Actor Speaks Up For Arts in Education and Service to Others

For more than four decades after his assassination, the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was honored on Fri., April 4, at the National Education Association (NEA) with special guest Malik Yoba, an educator, actor and humanitarian.

NEA has a rich and robust history of advocating for social justice, human and civil rights. Annually, NEA staff and leaders commemorate the life and work of Dr. King.

Yoba, who headlined the event, spoke about his time as a young student in New York and how those experiences influenced his life as a successful artist, who is best known for the roles he played in the Disney Movie Classic “Cool Runnings” and the hit Fox Television series “New York Undercover.”

Malik Yoba

From the fifth grade teacher who gave Yoba his first solo to the Spanish teacher who put a “dunce” cap on his head, “these experiences shaped me to be the man I am,” he says.

Working in schools that often face the extreme challenges of students living in poverty and schools with limited resources, Yoba believes that if educators can reach out to students and engage them in a way that makes them feel they matter, more students would be inside the classroom, rather than outside the school building.

His messages were powerful and spoke to the issues of cultural competency, classroom management, and creativity.

Yoba knows a thing or two about education. He has taught at Rikers Island High School, The Spafford Detention Center in New York, The Johannesburg Secondary School in South Africa and schools in Canada, Jamaica, Ethiopia, and Belize.

“If kids were able to meditate at the top of every class what would happen?” he asked. “I feel strongly of using arts to educate—I’m a product of arts education and I know that the lack of arts education has a direct impact on violence in communities,” telling the day when he was shot by a stranger and left for dead in front of his high school.

His near-death experience by gun violence set him on a path of social justice and would ultimately lead him to create a life of volunteerism, community activism, service to others and entrepreneurship.

“If you aren’t in service to others, what are you doing,” he asked. “It doesn’t matter who or where you are, you can always be of service to others.”

His role as a Humanitarian and Advocate for Youth, has been recognized by President Bill Clinton, UNICEF, Hale House, the Ethiopian Children’s Fund, McDonald’s Black Achievers, The Congress of the United States, The Mayor of New York City, The New York Police Department, The Urban League, The Conference of Black Mayors, The Congressional Black Caucus, Community, and Civic, faith-based organizations and business leaders throughout the United States.