"We don’t want to knock on anyone’s door anymore. We want to build our own door and our own building so we can create our own opportunities and be self-sufficient. This is not something that’s going to be around for a month or two; this is something that’s going to be around for a very long time."
"The idea of putting Black voices on a national stage has been a goal of Stephan and I. We used this past year to refine and polish B.L.A.C.K., form our board of directors, and launch the Black Academy."
Every major media outlet in the country has picked up the success stories of 29-year-old Shamier Anderson and 27-year-old Golden Globe-nominated Stephan James, brothers who grew up in Scarborough, Ontario's Toronto Community Housing. Now, their latest venture has also had a press roll out the likes of a blockbuster film starring a squad of Hollywood A-listers. The dynamic duo has launched The Black Academy, a company that gives back to their community with a focus on fostering and amplifying Black Canadian talent in the fields of entertainment, sports, business, and beyond. The Black Academy's four-year evolution began with the creation of the brothers’ not for profit organization B.L.A.C.K. Canada (Building a Legacy in Acting, Cinema and Knowledge), before eventually arriving at its current incarnation in 2019; after Stephan was awarded the inaugural Radius Award presented by his big brother, Shamier, at the Canadian Screen Awards. Though a momentous occasion, it was also bittersweet, because the pair knew Stephan would be one of a small number of Black people to step on the stage that night. It sparked in them a desire to change this reality.
They assembled an impressive board of directors, who Shamier calls "The Avengers", and whose growing list includes heavy-hitters like Alica Hall, executive director of Nia Centre for the Arts, Tonya Williams, award-winning actress/producer and founder of the Reelworld Screen Institute, and Wes Hall, founder of the firm Kingsdale Advisors, just to name a few. Judging by the brothers’ commitment to its success, Shamier, known for his roles in Wynonna Earp and Halle Berry's directorial debut, Bruised, and James, whose body of work includes the critically acclaimed Baldwin novel-based film If Beale Street Could Talk, and the Ava DuVernay directed Selma, appear to have positioned The Black Academy to occupy as much space as humanly possible within the field of art and entertainment. I had the opportunity to sit down with the brothers to discuss the details of launching their business as well as their plans for the company.
What programs or initiatives is the Academy working on bringing to fruition in the near future?
Shamier: We have an existing program, the Monologue/Poetry Slam, that we will bring nationwide. We started this off in Scarborough with ten different schools. We had hundreds of kids use poetry and monologues to show their stuff. They had the opportunity to win scholarships, mentorships, acting classes; the whole gambit to help springboard them into success. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we had to stop that program. But that’s one of the programs we will be relaunching with The Black Academy. We also have a partnership with the Black Screen Office headed by Jennifer Holness, who’s on our board, so we’ll be mapping out scholarships. Along with all of that, we've also established an awards gala where we will be honouring, celebrating, and really bringing light to individuals doing incredible work across all sectors. This is all happening in real-time as we speak.
This year, we've seen pervasive cellphone footage of unarmed Black people being murdered. How did that impact you and the quest to build The Black Academy?
Stephan: Of course, it’s discouraging to see these things constantly in the news. That being said, we’ve seen this for a very, very long time, and it's fuel for the cause. I had the opportunity to play John Lewis in a film called Selma and I’m well aware of the sacrifices our people have made for us to be able to do what we do today. What we can do is look at ourselves in the mirror and ask, what are we doing to empower ourselves? We can ensure we are part of the change that we want to see in the world.
Shamier: Ultimately, we don’t want to look at ourselves and realize we were the last-first. So, if this program can breed a new level of inspiration in young Black boys and girls and helps the next Stephan James or the next Shamier Anderson realize their dreams, then I think we’ve done our jobs. Some may call this unique, but we don’t see it as unique. We see this as necessary and long overdue.
There are very young, gifted Black youth who will be empowered by this news. Who or what did you look up to when you were younger?
Shamier: The village. The world knows we speak highly of our mother, an immigrant woman from Jamaica who sacrificed it all so we could stay alive, get through poverty, and systemic barriers that were in front of us to achieve success. The gracious Anne Mariam at the Wexford School for the Arts who gave me the platform to launch my career, and successful Black individuals who came to the community like Michael “Pinball” Clemons. These are the people from our immediate circle we were able to look up to, but on the national stage, it was difficult to find people to look up to. So the purpose of The Black Academy is to breed a new generation of talent, so it’s not just Golden Globe nominee Stephan and myself.
Finally, what sayings would your mom share with both of you growing up that you live by today?
Both: We've got books worth of sayings!
Can you give me one?
Stephan: Say your prayers before you eat!
For more information and updates about The Black Academy, head to: www.Blackisnow.com