~Charles D. Clark, An Actor, a Father, and a Sage of Wisdom~
Trajectory to Stardom
Empire is a classic drama about a wealthy family but with a twist and is a Fox’s most watched series. In season one, from first to last show, the premier captivated 10 million viewers growing to the finale, which counted 17 million. So what is it that draws people? A powerful hip-hop mogul, Lucious Lyon (diagnosed with a terminal illness) is must choose a successor among his three sons. While that is not your average family drama, those three brothers have been battling for their father’s attention and control over his multi-million-dollar company, somewhat normal. More relevant, Lucious’ ex-wife (who took the fall for his previous drug career and landed a 17-year prison sentence) is out of jail and scheming to reclaim what is hers. Empire is a Shakespearean soup of human foibles in the modern world, and Clark is a distinguishable ingredient in that stew.
Where does Charles D. Clark fall in this star-studded cast? Charles Clark plays Shyne Johnson’s (played by Xzibit) main goon. Shyne is Lucious Lyon’s longtime friend on the show. When Shyne is slighted, tension builds. Shyne must decide whether to use information that could take down the entire empire or not, and Clark is the thug caught between the two most powerful people.
Clark, the Man Behind Shyne’s Goon
Part of Charles Clark’s story ironically doesn’t fall far from is role on Empire. Clark served seven years in prison for living a life much like that of his casted character and the main character Lucious. But, how on earth did a man of Clark’s talent, kindness, inspiration, and charisma end up there? As a small boy, Clark’s father died while serving our country. Clark’s father earned the Purple Heart for his valiant sacrifice. His father’s death (understandably so) left a huge hole in young Charles. Even though his mother did all she could to provide him with his every need from extracurricular activities to keep young Charles’ active, ambitious nature out of trouble, she could not be his father.
“I remember and growing up, you know, I was doing martial arts, still playing, sports baseball, football. My mom, you know, came to most of my stuff, but [I wanted] to hear [my] dad’s voice. You hear other kids [dads shoutin’] that’s my son. Go get ‘em, boy…I didn’t get that. I didn’t hear that. It took a toll on me, every Christmas, every birthday. I wanted my dad, and you know when you get older, you start hanging out [with your dad]…[My mom] she was just going through so much, you know, dealing with the pain.” Like a normal human, he sought out something to fill that void. As an early teen, he found the satisfaction to fill that fatherly void in the brotherhood of gangs.
Within the gang’s violent atmosphere, his ambitious nature opened doors, and he excelled. With success came more encouragement, honor, and power. The simple, “Good job, son,” and proud reciprocation of men and brothers hooked him line and sinker. In a short time, he became a high-ranking gang man in a world of guns, bullets, and bloodshed. Success in that dark world, however, landed him behind bars for drug and gang charges—seven long years.
Clark Behind Bars
Behind bars, he was surprised. He again found similar bonding brotherhood and mentorship. This time from men who urged Charles in a positive direction. Clark passionately emphasized, what people believe all prisoners are like is simply not true. He said, “[People] wrote me off a long time ago, and look at me now. I am the same guy just with a different heart.” There are the few who if they were released would tirelessly be trouble, but for the most part, most prisoners have good hearts. Clark said of his fellow prisoners, “a lot of [them were] good brothers…intelligent brothers who would put Harvard to shame with extensive vocabularies and…articulate [speech].”
These brilliant men encouraged Clark to use his gifts and talents to make positive changes in the world. They would say things like, “‘Young blood you can change the world. You are that guy.’ These are ex-gangsters, big time kingpins, [and] big time millionaire’s telling me, ‘[Clark,] take what you know and do it the right way, and you will change this world.’ I kept hearing [that] every day.” Sometimes all people need is for someone to believe in them especially after they’ve made a few, a dozen, or numerous wrong turns. These men did this for Clark.
Paying it Forward
Ironically the lessons Clark learned in prison not only helped him find his worth, but also later (in action) earned him an honorary Doctorate title. Years after his release, during the peak of Baltimore’s riots, several people he was connected to on social media asked him to go to Baltimore. Because of his violent background he didn’t flinch for fear but pondered, “What is it about me that they [want]?” Being a man of God, he answered the call but prayerfully approached how he could help. He said he ultimately decided to go because he felt reflecting on his dark time in the streets, “Why not go and be in the street and help bring peace and bring God’s love in the most devastating moment.” He continued, “So I was down there during the riot talking to the youth because … [they were] tearing the city down.”
When he approached the troubled youth, instead of lecturing them or chastising their poor behavior, he listened. He asked simply why they were destroying the city. He said there response was, “We’ve tried everything, [we] could to get them to hear our voice. So we figured this is the last resort.” Clark sat with these kids and looked at them not as troublemakers but as people in pain and in need. He listened without judgment, sat with them in their hurt, hugged a few, and fed even more. Even after the riot had ceased he was part of the Empowerment Baltimore Movement with Pastor Jamal Bryant and Jeff Johnson. Thus, for his service and work, he was honored with the title Doctor of Divinity from one of the New Jersey Bible colleges. Hence he is known as Dr. Charles D. Clark, but in truth, he prefers just plain old Charles D. Clark.
An Oscar Performance by Clark
From prisoner, to public speaker, and now Doctor, Clark clearly is a testament of hope and possibility. But how did he end up in the acting world? Near the end of his sentence, his beloved grandmother (one of three people chosen to pick him up when he finished his time) came to visit him in the prison. She came with Clark’s aunt and uncle. He hadn’t seen her in over six years, so you can imagine he missed her terribly and couldn’t wait to speak with her, but when she came to the visiting room, Clark’s uncle was feeding her and his aunt hurried over to him. She said, “Look at me, look at me.” She needed his full attention, and he focused on her message as heart breaking as it was.
His grandmother had dementia and three brain tumors, she was dying. The anticipated comfort he was looking for, possibly an explanation of why he was there, anything he’d imagined or hoped was all out the window. His aunt told Clark, his grandmother thought Clark was her son (Clark’s dad). She had no idea she was in a prison-visiting center. He had to pretend to be his father, a man he only knew till he was just about six years old. With little personal information, he acted based on stories and information shared with him throughout the years. It was imperative he convince her (the one person who probably knew him best—his father’s mother) that he was in fact her son, or it would stress her system and kill her. With poise, unselfish love and raw talent, Clark pulled himself together and convinced his grandmother he was his father.
More Than A Compliment
After she left, the correction officer pulled Clark to the side. Clark, expecting to be body checked for contraband, was taken back when the officer looked at him and said in awe, “Charles whatever you plan on doing when you get out of here, you need to be an actor. For you to sacrifice that moment for your grandmother’s condition and for her sake was an Oscar moment, and that’s something you can’t be trained. Man…that was powerful.”
Over time, he pondered the officer’s words and tossed the idea around, but it wasn’t until after he was released the gravity of that moment sank in. A couple of weeks later his grandmother died. The day he was released it started to sink in. He first went to a halfway house for 6 months and when he was finally released for good. The first place he went to was his grandmother’s house. He went back into her room and sat quietly. Her familiar peppermint and lavender still permeated the room. In the quiet, he replayed his last moment with her in that visiting room, and he realized, “I didn’t really sacrifice myself, [or] my last moment with my grandmother…my grandmother sacrificed her last moments to show me [acting] was my purpose.” His grandmother gave him his first audition. Clark said of this tender moment, “My grandmother is [the] passion that drives me.”
Sacrifice Begets Blessings
When others released from prison felt they had not option, they went back to crime. For Clark, his purpose and passion propelled him forward. At first, when he heard Empire was being filmed, he thought it was in New York, but really it was in Chicago. Even the distance didn’t stop him. He decided, even though it was almost fourteen hours away and he would only be cast as a background person, he knew he wanted to go. With no agent and the show entering season three, Clark leapt into the darkness with his dream and passion to guide him.
He drove fourteen hours one-way to be a street pedestrian. They called him back again to play a background person. Seven times, he drove the twenty-eight-hour round-trip paying all expenses out of his own pocket. He said, “People thought I was crazy…but God kept telling me to go.” After his seventh time his luck changed. He said, “All in one day my boss called me into her office…and said, “‘Charles, you are up for a raise, and your turn around for this quarter has been one of the best, but I can’t let you take off anymore. You have to make a choice. Either be here, or go follow your heart and chase your dreams.’ She said, ‘I have to be honest. Somebody who drives to Chicago seven times, it’s pretty obvious what you want to do.’”
The Faith of Charles Clark
With no real promise, anyone would struggle in that moment, but Charles leaned on his faith. He returned home after asking for two days to think it over that weekend. When his daughter came over he felt God was speaking through her. He said, “‘I’ll never forget, she asked me, ‘Dad, what’s wrong?’ She was much smaller and pretty smart for her age. I was telling her my decisions and she [said], ‘Daddy go, go, go. This is what you’re supposed to do.’ I’ll never forget I cried. God was speaking through this child.” With faith in his heart he gave his two weeks notice, and that’s when the call came. For Charles Clark, the eighth time was his winning lottery number. Empire offered Clark the role of Shyne’s main goon.
His good fortune or “blessings” (he called them) didn’t end there. His job called him back asked for another 30 days. He agreed, but set his boundaries saying, “I can, but you have to understand when I have to [act], I have to go because you all said 2 weeks. [I will help you though].” His respect and kindness earned him their appreciation and a job whenever he wanted. Reflecting on the path Clark said in awe. “What if I would have quit the seventh time? What if I would have got frustrated?” I would add too, what if he absolutely told his old job, no? Clark if anything has taught us all, dreams are worth chasing, but you must have patience, determination, be willing to sacrifice comfort, and last of all always be kind—it opens doors of opportunity.
His Acting Philosophy
Now living the beginnings of his dream, Clark said of his acting, “I think one of the things that sets me apart from a lot of people is, I treat every role as the biggest role of my career. I have an appreciation for the art.” He understands all roles have value, and because he takes all roles (large and small), he is able to stay relevant and continue practicing his craft. He said, “I would rather be in busted TV show every couple of months, then to [only] have one big role and not act [for] three or four years.”
Don’t mistake his openness for a lack of vision and passion. He knows what he wants, and he’s aimed where he wants to go. He said, “I would say I would do Broadway, but not just yet. I want to dominate the Cinematic world first.” As a man who loves the art of acting, he is aware of all the tools and wisely plots his path one setting at a time. His collection of acting education (classes from DC Dramatic School of Arts, Julliard, and a master class with Samuel Jackson) no doubt will land him where he wants to go.
The Work of Acting
Like any other job, acting is stressful even if it is his dream. Clark said of the stress, “We’re being paid…to be other people’s thoughts, emotions, lifestyles, their hurts, their pains, their cries. … As an artist, you free your talent on a canvass, if your musician, you let it out through your music, but as an actor. It’s always inside of you until you release after you are done with your character.” I’d never thought of how stressful that would be. Clark continued, “Some of these places are so dark and challenging. You have to take a mental health break.” I had no idea acting was so heavy. For those who also carry heavy roles, especially in this Covid Era of Chaos, Clark gave a few nuggets of priceless advice.
- Pray. “God is always first. I always give him the glory in everything I do.”
- Go to the thing you love the very most. For Clark, it’s his daughter. “Seeing her relieves me so much because it puts me back in daddy mode with out the actor.
- Breathing exercises.
- Listen to your favorite music. “That [will] bring [you] back to reality.”
Charles the Dad
Like many people, in the middle of flying toward the stars we’ve hitched ourselves too, Charles became a dad and landed one of the most important roles of his life. Born June 1st, 2010, his world changed, and another star of inspiration filled his heart. He said, “When I look at her. I see part of me, [my past, my hurts] and I want to give her… a childhood that is less chaos and pain.” I can only imagine how his personal experience magnifies his stress being a father who knows first hand what is on the streets.
He said, “I try to protect her from that stuff cuz, you know, she turned the eleven and started middle school.” Partnered with her mom, (who he is not with, but deeply respects, saying “She has a great mom.”) they try to be in and aware of her friends and environment. They give her opportunities and gently guide her toward becoming a well-rounded woman of integrity. Clark said, “People have to understand, it’s not just men in the streets it’s women as well. So, I got to protect her. She is my everything. She’s my inspiration.”
Clark is the real deal—from bars to stars and beyond. Charles D. Clark has traveled through the dark and light of life. He has walked through hell and left it behind. His journey on its own is enough to make any person marvel, but what I find most remarkable about him is his transparency. Why? Because he engraved on his heart the wise words of those fatherly figures behind bars. “‘[Clark,] take what you know and do it the right way, and you will change this world.’ I [keep] hearing [that] every day.” He lives it daily by sharing his real story to uplift others, listening when he has more experience than most, and giving of his heart and faith seeking nothing but glory for his god.
- “You have to have an attitude of gratitude. They’re like close family.”
- “We are not born with a heart of hate.”
- “We should be celebrating and loving one another. When someone does something good celebrate them. When someone is having a difficult time, don’t persecute them to the point where they feel like they are nothing. Find the goodness in them. A lot of people who are considered as mean and hateful [are that way] because that’s all we acknowledged them. We never found the goodness in them.”
- “People listen to what others say. … [Tell them:] you are not a disappointment, you are not a mistake in this world, there is something about you that is special.”
- “Look in the mirror and acknowledge you because you are that worthy.”
- Look beyond the flesh … to the deepest immeasurable places of your soul. Take time to really get to know who you are and why you are here.”
On the Verge, Charles D. Clark
If you don’t know who Charles D. Clark is yet, check him out. Charles D. Clark @cclarkinspire7 or Facebook.com. Watch Empire from Season 3 to the end. This trained actor is not only a member of the Screen Actors Guild American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) but he is a man who has walked the light and dark sides of life. He lives by his faith, lives what he preaches, and genuinely has a good heart. Keep an eye on this one—He’s gold!