us, at least, understand what is really, really going on…He is such a sentiment and such a spirit of Omari Hardwick and of a lot of men that I know that I mentor and that are peers of mine so his spirit, perhaps via God…spoke to us and said, you know, ‘just speak out for me. Just run the baton…’ I went from 39 years of age back to 17 with this case.
Omari admits he has always been one that knows how to “be a duck” as he recalls one of his favorite acting instructors describe – in an effort to keep food on the table as an actor. Yet he never compromised his ability to be himself: A deep thinker who does not ignore opportunities to express the knowledge and examples that his own father, grandfather and elders he refers to as “Sidney Poitier types” instilled in him.
When told by an impressed Lee Bailey that he has opened a door with his insightful, in depth thought processes, and asked where his “activism” will take him from this point, Hardwick recalls how Denzel Washington once spoke about a friend of his mom’s; saying the same thing Omari’s mom teased him about and said to him in reference to having “a call to the pulpit.”
OH: Maybe she was actually being serious but I realized later in life that Denzel and myself…all of us got a pulpit. Its not necessarily [the] one that our families saw.
“Do you want to be an actor or an activist?” a Chicago actor friend once asked Omari. “I was driving away on Pico and LaBrea in Los Angeles,” he recalls, “and I was thinking, ‘They are both…Earth, Wind & Fire being my favorite group, and Donny [Hathaway] being my favorite solo singer; but I grew up on Rakim and Tupac and I still adore Nas and I think folks like J. Cole and Hendrick Lamar are doing a lot for music; and yet I was made to listen to a lot of Wynton Marsalis and the whole family and then I turned around in life and I said I like music that much because those brothers are all activists, Stevie Wonder included, and even The Beatles, George Harrison and John Lennon and they’re artists. So, if Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte were, then why must I be this person henpecked to this generation that hasn’t necessarily had activists in the position that Harry Belafonte and Sidney were in. They went to work, and they did great work and people revered their chops as actors and as thespians; but they were also marching.
Omari summarizes that he doesn’t see how the two could be separated, and believes they are “married to each other more than anything else in my life.” He admits that he doesn’t believe he could portray his characters in acting without having the passion that comes from his activist spirit; and doesn’t know if he could do the activist work he feels he is being called to do without having acting in his life.
“If this article is ever read by Maracka Omari, (the “friend” and namesake referenced previously), he would probably smirk because it was probably, rhetorically, his answer to himself as well.”
We thank you for taking time out to interview “actor-slash-activist” Omari Hardwick; or is that “activist-slash-actor? asks Bailey.
OH: (Laughs) I don’t know man. It feels blasphemous because I …I keep that to doggone Harry and Sidney and you know people like you, man. Your age group and my pops always said, you know, ‘When the gun sounded in our generation we knew where to run and we knew what race we ran. The gun sounds now [and] you guys take off in totally opposite directions. You bump into each other. You have no idea you’re even in a race. So its hard to think of myself as that but I definitely don’t mind being a bridge from your generation…to these young knuckleheads. I don’t mind being a bridge…
“It is what it is,” he repeats Lee Bailey’s mantra adding, “I have that tattooed on my right arm!”
Peace be with you, Omari Hardwick.