The actor reflects on his work and what it means to Black America
Do Russell Hornsby a favor: Don't ever question his commitment to his craft or the Black community. Not only does the star of ABC Family’s "Lincoln Heights" pledge an allegiance to bringing positive portrayals of African-American life to the tube, but also through his work he has served as a bullhorn for some who might not otherwise have a forum to freely express themselves. As Eddie Sutton, the devoted husband, father, cop and lead character of the family drama “Lincoln Heights,” Hornsby has shown America the importance of the presence and strength of the Black family. ESSENCE.com picked the Oakland native’s brain and got his take on father-daughter relationships, why Black women are surprised he married a “chocolate” sister, and whether America is truly ready for a Black president.
ESSENCE.COM: “Lincoln Heights” returns for a third season with Eddie Sutton, the husband, father and police officer who has a strong bond with his daughter. What is the significance of such a series that portrays the Black father and his daughter’s close-knit relationship?
RUSSELL HORNSBY: The most important is to focus on the father’s relationship with his family, which oftentimes is so disjointed and broken and Black fathers are rarely portrayed in the home. I hope that this show is setting a wonderful example for young Black women of what the possibilities are between a father and his daughter. If in some way Eddie Sutton serves as a surrogate for those young women who don’t have a relationship with their own fathers, then we’re doing a positive thing. I’m speaking for those two who can’t speak on a national scale. I’m telling their stories through Eddie Sutton. I’m telling the world that these people exist even though you walk by them every day. Those people matter—that’s what part of my job is. As an artist, I have to tell the truth because I’m a vessel and my hunger and passion to tell these stories can’t be stifled or else that’s what eats away at you.
ESSENCE.COM: So you and your cast have proven that the Black community does want to support positive shows such as yours. Did you ever doubt that the show would run this long?
HORNSBY: Honestly, when the show first started I thought we were only going to be on for one season and be done. Although this is my fifth series, I’d never had two seasons of anything so I just didn’t have that kind of confidence at the time. I’ve been proven wrong because the network believes in us.
ESSENCE.COM: What do you believe is the biggest misconception folks have about you?
HORNSBY: It’s interesting that you’d ask that. I don’t think Black people believe I am as soulful or conscious as I am because of my body of work, which has largely been mainstream television series. So I run into this sister and she asks if she can see my wedding photos and when I show them to her she says, “Oh she’s chocolate, you married a sister!” Initially, I laughed at her comment, but then when I really thought about it, it’s kind of tragic. What her comment says to me is that even my peers haven’t taken the time to get to know me, and that hurt me a little bit. I love Black women and I know I’m Black. I don’t walk around with the Black fist pumped, but I’m conscious and informed and I love my people so it pained me to have to hear that.
ESSENCE.COM: Once I overheard a Black man say Black women were no longer hot. What is that all about?
HORNSBY: It’s simple: Black is going out of style because there ain’t no money in it anymore. We’re no longer exotic and new. Therefore, people have to associate themselves with other nationalities—be it Latin (and not to begrudge my Spanish brothers and sisters), Asian or whomever. In society’s eyes they’ve exploited us as much as they could. We’ve turned from human to a turnip and remember you can’t get blood from a turnip. Black folk have been bled dry, so they’ve moved on to the next folk that they can exploit.
ESSENCE.COM: Speaking of exploitation, how has having a Black man run for president impacted the country?
HORNSBY: It’s polarizing the country in a lot of ways. The possibility of a Black president gives me a wonderful sense of pride. Although we still have a lot further to go, it shows that Obama is the right man for the job. He’s not in this position because he’s Black but because he’s the better man for the job. People are ready to get on board because of what he represents and his fresh new idea and that’s change. But is our country ready for that? I think the other countries are more ready for that than America. So many people have tried to make his campaign negative by saying he’s a rock star because he can draw [more than] 80,000 people in a stadium, or when he went to Germany and drew 200,000 people. It’s only negative if you ain’t got sh-- to say. But if McCain and Bush could only understand their hypocrisy when accusing Obama of being an elitist, when they both were marginal students at best. But because of their family’s legacy and wealth, they attended the best schools. On the other hand, Obama was raised by a single mom, attended Columbia and Harvard Universities, so you tell me who’s elitist? I really can’t stand it. It should be a no-brainer when you look at Obama’s agenda and what he represents. People can’t see straight because they are seeing the color of this man’s skin. If he were JFK revisited, it would be a slam dunk. He’s young, handsome and intelligent—everything that the “dominant” culture says he’s supposed to be. I want my brother to win because he speaks truth to power.