Sullivan Walker
Wants to Give Back
By Annan Boodram

New York: Veteran actor/playwright, Sullivan Walker has identified a way of establishing a school for Caribbean arts and fulfilling a dream.Through a series of mini-workshops this fall and winter, Walker hopes to jump-start the school project as a means of giving back something to the Caribbean community.
Giving back is important to Walker, who in more than three decades has carved out a noted career as an actor, writer, director and teacher. He's done Broadway (August Wilson's "Two Trains Running") and television (he had a recurring role as Bill Cosby's physician friend, Dr. James Harmon, on "The Cosby Show").
"The target date for the school is 2001, summer," said Walker, who has long believed an educational institution would be an effective vehicle to give children of all backgrounds a solid foundation in educational basics and offer them an opportunity to delve into theater, the arts and Caribbean culture.
His return to New York - he lives in Flatbush when not visiting his daughter in Jersey City - is more than a return to the city he emigrated to from Trinidad back in 1969.
It's also a return to his first job, teaching. Walker, as part of his Caribbean Experience Theatre, is running several workshops out of Space 24 (241 E. 24th St. in Manhattan), grouped around the theme "How To Make It in Movies, Theatre and Television - Even With an Accent!"
"You can go to school and learn not to speak with an accent," said Walker, who intentionally retained the slightly British lilt to his voice. "I chose to keep mine. It gives me an edge."
The workshops are a preface to Walker's real dream: a School for Caribbean Arts and Culture that he hopes to open next summer as a charter school.
The institution would use dance, theater and literature to give a "deeper understanding of the rich, complex cultures and values of the Caribbean."
"There is more to Caribbean culture than steel pans [drums,] reggae and calypsonians," Walker said. "Our cultures are rich and diverse. I want to take Caribbean culture mainstream. We have much to share with the world."
Walker came to the U.S. after a one-man show he created placed third in a Scouting for Talent contest in Port of Spain, the Trinidadian capital.
"First prize was a car, second a room of furniture, third was a trip to New York," he said.
He left the grandparents who raised him and flew to New York, settling in a Harlem that was gripped by the civil rights struggle and heroin.
Harlem also was home to a vibrant black theater.
"I got dumped right in the middle of it, with no family or friends," Walker said. "I learned pretty quickly how to make a way and how to make decisions."
It took three months of walking the callback trail by day and delivering packages, washing dishes and working in mail rooms before he landed his first role, a $75 a week gig in the play, "A Season in the Congo," running at the Harlem School of the Arts. "Seventy-five dollars a week. I thought I had arrived," he said.
But the run ended and Walker decided to use all of the sudden time on his hands to write some of the stories his grandparents, Adam and Clementina Deacon, told while raising him. He wrote them, then performed the works at one-man shows about town.
Around the same time, Walker used his training in early childhood education - he's reluctant to give his age but notes he earned an education degree before moving here - to run an after-school program at the Williamsbridge NAACP Center.
He did a lot of theatrical work before landing a role as an understudy, first to James Earl Jones and then to Delroy Lindo in "Master Harold and the Boys."
This time he was really on his way.
He moved to Los Angeles almost 10 years ago, nailing starring roles in the short-lived "Where I Live," and "Earth 2" television shows while continuing to work in movies and theater.
But Walker returned to New York in April, intent on opening a school where he could share the lessons he's learned about his craft with others, particularly Caribbean immigrants interested in the arts, but also with people who work closely with them.
"We have to take the responsibility of educating America as to who we are," he said. "All you have is yourself, and your belief in yourself has to be greater than anyone else's disbelief in you."
Walker has lined up an impressive group of individuals to serve as the school's board of directors. They include Grace Blake, film producer and former manager of the Apollo Theatre Foundation; Alston Pilgrim, adjunct professor of mathematics at Medgar Evers College and an instructor at John Jay High School; attorney Gemma Thomas; attorney Rosemary Kilkenny, assistant to the president of affirmative action at Georgetown University, and educational consultant Sheryl Baldwin.
For information on the upcoming workshops, the auditions, or the charter school, call Walker at (917) 443-6865.