CEO Notebook |
I’ve often wondered what it takes to be a successful actor on Broadway. I don’t have to wonder anymore, however, thanks to a unique opportunity with singer, actor and dancer Alton Fitzgerald White. White shared his success story with the nearly 5,000 association executives and business partners who gathered last week in Columbus, Ohio, at the American Society of Association Executives’ annual meeting. His journey illustrated the importance of education and influential teachers, his unabating passion for musical theatre and his singular purpose to be a successful Broadway actor, despite facing challenges at home and in the theater world.
White was born in an era before Hamilton — which is sometimes hard to remember — when actors of color were often limited to smaller and stereotypical roles. This makes his record-breaking achievement of performing on Broadway 4,308 times as King Mufasa in “The Lion King” even more stellar. He has starred in five other smash Broadway musicals, including “Miss Saigon,” “The Who's Tommy,” “Smokey Joe's Café,” “The Color Purple” and my personal favorite, “Ragtime.” Each taught him an important lesson, he said.
White was raised in the projects of Cincinnati, Ohio. Due to his father’s alcoholism, his mother and six sisters took on parenting duties as best they could and raised him to be both a respectful and excellent student. He explained that his school was so important because it provided two things that sometimes alluded him at home: consistent structure and safety. Think about how many of our students, although likely from different circumstances, need their school to feel structured and safe every day.
At school, he practiced singing quietly and privately in a closet so that no one would know his secret passion, but a teacher — who was a “hero” in White’s words — helped him discover and nurture this talent. But teachers weren’t always on his side. He went on to a performing arts conservatory, where he was never cast in a production because of a wrong-headed belief that Broadway offered little for African American actors.
White certainly proved that notion wrong and was fortunate to take on noteworthy roles while learning life lessons along the way, like the importance of first and last impressions, trusting his own instincts, humility, forgiveness, compassion and gratitude. While passion was White’s fuel, he attributes his purpose to providing the energy to propel him to success.
Although for a time earlier in my life I dreamed of the Broadway stage, these days I take the stage most frequently at the NBOA Annual Meeting as well as regional and state associations around the country. After being in Alton Fitzgerald White’s audience just once, however, I’m determined to steward the purpose of NBOA and channel my passion for our association every time I present. As you put the final touches on your school prior to the new academic year, how are you going to channel your passion for learning and your school’s mission when you take the stage?
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