Actor asks about neglect of affirmative action

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Keith Powell played a straight-laced and scholarly writer on NBC’s three-time Emmy Award-winning “30 Rock.” Affectionately nicknamed “Toofer” on the show because he is both a Harvard graduate and a minority (two-for-one), his character brought a sophisticated, yet sarcastic style to the writers’ table.  

Powell, along with the cast, won a 2009 Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series, as well the Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in 2007, 2008 and 2009.  On the big screen, Powell starred in the feature films, “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” and “Syrup.”

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He became the country’s youngest artistic director of a professional theater when he founded Contemporary Stage Co. in Wilmington, Del., at 22 years old.  During his time at CSC, he produced, directed, and/or performed in plays starring Lynn Redgrave, Keith David, Jasmine Guy, Richard Easton and Sean Patrick Thomas.  In addition, Keith has appeared onstage at the nation’s top regional theaters in everything from Shakespeare to contemporary works, in roles that range from rappers to kings to the cognitively disabled.

 Keith divides his time between Brooklyn and Los Angeles and is a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

ROBIN BRONK: If you had five minutes in the Oval Office with President Obama, what would you discuss with him?  What issue would you like him to know about?

Keith Powell: I feel like you can get to know a person’s personality pretty well by asking them what kind of movies they like. I’d probably want to talk about the films we love, films we hate, films that inspire us, films that anger us. I’d really like to get into his head about movies.

RB: If you could ask the president one question, what would that be?

KP: I feel like affirmative action has been a pretty much neglected topic in this country, and I’d ask him how the next generation of minorities should overcome their inherent societal disadvantages.

RB: What piece of advice would you give President Obama?

KP: I think the president is already following this piece of advice, but I’d just reinforce it: Ignore the naysayers and the ideologues. You’ll never satisfy them. Pursue the agenda you feel is right in your heart, rather than what is politically expedient.

RB: If you were going to send the president to one of your favorite places in the United States for one day, where would that be?  Why? 

KP: I’d want to eat a lobster roll with him in Maine. And ... may I have two places?! Go to a bar in Wilmington, Del., (my home state) and have a Yuengling (our local beer).

RB: What music would you recommend that the president add to his collection? 

KP:Right now I’m listening to Alabama Shakes, and I absolutely love them. The lead singer is this confident, odd-duck young black lady who has such a thrilling voice. They definitely have a style and personality that is totally their own. 

RB: Would you ever consider a political career? 

KP: I grew up in a very political household. My grandmother (one of my parents) forced me to volunteer for all of the presidential campaigns since I can remember. I watch CNN religiously. I used to visit D.C. four, five times a year as a kid. So, I don’t know if it’s really a choice for me to consider. Politics is in my blood. I’ll probably become an activist at some point in my life.

Robin Bronk is CEO of The Creative Coalition — the leading national, nonprofit, nonpartisan public advocacy organization of the entertainment industry. Bronk is a frequent speaker on the role of the entertainment industry in public advocacy campaigns and represents The Creative Coalition and its legislative agenda before members of Congress and the White House. She produced the feature film “Poliwood,” airing on Showtime, and edited the recently published book Art & Soul. Bronk pens this weekly column with assistance from Risa Kotek.