A young actor scurries to the stage, stomping his feet against the floor and clapping his hands to the swinging melodies that enchant the crowd. In a black bow tie, he shouts, “I got the gospel of the Harlem Renaissance!”
The crowd roars, “Encore! Encore!”
Bending before their applause, at 5 years old, director of the Black American Theater Walker knows a thing or two about growing up off Broadway. As Little Samson in the 1920s musical “The Gospel of the Harlem Renaissance,” Tajmal Walker continually saw his father, director Titus Walker, project a positive image of the African-American community. Originally named the Ujamaa Black Theater in 1977, the stage shared stories that were once only reserved for the dinner table or the nightly news.
“Theater is an important medium because it reinforces education and communication,” the director said. “The theater re-enacted heroes like Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X … bringing the images to life,” said Walker.
Raised in the Bronx, Walker has been on stage since he was in diapers and played the role of Young Titus in his father’s “Tribute to Malcolm X: A Story for My Hero” and Tommy Mead in “Why Don’t You Read a Book Today, Tommy Mead?” among others.
“I grew into these characters, being a child actor to an adult actor,” said Walker.
In the 1980s as a childhood fan of late pop idol Micheal Jackson, he not only had him posted on his wall, but believed in his message as well. “He’s more than just creative entertainment to sing and dance, he’s good for putting the message out there,” said Walker
While studying business administration and finance at Monroe College, Walker recorded his famous song “Welcome to the Black Power Album.” Following in his father’s footsteps, Walker’s music communicated a message of activism and strength. “We are a people who will bring, pride and education,” said Walker.
Despite the monetary rewards, he always remembers his father dedicating his life to the theater. “He had a natural drive and passion to do what he had to do. The fight was to do something for his people; he wasn’t trying to sell stuff,” said Walker.
At the height of his father’s career, the nonstop work ethic soon caught up to the 54-year-old. Leaving behind four children, it was an emotional time for Walker because not only did he lose his father, but his companion as well. “[I] miss him as a dad and best friend,” said Walker.
Walker keeps both the theater and his father’s spirit alive with original and new theatrical productions like “Right to Life,” “For the Love of my Black Woman,” “The Gospel of the Harlem Renaissance” and Walker’s own “Barack Obama Sr. Story.”
“It’s therapeutic. Theater’s that craft you can release the frustration of just dealing with the day-to-day,” said Walker.
The Black American Theater will be showing “The Gospel of the Harlem Renaissance” on Oct. 6. For tickets, call 646-938- 3854. For more information, visit batnyc.us.com.