Mike, take a bow. A love story by Bunmi Samuel
Mike, take a bow. Let’s tell a story in your honor. An origin story from one part of your life. You lived many successfully.
History is important. Context is important. Roots Run Deep. Deep origin stories. There are many; here we go.
Mike was all energy. I remember him and the other actors backstage while in between two show days in the ’90s eating chicken wings and french fries and the laughter. So loud my father use to always scream at them. Michael was in love with my dad, and my dad was in love with him. I remember them spending a lot of time together circa the 1990s. I was in early high school and spent a lot of time in Harlem at the Mosque 7 and NBT (National Black Theater).
Michael says (his words) that my father, Tunde Samuel, is the person that introduced him to acting and redirected his passionate personality towards learning the craft and industry. My dad knew who Mike would be 25 years later. Whoa! There is more to it.
Where do you go when your passion overflows?
Believed in him during hard times. Soon but some time later placed him in his first piece “Endangered Species” at the National Black Theater written by Judy Shepherd King (mom of filmmaker Judas and the Black Messiah’s Shaka King), directed by Leon Pinkney, and stage-managed by Stacey Waring and Executive Produced by Tunde Samuel in 95/96.
I don’t know how I remember, but I do. I was so jealous of Michael and Earl and some of the guys in the play. My dad spent a lot of time with them, like a lot, and I didn’t understand it. My father was known to have hundreds of non biological kids/young adults under his love, and Mike and him operated that way. If I wanted to see my father during that time, I would see him and them at the theater. They were always around and I got use to them being apart. I believe they also attended some of my basketball games.
There is a moment in Endangered Species where the guys, Michael, are moving in slow motion in a scene that depicted the conflict between males, and a gun shot is fired. The motion and sound were so real, I remember the reaction of the audience. This day there were war veterans in the audience, not rare since people came from all over for this play. I was in the light booth that day which overlooked the audience. When the cue for the gun sound was communicated, the standby was called, and it went off- it sounded. I immediately saw one of the veteran men hit the floor in response, and the show paused, and people helped him up. (Shell Shock and PTSD). The guys, Michael included, broke character for a moment. It was that off putting. They were all new and green to acting at that time. This show was so riveting that the show had to be stopped on many occasions because of the audience member’s visceral response. Like, let’s take a break which is not the norm in theater. Tears, screaming, uncontrollable emotion.
Historically and politically at this time, the term endangered species was the description given to Black men as a reference to their extinction and erasure. Look up the term.
I appreciate his commitment. I respect his demons. I respect his pain. Sometimes we can be so powerful, so so good that we can’t shake the other things. Self-acceptance is an ongoing process. Life is fragile, and we aren’t always meant to stay. We should try, but life has layers, and peeling them back is not easy”. My father kept him and others by his side. He knew the consequences. I believe at this time Mikes scar was new. He would stalk my father, and they would just talk for hours. He allowed my father to do what he loved, pour in, and allow those to shine in their power. Their relationship was beautiful. Michael was dope. I hear how bad he hurt seeing his friend killed who suffered from mental illness. My estimation is that his social justice dedication came out of Earl Nash’s struggle/falling into the gaping hole of the system, and therefore his loyalty to his friend energized that pursuit to help.
I appreciate his commitment. I respect his demons. I respect his pain. I love his unfettered love. Rare demonstration in men and I love seeing it and being it. Sometimes we can be so powerful, so so good that we can’t shake the other things. Self-acceptance of your magnitude is an ongoing process of course you worth it but believing it something else. Life is fragile, and we aren’t always meant to stay. We should try, but life has layers, and peeling them back is not easy.
Is it possible to unsee what you’ve seen? Is it possible to see yourself when you are covered in mud? That’s a tough question. I say that knowingly.
Mike was the definition of “giving it a shot/. “ He was unseasoned, passionate, and willing. He wasn’t afraid of intimacy and connection and gave himself to his passion. For me, it is dope knowing that someone can be introduced to something new, place their passion center, receive support and work, and work, and commit some more and be arguably one of the best actors ever. (See his full body of work, albeit brilliant not just the Wire ). I’m going to get my hands on some early unpublished stuff in my fathers boxes.
Take good care of yourselves. Be gentle with yourself. And tell stories of fullness and truth.
Mike say peace to Tunde. I’m sure you and my dad are eating some of Ms. Sylvia’s gravy and biscuits where ever you are. Laughing loudly at the way you changed the world.
Love and more Love. No sadness. You did more than you ever expected you would. You outlived the weight of being an Endangered Species. Hunted yet finding time to love and inspire. You Became. Bro, you became.