Brian White: Actor, Author, Activist
One in a weekly series about the Black AIDS Institute's Greater Than AIDS ambassadors, who are using their VIP status in Black America to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS and HIV testing and treatment.
Brian White has released his first book, Black Carpenter: Straight Talk to Build a Solid Foundation (co-written with Anna Cheshire Levitan), part of a multiplatform success-building campaign for youths. And White's co-starring turn in Tyler Perry's Good Deeds, which premieres on Feb. 24, comes amid a very hectic schedule for the 36-year-old actor and activist.
You describe your book as "a toolbox of essential life skills for the next generation." What prompted you to write it?
I have five younger sisters, and my youngest sister is 19 and a sophomore in college. I hear the conversations about what these young people are facing, and I believe firmly that if we empower them with tools, they can see a future that they want to experience for themselves.
And what are these tools?
I've been co-hosting the United Negro College Fund's Empower Me Tour (with Monique Jackson and Kita Williams of VH1's The T.O. Show), and we have been visiting HBCUs talking about education, scholarships, health and fitness, the arts -- the tools, I feel, that are necessary for young people to create their own success. I don't think there's anything such as luck in life. It takes a prepared person and a prepared mind and a person's ability to exploit the opportunities that they're fortunate enough to encounter. I want to pass along those pearls of wisdom, or at least that thought process and mind-set, on to the next generation so they can be empowered and not intimidated by the world they see.
It's not always easy motivating young people. What do you see as the challenges in reaching kids?
Fame seems to be more important than what it is that made you famous, and today these kids covet the fame itself. How can you show a little girl or a little boy how to become the next NeNe Leakes or Kim Kardashian? With the people I aspired to be like, there was always a process to replicate that involved hard work and sacrifice. When there is no process to replicate, you have kids trying to attain goals of fame and success in all the wrong ways. They're not really building a sound house. We were taught as kids to think like architects, to build from the ground up: You put in your education, you put in your hard work, you have integrity and character, and life will take care of itself. These kids don't necessarily believe that. We have to reinstill in them that this system still works.
I understand you're producing a Web series called, Nine, in which teens talk about teen pregnancy. And you're also very vocal about young people getting tested for HIV/AIDS. Why?
They're exposed to sex so much earlier. I mean, if your kid is on the Internet, you need to be educating them and empowering them to keep them safe. They're aware. As long as we keep the talk real and provide kids with the answers to avoid problems down the line, we'll be okay.
You've been talking about HIV/AIDS for years now. When did you decide to become a part of the movement?
Magic Johnson is one of my real-life mentors. My father's an NBA multiple All-Star -- Boston Celtics, played against Magic, is friends with Magic. And when I was a kid, Magic announcing that he had HIV really shifted my perception of who it affected. And since then, any opportunity that I have had to educate other people or become involved with the movement, I accept it gladly -- especially when I started acting. I mean, you're in front of the camera constantly, and 99 percent of what we get to say as actors doesn't really mean all that much in the scope of changing the world for the better. This is an opportunity to get in front of some cameras and say something that people need to hear. So here I am.
Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist, author and documentary filmmaker.