When Wesley Snipes’ mother decided to move from the South Bronx to Orlando in 1977, she was just coming home to the town where she grew up, to the place she left 15 years before. She was tired of living in a poorly maintained apartment in New York, tired of the cold.
It was also a way for Marion Snipes to spirit her teen-age son and daughter out of the city at a time when its less savory side might become most attractive to them.
For Wesley Snipes, who was then 15 and hadn’t lived in Orlando since being an infant, it was a disaster.
He was in his second year at New York City’s famed High School for the Performing Arts, and the world was just beginning to blossom. And then his mom had to pluck him out and land him in nowheresville Orlando, at Jones High, a school that didn’t have a drama program -or even a real drama teacher -when he arrived.
“After we came here, Wesley would say, “Dawg, Mom, if we had stayed in New York, I’d be in Fame’ ” -the movie about the High School of the Performing Arts. “He’d see kids from the high school in commercials and say, “If I was there, I would be doing that,’ ” says his mom.
But even at 15, Wesley Snipes wasn’t one to mope. Victor McGauley, who would become one of Snipes’ best friends and eventually his business partner, remembers the day they enrolled in school.
“It was Jan. 5, 1978,” says McGauley. “I remember because there were only 5 or 6 students checking into school that day.
“There was this little guy over here yapping away -“I’m from New York, I’m gonna turn this school out!’
“He was bragging to the big boys, “I’m an actor and I’m gonna turn this school out.'”
Last November, after 14 years, Wesley Snipes came back to Orlando as one of Hollywood’s hottest actors film his latest movie here. One day he walked unannounced into the high school he had graduated from in 1980.
When school officials invited him to walk around with them, near pandemonium followed, with kids pouring from their classrooms to catch a look at Snipes.
Order was restored only with the arrangement of an impromptu assembly -Wesley Snipes, turning the school out.
SNIPES IS STANDING IN THE galley of an Atlantic International L1011 airliner looking as if he’d rather be just about anywhere else in the world.
The pilot and a scattering of passengers are dead. Snipes -who happens to work for Atlantic International as a security consultant -is trying somewhat glumly to reclaim control of the airplane from an international terrorist with a dry sense of humor.
The light on a phone in the galley begins to flash. Snipes yanks it from its cradle. “Hijacker hotline,” he sneers. “Plan not working out like you wanted, a?”
Snipes has just dumped most of the plane’s fuel, temporarily frustrating hijacker Charles Rane’s escape plans.
“You’ve managed only to bring me some amusement,” Rane says. “I enjoy American ingenuity. It’s so primitive.”
The plane lurches, the doors to the galley food-cart closets swinging a bit.
“Hey, Charlie,” Snipes says into the phone, “you ever play roulette?”
“On occasion,” says the hijacker.
“Here’s the only advice I’m ever going to give you,” Snipes says. “Always bet on the black.”
He cradles the phone with just a hint of disgust and looks past the seven other people crammed into the tiny galley -the cameraman, the sound man, the terrorist reading his lines in a corner, assorted other production personnel -and says to director Kevin Hooks, “I want to do it again. I want to try that last line as “Always bet on black -taking out the word “the.’ ”
An assistant director cues the man in the scaffolding beneath the airplane galley whose sole job is to flash the phone light, and they roll through the scene again. Production assistants tucked into the food-cart closets slowly move the doors so the plane seems to be lurching in turbulence.
Snipes kicks his own smart-aleck last line just right. Without the extra word it connects like a hard right cross.
“Here’s the only advice I’m ever gonna give you. Always bet on black.”
THE LINE HAS SOME REAL-LIFE resonance that Wesley Snipes doesn’t betray.
In 1985, Snipes was just out of college, working as a phone installer and trying to find acting jobs. Today he is rapidly establishing himself as an actor of remarkable intensity and intelligence. He’s one of a group of young blacks making some of the most interesting movies coming out of Hollywood these days.
Snipes starred in two of last year’s most talked-about movies -New Jack City and Jungle Fever. In the first he played Nino Brown, a street-wise drug dealer with the savvy of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. In the second he played Flipper Purify, a rising architect who puts his marriage and his heritage on the line in an interracial extra-marital affair.
Snipes knows how to work the edges of a character or a scene, to find the small mannerisms and moments that make it click: drug dealer Nino Brown calmly peeling and eating a banana while listening to the threats of a Mafioso; anti-terrorism expert John Cutter saying, “Always bet on black.”
He’s spent the winter in Orlando -his mother, grandmother and a sister all live here, as does his business partner -filming his latest movie, a Warner Brothers’ action thriller movie called Passenger 57.
Snipes, 30, is just beginning to explore his range. He has two more movies in the can -White Men Can’t Jump, a basketball buddy comedy with Woody Harrelson that opened Friday, and The Waterdance, set for release in May, in which Snipes plays a paraplegic. And he has his next four projects lined up, including a movie with Sean Connery about a hostile takeover of America’s last computer chip maker by the Japanese.
It’s not hard to imagine that 20 years from now, Snipes’ career may look something like Jack Nicholson’s. Some great movies, some poor movies, but almost no movies that aren’t worth seeing at least once, just to watch Snipes work. He has the same ability Nicholson and Robin Williams have to completely become his character without quite losing himself. He brings a little attitude to every role.
Snipes is intimidating physically -he’s a big man, broad-shouldered, with an I-own-the-street swagger, and when he’s lost in thought he looks angry.
But off the set he’s friendly and accessible, with a mischievous sense of fun and a playful way with language.
Talking about Amen Ra Films, the movie production company he’s formed, he says it will allow him to make sure films get done “with the spirit that I do my work in. . . . Realistic, respectful. Exciting, entertaining. And in some way, form or fashion, culturally responsible.”
Talking about his philosophy of relationships with women (his first marriage, from which he has a son, Jelani, ended in divorce), he says, “If it’s to be forever, that’s wonderful, but if not, let’s enjoy the journey. Let’s hold each other, nurture each other, support each other, respect each other. Love, laugh” -he starts laughing richly -“love, laugh and lick, across the board.”
Snipes is acutely conscious of being a successful black male, and he talks constantly about his notion of the strong African man, what he calls “the humane man.”
“You are white and American,” he says, “you don’t have to worry about thinking about what kind of man you are.
“If you were in a situation where your average lifespan is 30-some years of age, it might change your perspective. If you had to worry every time you drove down the street and you saw a police car that they were going to pull you over, and you had to deal with the anxiety of reaching for your wallet, checking to see if all your passes are in order, your perspective would be different.
“Battling images that come up on screen and on television, which always show black males as being lazy, shiftless, adulterous sex fiends, irresponsible, just baby-making machines -you would be very conscious of being a black man.
“Hopefully, something in you would say, “Hey, I gotta do something to change this, ’cause that’s not what I’m about.’ ”
Snipes’ conversation ranges from Socrates to Malcolm X to Muhammad Ali, and his intelligence is infused with a streak of insistent independence that borders on rebellion.
His most intriguing ideas involve not the movies, but Orlando. He plans to open a bookstore here with his mother this spring; he plans to open a club here with Victor McGauley by summer.
Ultimately he’d like to open a school here.
“It’s not even like to, man, it’s have to. That is the overall goal -a middle school or high school of the arts and sciences, incorporating Eastern thought, Western thought, African thought. A private school I can control.”
It’s what the acting -and eventually the directing and the bookstore and the club -is leading to. “I don’t have the resources yet, economically, politically,” he says. “I don’t have, as yet, a real clear idea of the itinerary or the curriculum. And I’m not spiritually mature enough to manage it.
“But that’s one thing I don’t like about the entertainment business. All the artists, all they ever do is talk about acting or dance or music. That sh-gets boring sometimes. What’s going on in the world?”
TO WATCH A MOVIE BEING MADE is to be amazed that anything on screen is coherent. That it is believable, often exciting and sometimes moving, is a near miracle. In a good 12-hour day of shooting, Passenger 57 is lucky to get 15 minutes of film in the can. Snipes and his colleagues go through the same scene so often, it’s hard to imagine the final take having a shred of spontaneity or energy.
Events that come in sequence over a few minutes in the movie are often shot in the opposite order in which they occur, days, or even weeks, apart. The ability of an actor to convey seamless, convincing emotion across such gaps is a marvel.
It’s a cool February morning at the Sanford Airport, one of the locations for Passenger 57, and this weird world of modern movie-making is on full display.
Parked on the tarmac in a corner of the airport is a slightly shabby L1011 -a huge, wide-bodied jet that Passenger 57 has spent $1 million to rent. The jet is painted up with the logo of the fictional airline Atlantic International, and a former Pan Am pilot has been wheeling it around the airport -and the skies over the airport -like a sports car.
In a field next to the Sanford Airport’s small terminal is a full-stage carnival midway, also rented by the movie, for use in a chase scene.
Today, the place is alive with the cast and crew of Passenger 57.
Back by the fun house, in front of a ride called The Gravitron, Kevin Hooks, Wesley Snipes and the terrorist are talking their way through the scene that is about to be shot.
The scene is simple. Snipes runs from the wiffle ball toss to just in front of the fun house, looking desperately for the escaped terrorist. At the fun house, he skids to a halt and spins around in confusion.
It’s about 35 seconds of film, maybe 45, a flash in a longer chase scene. The complicated part is the 200 other people in the scene -the extras who make it look as if there is actually a carnival going on.
Among the milling extras is a knot of excitable kids from Jones High. At the Snipes assembly last November at Jones, the actor had offered a deal: Kids who could improve their grades and keep them up could be in his latest movie.
So many kids rose to the challenge that winners had to be chosen in a drawing. The lucky ones are on the set today. Snipes has just moments before set the kids buzzing by walking among them, slapping high fives, winking, stepping on one deliriously happy girl’s toe.
Now he’s the picture of thought, squatting on the ground, squinting up at Kevin Hooks.
“If the gunshots are coming from behind me,” Snipes says, “I can use the ferris wheel as a shield -if they’re coming at me JFK-style, at angles.” Hooks nods.
“If these guys start squeezing me” -the terrorist and his henchmen -“that’s enough. At that point, we don’t need anymore corny dialogue.”
“All right, man,” says Hooks. “So we’ll do it.”
An assistant director herds extras with a bullhorn, positioning the carnival revelers where he wants them.
Snipes takes up position in front of the wiffle ball toss. The terrorist he’s looking for is steps away, but he doesn’t see him.
Snipes’ job is to charge through the crowd, trailed by a Steadicam and the five people it takes to operate it.
“Take 1,” a production assistant shouts and holds the clapper board in front of Snipes. He grins and pokes his finger in the clapper just before she slams it shut.
Snipes settles in instantly, and charges through the crowd four times full tilt, each time roughly pushing his way between a pair of Jones High students who have made it to center stage. Walking back to the starting position after each take, Snipes jokes with the boys, occasionally making a suggestion about how they should stand.
After the fourth take, Snipes does a few tai chi moves to relax. He sticks his tongue out at a woman -an extra -taking his picture.
“Take 5,” an assistant director calls. “Hey, get that ride going, c’mon!”
Before take 7, the camera needs to be reloaded and the lens changed. The carnie manning the wiffle ball booth tosses Snipes a ball and he tries a shot. Misses. Tries another, misses. She starts feeding him balls in a near-continuous stream, Snipes fires off steady shots, each one bouncing off the rim of a big milk can. This is a man who just finished a basketball movie in which he did all his own playing and shooting.
The balls keep coming, Snipes keeps missing. Without warning, he vaults the counter of the booth, crying “Enough of this madness!” and slam dunks two wiffle balls simultaneously.
He steps back outside the booth, grins hugely, and wheels around to charge once more through the crowd. With take 7, Hooks nods, the assistant director calls “print it!” and it’s lunch time.
THE FOOD ON MOVIE SETS IS
legendary -with good reason. At all times on the set of Passenger 57, snacks are available -fresh vegetables, cheese and crackers, Pepperidge Farm cookies, cocoa and coffee, tea and soda. Meals are full-course affairs -from salad bar to ice cream and pie. In Sanford, meals are served in an airplane hangar, a corner of which has been roped off so a helicopter mechanic can continue his work undisturbed.
The jumpy, talkative kids from Jones High make their way through the catering line (there are separate lines, and separate classes of food, for extras and for the stars and crew), and as they straggle back to their table with their trays, they find Wesley Snipes waiting for them. At his elbow sits his friend and housemate, Keith Hickles.
There is a little awkwardness, the kids discovering a shyness that didn’t exist 10 minutes earlier, but Snipes plunges forward. “Everybody now is in what grade? Class of 1995?” The Class of 1980 grad rolls his eyes.
“And what are your interests? How many lawyers here? How many doctors? How many engineers?” A lone hand goes up for the last. “Hey, that’s a lucrative career -engineers are in demand.”
The kids loosen up rapidly, the girls more than the boys.
“We heard you and your friends were real lady killers in school,” says one girl. “That you played with girls’ minds.”
“Absolutely not true!” says Snipes. “No way!”
The girl scoffs, but in fact it was a standing joke at Jones High when Snipes was there that he didn’t have much luck with girls.
Another girl asks if he skipped school.
“At the end, I’ll be honest, I was late a lot,” he says.
“Ah, man,” says Hickles, “what you want to be telling them that for?”
“What, you want me to be fake and phony with these kids? Listen, don’t do what I did,” he says to the table, and bursts out laughing.
Although many of his movies have been rated R, the kids know them intimately. “I don’t understand why your wife was crying at the end of Jungle Fever, after you woke her up,” says a girl, recalling the closing moments of that movie.
“Well,” says Snipes, “sometimes you don’t have a chance to vent your emotions when things happen. It comes out at another time. Has that ever happened to you? That’s what was happening for her there.”
Snipes asks the girl, “Did you see New Jack?” She nods. “How’d you like that?”
“I liked it,” she says, “but I didn’t like you very much in that movie.”
“Good!” says Snipes.
Now the questions pour in. Has he ever been married (yes), is his ex-wife a white woman (no), how much money does he make (“can’t say exactly”), will he remarry (“I hope so”), has he ever been caught looking ugly (“all the time -every morning, with that stuff in my eyes”).
Snipes takes every chance to push education, and the kids don’t groan when he talks about it. “Your job is to improve, to work for the rest of your life to improve yourself,” he says. “If you can’t change yourself, you can’t complain.”
The kids want to know if he ever gets nervous. “I get nervous every time I do a scene. There’s 100 people standing around; if I make a mistake, I’m gonna look stupid.
“This morning -running through that crowd, that’s pretty simple, but I’m thinking, “The brothers and sisters from Jones High are here, if I trip and fall, I know what’s gonna happen.’
“I always say a little prayer.”
A production assistant comes up after almost 90 minutes and says, “I need this talent right here” -pointing at Snipes.
At that point, he deliberately takes out a stack of color photographs and spends five minutes autographing one for each kid while the PA cools his heels.
“Suppose you get tired of acting,” a boy asks.
“I’m gonna start a whole school designed for the arts and sciences,” Snipes says as he signs. “I’m trying to build up the money, build up the power, and build up a school. That’s the reason I act.”
This raises some eyebrows.
WHEN WESLEY SNIPES WAS IN the 10th grade, going to Jones High, he lived in a place many people are familiar with. Notched into the elbow of the highway exit ramp that leads from westbound Interstate 4 to the East-West Expressway is a small group of apartments, a project really, Griffin Park. This was Wesley Snipes’ home.
As nice as it would be to say that Snipes went from there to Hollywood, as dramatic as it would be to say that he went from the Orlando projects to the big screen, it is just a little shy of the truth.
Because by the time Snipes and his mother and sister came to Orlando in 1977 from New York, Wesley Snipes was already an eager, explosive performer.
Snipes says that when he came down to Orlando, enrolling in the middle of 10th grade, “My inner spirit was just fighting it -I just didn’t fit.”
But that’s not the way his teachers and friends saw it.
“He spent about 20 minutes being sorry he wasn’t in New York and then got on with his life,” says Susan Porro, who is now head of the English Department at Dr. Phillips High School and was then an English teacher at Jones High.
“He is totally into whatever’s real around him.”
Snipes fell in with McGauley and another boy, Ed Crosby, and the trio -all actors in high school -were known around Jones as the Three Musketeers.
In high school, Snipes was tiny -“5-foot-3 at the most,” his mom says -but he had the same playfulness, intensity and watchfulness then that he has now.
Although Porro had almost no training, she was in charge of the school’s drama program. She had Snipes in class that first year. “He was obviously so talented. His charisma, his electricity, it was just something he walked in the door with. We had almost no drama program, and he made drama the neatest, most popular program to be in.”
Karen Rugerio, a drama teacher, came to Jones the summer before Snipes’ senior year. “I had him in class his whole senior year. He was wonderful, delightful,” says Rugerio. “Energetic, enthusiastic.”
Snipes got the school to join the national Thespian organization, and at the first conference they attended, the Three Musketeers walked off with four awards.
Snipes did a string of roles in high school -almost anything he could find, including Felix in The Odd Couple.
“He was always extremely focused,” says Rugerio. “He wanted to stay at school and work, he wasn’t always running off.
“He could articulate his needs. “I don’t understand why you want me to do that,’ he’d say. “Okay, but why?’
“The only thing he ever gave it up for,” says Rugerio, “was to go play hoops.”
The biggest surprise of Snipes’ senior year for Porro and Rugerio came when he announced he would be missing a week of class to go to New York.
“He said to me one day, “I’m not gonna be here for a while,’ S Porro recalls. He had an audition from the State University of New York .
“I said, “You’re going to miss a week and half of my class? I don’t think so. How you gonna get to New York?’
“But he had set up the audition, he got himself a bus ticket, and when he came back he had his scholarship.”
Snipes has stayed in contact with both Rugerio and Porro. While in college, he would come to Rugerio’s drama classes during winter break, “and everything he’d learned he’d give those kids.”
The two teachers went up to see his senior project in college, a piece he wrote and performed called, “The Last Days of Omar,” about an old man who appears to be just a street person, but who was once a professional and has now settled into madness from which he can’t lift himself. Porro and Rugerio have followed Snipes’ career devotedly since he graduated from college in 1984. They can recall every one of his roles, including his first break on All My Children and a walk on he did on Miami Vice as a pimp named Silk.
Snipes now lives in Brooklyn and considers himself a New Yorker. “My sentiments, my sensitivity, is very northern, very New York, very streetwise. I’m fast-paced, I like stimuli, adrenalin boosts and charges, and that’s in the air you breathe in New York.” But he says he’s an Orlandoan “in spirit,” and the couple years he spent here in high school were important.
“I have an old saying I got from my grandmother -“You never really know the flavor of the peas until you get out of the kitchen.’ It means you have to go away from something so you can know why you came back.” Snipes is talking about his brief absence from New York -but the saying applies equally well to Orlando.
WESLEY SNIPES IS A STUDENT
of half a dozen different styles of martial arts, his favorite being capoeria, a melding of African and Brazilian techniques. He clearly enjoys both the physical power of the martial arts and the discipline they require. He brings the same kind of purposefulness to the path of his career.
Which is why, at first, Passenger 57 is a bit of an odd choice. New Jack City, Mo’ Better Blues and Jungle Fever were all movies in which Snipes played complicated, challenging characters -and they’ve boosted him to the point where more such work is coming his way.
In White Men Can’t Jump, Snipes is a basketball hustler who uses racial prejudice to help him work his con.
In The Waterdance, he is a paraplegic in a rehab center who has earned the nickname Mayor because of the way, as Snipes puts it, “he tries to school the newcomers in how to use all the apparatus, and how to keep their chin up, keep a positive outlook, and be thankful that God has continued their life.” Snipes spent weeks at a spinal injury rehab center talking to those who were paralyzed. “I realized very early on how valuable my legs are to me,” says Snipes.
In Passenger 57, he’s doing a Bruce Willis role -a lot of action, not much growth, nothing to discomfit the viewer. It’s not the first time he’s made what seems a surprising career choice.
His first two movies were Wildcats and Major League, both lightweight comedies about athletes. He turned down Spike Lee’s offer to be in Do the Right Thing to take a bigger role in Major League, although Major League was a comic book movie compared to the seriousness of Do the Right Thing.
“Spike had his career, man,” Snipes says. “I had to do something for mine. In Do the Right Thing, I would have been just one of the kids on the block. Major League was a comedy role, it afforded me a lot of fun, and it put me in a different genre from what people would have assumed that I played. Plus, I was getting paid a lot more money doing Major League, so it wasn’t a big dilemma.” He laughs. “I understand, Spike’s a brother, but I’m needing to get paid.”
Major League meant not only turning down Spike Lee, there was the danger of being typecast as a goofy black athlete -“getting stuck with all the movies Eddie Murphy didn’t want,” Snipes says.
“But my attitude about it has been, if I prepare myself correctly, my work will pave the road for the people I want to work with.”
Spike Lee picked him up for lead roles in Mo’ Better Blues and Jungle Fever.
In between, Snipes took another role with a lot of risk -drug-dealer Nino Brown in New Jack City. It was a film some said glorified drug dealing.
“On the surface, and as many people thought, Nino was just another drug dealer,” Snipes says. “And a lot of cats had the opportunity to read that role, and a lot of cats sat with me and talked with me, and I got scorned, I got shunned. Even Spike said, “Why are you doing that?’
“I said, “Spike, you don’t see what’s in there just yet.’ I said, “When you see it, when I’m finished with it, what I’m capable of doing with it, you will understand, you will get it.’
“You can color a role, you determine where the arcs are, you decide what type of flaws the character has. Nino Brown’s primary motivation was, don’t tell me to be morally upstanding, and have a great sense of respect for the culture, don’t tell me don’t use drugs and don’t drink and such, when the next week you’re in the Betty Ford Clinic. That’s a joke.”
If Passenger 57 doesn’t seem as meaty as the last four or five movie roles he’s done, Snipes is unapologetic.
“It’s not,” he says. “So why am I doing it? I play the hero, and you don’t usually have brothers as heroes. If we’re the good guys at all, we usually get killed off in the first few minutes. This time, everybody else is kicking up daisies.
“That’s the beauty of the way the career is working now. I get a say-so. The foundation’s been laid, the foundation as an actor. I’m an actor’s actor. I’m not a superstar, and I’m not a personality who’s in the movies. I’m an actor. . . .
“Passenger 57 is an action picture, that’s a new genre for me, it let’s me use some of my martial arts skill. It’s uncharted territory for a young black male who has dramatic skills, who can bring a little more to it -like Patrick Swayze, Mel Gibson, Kurt Russell. . . . And I get to play the hero, man, that’s fun.”
WESLEY SNIPES’ MOTHER MARion was born and reared in Orlando. She’s a slim woman with an open, expressive face and a resolute jaw. Marion Snipes is also a woman of tremendous dignity -“my main hero,” Wesley says -and she still works the same job she found when she brought her kids home to Orlando in 1977.
“I’m employed by Walt Disney World,” she says, and chuckles just a little. “Thirteen years. I’m what they call a “custodial specialist.’ I wash windows. At the Marketplace and Pleasure Island. It’s a job.”
She doesn’t need to work, and in perhaps the not-too-distant future she won’t anymore, at least not for Disney.
“It’s been a long dream of ours to own our own bookstore,” she says. “We’re going to do a bookstore out here in Pine Hills -it will focus on African history, black history, black writers and poets. Hopefully, running the bookstore will be my next job.”
His mom’s bookstore will be the first non-movie venture for Snipes and his old high school buddy, Victor McGauley. That Passenger 57 is being filmed in Orlando is simple coincidence -this was the cheapest place to do it that had the right facilities. That coming home to do a movie fits perfectly with Snipes’ future plans -he calls that fate.
McGauley has spent most of the last year back home in Orlando doing the ground work to set up a string of businesses that he and Snipes will own and run.
“At some point in time, somebody’s gonna say, “We don’t like Wesley’s acting anymore,’ ” says Snipes, “and I ain’t going back to the soup line. And I don’t want my kids or my lady or my family to go back to the soup line. And I’ve got an opportunity to do something economically. We want to rebuild the economic power of the black community.”
After the bookstore, to open in the next couple months, will come the club. “A disco,” Snipes says, “jazz, comedy, as well as reggae, hip-hop, house music” -a place to dance. Snipes and McGauley have found Orlando’s club scene thin. They are looking at sites on International Drive. They hope to be open by summer.
McGauley says the goal is to open a string of restaurants and clubs in cities across the south in the next several years.
The money will be pumped back into Snipes’ movie production company, which will begin producing movies in 1993. Eventually, Snipes expects the business enterprises not only to provide jobs and a non-show-business outlet for his energy, but also the money and the community base for his school.
When Snipes starts talking about Jones High, about education and the black urban community, his eyes flash and his voice is filled with determination and contempt.
“They treat Jones like sh-. It’s the wasteland of the schools in the system here, Jones and Evans (High). And you know who’s predominantly there: blacks and Hispanics. People cannot say that racism does not exist, because it’s present in tangible form right there in those schools.”
Snipes doesn’t sound far removed from the streets when he talks about what’s missing in the black community.
“Of course the kids are going to be rambunctious, of course they’re going to be restless. If they don’t have role models, if they don’t have images of people who care. They get the cheapest books, they don’t get computers. These students over here” -he gestures at a typical suburban high school -“they have the computers, the biochemistry. . .”
Snipes imagines his school as a place that would teach kids “to ask questions, to think. Not to memorize, but to think.” Also, a place that teaches kids to use their talent.
“What if you had a dance course? The kids already like dancing, what if you channeled that energy into a constructive, formatted, structured environment?
“Who knows, you might have the next Fred Astaire, the next Baryshnikov.
“Kid’s running, running all the time.
” “Stop running!’ people say. But what if he’s the next Carl Lewis?
“Little cat into grafitti, spray cannin.’ Okay, yes, he’s defacing property, teach him that, but channel that creative energy. Give him a big canvas so he can do it in school. Give him a wall! Yo! This is your wall! Do something wonderful with it.
“That’s how you turn some coal into a diamond.”