Derek Luke Talks ‘Derek and Sophia Luke Day’ in Jersey City, New Jersey

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I know you’ve heard behind every great man is a phenomenal woman; it may be cliché, but factual.  Derek Luke understands that saying so well.  I got to know the actor quite a bit during our conversation.  The best part was that I learned, never to leave out ‘Sophia’.  He confesses, there would be none of this if it wasn’t for his loving backbone and the woman behind every mission, Mrs. Sophia Luke herself.   In the end he thanked me for acknowledging his wife.  My response was, ‘How could I not?’ It was fulfilling to hear a man speak so openly and highly of his rib, his wife. 

Derek and his lady, married since 1998, just celebrated another year of blissful giving back in his hometown of Jersey City.  They brought great joy to the community with their second annual Derek & Sophia Luke Day: Love and Unity in the Community.  The event was held a week ago on September 1st. It was an outdoor celebration with games, music, food, a petting zoo, bouncy houses, and more.  Wrapping up the end of the summer into the school year; the Luke’s brought the vacation to the neighborhood. It was filled with love and devotion to education and empowerment.  Alongside educators, they intentionally planned each activity with impact for adults and children. It was a day for the books.   

You’d never imagine, he’s as introverted as he truly is, not to mention humble and spiritual.  You may know Derek Luke from his notable roles in, Antwone Fisher, Friday Night Lights, Biker Boys, The Americans, and most recently the last two seasons of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why. In October, Derek will be starring in the second season of USA’s series take on the massive franchise hit, The Purge.  An amazing talent he is and that’s what we see, but an even more amazing man he is. 

As he told me, “I just happened to like telling stories. I like expression. I like the way stories impact me and I desire to impact people the same way.  I like the interaction when someone would say, “Yo, I saw whatever, and man this is how I felt.” I love those reactions, or something you did, very conversational; but personally, as long as I got some white sneakers and some jeans I’m cool, and a hoodie and a fitted cap that I like, I’m good.  I was in awe when we hung up at how much of a man of God he is. Mrs. Derek Luke, that’s you.  

Photo Credit: Eric Williams

Check out our conversation the week before the memorable event:

What was your mission and the purpose for the event when you started, and also educationally?

I believe I’ve just always had a heart for art and I’ve always had a heart for the people that I was connecting to, and part of that audience has always been men and a good majority of it is men of color. Usually, when it comes down to men and men of color, a lot of times I saw poor representation and poor images; whether it was starting businesses, going to hotels, or flying in the airlines.  It seems like we were always sort of working in positions, but it wasn’t positions of authority and positions of ownership. One of the things is my heart taking men on journeys, take them on explorations of who they are. When I went back home to Jersey, it just seemed like all I began to hear about is how everyone’s getting shot. It becomes so normal. When a guy sees me, younger or older, it’s like there’s a level of excitement. There’s a level of interest and they say it.  I asked, ‘How is it out there?’ They all kind of share their dream, but then they also share some of their frustrations. Just coming back to a city where there is a lot of changes, coming back to a city where you see regentrification; I think my heart was my desire to see men of color in places and positions of authority, places where they’re healthy spiritually, physically, financially, and mentally. Become more of a student of purpose and birthing your gift.  I was less about the taking. My wife was probably the number one advocate for me to go back to my neighborhood. My wife is a prayerful person, a prayer warrior, and very sensitive.  My behavior was just flustered. I was tired, but I was so taxed by all the people in these situations, and I thought I could help. You meet so many stories that try to reverse your story. My wife gave me this advice, which is sort of the context of what we are doing. She said, ‘Don’t let the city get into you, let God in the city through you.’ When she said that to me it was like, ‘Oh, okay, my position in my city is not just to empathize and to grieve, but my position is to shift other people’s paradigms by standing in mind.’

Have you noticed and seen a difference and how long has it been since you’ve been doing this event?

Literally, this is like our second or third annual, but throughout the year we’ve been having a thing called King’s Night. Every month we fly out to meet up with a group of guys and I’ll have a whole sort of strategy with that, creating an entrepreneurial spirit and helping guys to realize that your gift is inside of you.  Your gift will make room for you, and your gift doesn’t matter where you were born or who you were born to, your gift is still intact. It’s the discovery of your gift that shifts everything else. These last couple of months we’ve been sharing about equity; and I shared with them a story of how I had basically called my mortgage lender and realized that I hadn’t been in the house for a long while, but when they broke down how much equity I had, I was paying more on interest than I was on principal.  I realized it was sort of this jump off with the men that we got in the conversation talking about equity. We were talking about spiritual equity, mental equity, and what type of equity are you creating; even if you’re going to work, how are you creating and how are you harnessing your equity? On this night we just basically impart an entrepreneurial paradigm to the men. We’ve seen men that are coming hungry, that have been consistent for the year and for us. We’ve had guys who have just got out. We don’t necessarily do any big advertisement; a lot of it is word of mouth and again, what we get out of it is the pouring out of the whole thing.

The message is so important to be reached. Is it something you want to take past New Jersey and expand it?

It feels like the pull and the current of what we are doing is starting to travel in a sense.  I think from the beginning we were asked will we travel with this? When we first started it was just more so like a temple just to start this work and to make it good here. Then when it began to happen people began to say, ‘Are you open to come to other cities?’ In my heart and my spirit, I didn’t hear no, but it felt like a possibility and it will become a model that would take its own shape in different parts of the city or country.

How has it been working and planning with your wife, every event and her involvement?

The reality of it is, I realize that there’s a scripture that says that God is no respecter of persons . What that means is that he’ll use a cow if you’re willing.  What I’ve seen with my wife is that she’s always willing to help, even if I’m not turned on, she is; and because she’s turned on, I’ve been able to see her gifts on another level. It’s one thing for people to say, “Hey” they recognize me, but I’ve really come to see about comradery; even in my own career there have been people that have been rocking with me that I couldn’t have imagined.  My wife is the one in 2015 who said we need to go back to your hometown, and we need to connect. What I learned from my wife, even when we first met, she would sort of challenge me to get in uncomfortable situations to where I’m pouring out; and because she put me in uncomfortable situations to pour out, whether it be a school room, I began to see my real gifts come alive. I’ve been working on how to do it, and it really needs to have Derek and Sophia Luke Day, because if she wouldn’t have done what she’s done it would’ve been on a very smaller scale. It is interesting that when you’re doing something with your extra time and it’s not vain; it sort of gives you strength and confidence to go through your professional life in a different way. However, my wife still talks to me through the challenges, but I would say out of all those challenges I’ve increased in my heart, so I appreciate that.

What can we expect from Derek and Sophia Luke Day on September 1st? 

Well one thing that we’re doing is most of our vendors are educators. It’s deliberate because my wife had researched this study, and there are other studies around it that a lot of prisons are built based off of the ineffective or the effectiveness of early education.  The Derek Luke Day is sort of art, music, and language; but built in are teachers or educators that have started their own businesses that want to bridge the gap between the student, the teacher, the parents, and the child. What we’ll be doing is geared towards early education and some of the events and the challenges will be for men. Whether it will be a dance off to win a prize, but to challenge them to do something and to win something for their kids. We’re calling it sort of a Safari treasure hunt field, but it’s all geared towards early education; bonding the symmetry between the student and teacher, but also the parents and the kids. That’s how we’re structuring our day.

You do it every year around this same time?

Yeah, same time, every year.  This year is like cutting a ribbon to other things and activities that we have in mind and that we have set up throughout the year. We go to the high schools a lot. You hear the shootings, you hear all that, and you want to create a safe place or an alternative to why kids are getting caught up.  I’m like, ‘If I had me when I was growing up, what could I take from me that could affect me?’ When I was a kid I knew that I liked acting, but I would never say that in front of my friends. My heart is to expose them to the business. The business is not just acting. It is being a DP, it is a writer, or it’s stunt work.  It’s health and nutrition. It’s so many facets of the industry, and I want to expose them to that so that when they get to be my age, they’re not starting over.

Sounds like you’ve got your hands full for the future.  What does the future look like as far as for this event or other plans?  

Personally for me, Derek and Sophia, we always wanted to be impactful and success is sort of a fruit of being impactful.  When I went to LA, when I was right around 21, and a few years I was working, after I got there. I was working at the gift shop on the Sony Pictures lot.  I remember Magic Johnson used to have these events all over LA called, Magic Johnson Summer “something”. I remember he would have events for celebrities, and he would have events for the community. I didn’t even grow up watching Magic, but because people got excited about this man who happened to have the same tan as I did, I was excited.  All I know is, at that time I just wanted to go to one of the celebrity parties.   He was bringing income. He was bringing identity back to the city.  I think with regentrification happening all over the US and a guy like me who grew up in an urban neighborhood, is totally different when I go back now. In closing, you asked me what the legacy is and this is what my grandmother said to me when she came to my first movie premiere. She’s like this is holiness woman, kojic background, she hadn’t been to a movie in 50 years; and she said, “My son is in the movie. I’m going to California to see him.” When she got there, so many of my uncles and cousins flew out there to see me and she said, ‘The one thing I can see about fame is that it brings the family together.’ When she said that to me, I said, ‘Growing up in a city where we are so separated and segregated, I would like to bring the city together.’  That’s the legacy. When you go in Hollywood, you’re going to work with people that don’t look like you, even though there are more opportunities coming, you need to know how to do that. You need to know if you want to be a mechanic, bro are you willing to go there, sweep up and be like, ‘Look I’ll do whatever I need to do if you just teach me how to fix the car.’ If you want to write, are you willing to go and do this? It’s just exposing people and bringing them to the door, bringing them to the water so that they can drink.

Check out more about his legacy and events @dereklukefoundation and @derekluke on Instagram.

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