Academy Award winning actor Forest Whitaker inspires Syracuse community

In his "The New American Opportunity" talk at SU, Forest Whitaker discusses his humble beginnings, the transformation of the economy and the importance of community building.

One of the biggest names in Hollywood visited Syracuse University to serve as the speaker for the Alpha Phi Alpha, Delta Zeta chapter's fourth annual Truth Be Told speaker series.

"Hearing his story can inspire and motivate people to want to do better for themselves and their community," Cedric Bolton, coordinator of student engagement for the Office of Multicultural Affairs, said.

Photo: Brittany Wait

After discussing his humble beginnings with the crowd, Whitaker shared stories about his early passion for the career he has made quite a name for himself in.

"The only thing that divided me from other actors was that I was so obsessed," Whitaker said. "I would be willing to take a line for a movie and I would only have that one line and I would work on it for a week," he added.

The seasoned actor has won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and many more accolades as well as starring in award winning films such as Lee Daniels' The Butler and The Great Debaters.

Following his discussion about his early begininnings, Whitaker turned the conversation to his mentor and the person who encouraged him to follow his dreams: his mother.

"You need to get out there and find what you believe in," Whitaker remembers his mother telling him during his childhood. "You have to believe in something."

Turning the conversation away from family and acting, the philanthropist spoke about social injustice, but did not claim to have the correct answers. His demeanor was very inviting and he faced seemingly tough questions with ease and grace. He chose his words carefully and answered questions from the audience well.

"He was specifically very warm and gentle in how he responded to students as well as the community," Bolton said.

One moment in particular stood out to many who attended.

"At the end of the night, a guy came," Bryan Cash recollects. "He said, 'I'm not in the same situation as everybody else that's here. I'm 34-years-old and I just got out of prison after 17 years.' He was saying he came to campus simply for the opportunity to hear Forest Whitaker speak."

Whitaker offered him words of encouragement and praised the man for attempting to reclaim his life. Whitaker's "The New American Opportunity" talk offered many moments of encouragement for the diverse audience. 

"The atmosphere was very mixed between different types of people," Cash said. "It wasn't towards a certain crowd, but it sure provided inspiration for everybody." 

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