Community//

Dayo Olatokun: “You need a team”

My goal is to have readers turn their passions to profit so they can contribute to social issues dear to their hearts. It’s easier to facilitate change when we’re not struggling to pay rent. Volunteering for any cause can become a burden when our means for survival don’t match our calling. Knowing that survival is […]

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My goal is to have readers turn their passions to profit so they can contribute to social issues dear to their hearts. It’s easier to facilitate change when we’re not struggling to pay rent. Volunteering for any cause can become a burden when our means for survival don’t match our calling. Knowing that survival is always competing for our time, pursuing a career that aligns with our passions will allow us to live a fulfilled life with purpose. It’s an amazing feeling to get paid doing what you love!


As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dayo Olatokun, a Nigerian-born, American Actor, and passionate Motivational Speaker who loves to inspire and encourage all that can be acquired through living with purpose. He is the Founder and Executive Director of the Gifted & Purposed Alliance, a non-profit organization that partners with the Board of Education to deliver educational engagement of his P.I.P.E. Dreams curriculum to the inner-city students. Olatokun has partnered with several New York City schools to help students discover and live what they love! G.P.A.’s mission is to create a safe space for young people to discover their gifts and talents, so they can ultimately earn a living doing what they love.

From Sports to Acting, Olatokun has truly lived the life he loved and still continues to do so as he enters into this next phase of his life as an author of his debut book titled: P.I.P.E. Dreams: Principles To Live What You Love! Releasing next month in celebration of Black economic mobility.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Thank you for having me!

I was born in Nigeria and brought to the states by my parents at two years old. I was always a curious child and often got in trouble for always asking why this and why that? I wasn’t trying to be rude, just genuinely wanted to know the reason why I was being told to do something or be somewhere.

I was sheltered for the most part. Wasn’t allowed to play outside or go to my friend’s homes. Nigerian parents are just different. That changed though around 8 years old when we moved from Brooklyn to Far Rockaway. My parents still worked in Brooklyn so I had room to hang out with my friends and get into trouble before they came home at night. Moving to Far Rockaway was pivotal for me because it exposed me to what the real inner-city life looked and felt like. Middle school was the highlight of this exposure. I lived in a residential area of Rockaway, but almost all of my friends and schoolmates were from the projects. Hanging with them introduced me to sports, confrontation chasing girls, and the typical social life of inner-city adolescence.

I wound up going to high school in Southside Jamaica, Queens and that experience taught me the power of networking. I was very popular due to my cousin already being established at the school. I also played varsity basketball and football so that put me in multiple social circles. Of course, my need for asking questions followed me into the classroom. I often let my curiosity turn into arguments…with teachers. Which didn’t always reflect well on my report cards. I ultimately figured out how to navigate teacher-student politics and graduated on time.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

In high school, I read Shakespeare’s Othello. I was chosen to read aloud often so it was the first time I felt the power of reading a script. What’s crazy about that memory is that I had ZERO intentions of being an actor at that time. I just remember that feeling and how I felt it again in college when I took my first acting class. When reading Othello for my English class, I felt myself morphing into his character and felt the levels of confusion, jealousy, and betrayal Othello dealt with. It changed how I view people I interact with. It further raised my curiosity. In my head, I would say things like “which one of my friends would violate me like this. Even though I was still very social, reading this made me cautious of just letting just anyone into my space because of the betrayal Othello experienced. I still operate with that mindset today. People are crazy! Lol

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I once had a video audition for the NBC series This Is Us. When I read the directions for submission, I could’ve sworn the deadline said 11 PM when in fact it was 11 AM the next day. When I got home that evening around 6 pm, I decided to tape my scene right away so I could upload it that evening and be through. I did about 4 takes and chose the two I felt were best by around 7 pm. As I was getting ready to upload, I said to myself “I have until 11 pm tomorrow. Let me do some more takes tomorrow afternoon to get a better take than what I have.” I had an appointment at 10 am the next day and knew I’d have the rest of the afternoon free. On my way home I reopened the email to read over the character’s description again and the time of the deadline stood out like a sore thumb! When I saw 11 AM instead of PM and the current time was around 12 something, I went crazy! I called myself all kinds of idiots, fools, illiterate, and a bunch of other stuff. I called my agent to let her know and she tried to get a hold of casting to accept the late submission. Unfortunately, they’d already sent all of the submissions to production for review. If ONLY I had submitted what I had the night before I would’ve been fine. Because I second-guessed myself trying to make sure it was perfect, I missed a good opportunity. Even though I misread the time, which was foolish enough, I still got the taping done in time to be in a good position, but doubt made me delay. Since then I’ve learned to trust my preparation and leave it all on the camera.

I laugh at it now because of how I nearly jumped out of my skin when I reread the email the next day.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

My goal is to have readers turn their passions to profit so they can contribute to social issues dear to their hearts. It’s easier to facilitate change when we’re not struggling to pay rent. Volunteering for any cause can become a burden when our means for survival don’t match our calling. Knowing that survival is always competing for our time, pursuing a career that aligns with our passions will allow us to live a fulfilled life with purpose. It’s an amazing feeling to get paid doing what you love!

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

One of the stories in my book details my understanding of conditional selfishness. I had a callback from an audition I did and was in a position to arrive at the casting office 45 minutes before my time. On my way to catching the train, a mother with her toddler and infant in a stroller needed assistance getting up the stairs. Of course, I chose to help. Something I do every time I see someone needing help up or down the stairs. On our way up, her baby bag falls with items like bottles, a toy, and others rolling down the stairs. The train was arriving and I had a choice to either continue to help or go catch my train. I chose to help because the next train would still have me at the casting office 15 min before time. BAD DECISION! The next train was delayed due to a police investigation and I wound up late for my call back. That lesson taught me to always make sacrifices to be on time for where I need to be. (I tried to truncate the story but you can let me know if I should just copy and paste the whole story from the book)

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

It was during the summer of 2019, maybe around August. I was driving uber at the time to supplement my income. I had a request to pick up a passenger and along the way, I had soooo many ideas to add to G.P.A. as an organization as well as some cool things to add to the workshops. I was upset because I didn’t have the ability while driving to write down these thoughts I was so excited about. After dropping off the passenger, I of course forgot half of the ideas I had and turned off the uber app in frustration. In my frustration, I had these random memories of so many people telling me to write a book. My students have told me, several colleagues have mentioned it, my wife has said it over and over, along with so many others. It was at that moment that I knew I had to put my message into a book. The fact that I always had to wait for a contract with a school to pour into these students bothered me. I knew the best way to keep my message available was by writing. I called my friend who helps authors self-publish and she basically said she knew this day was coming and was in full support. A year and a half later, what I’ve been sharing in classrooms is now available for anyone’s bookshelf.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Here’s a testimonial from a student who participated in one of my G.P.A. workshops: “I wanted to give you a big thank you for helping and inspiring me to get out of my comfort zone and focusing on the important things. When you came I was going through a rough time. Since I made the decision to do what’s best for me I’ve been on the honor roll, stress-free, and I’ve been focusing on the things I want to do and things that I love like basketball. You helped me see that giving up wasn’t worth it and that I should continue to push myself. And that’s exactly what I’m doing.”

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Support funding for the arts! We desperately need arts programs at inner-city schools, along with skilled labor programs like barbing, plumbing, construction, etc. This way students have the option of graduating with a skill and the option to either go to college or enter the workforce with the necessary tools to compete.
  2. Increase minimum wage to always keep up with inflation.
  3. Establish mental health facilities in low-income communities, while providing both a child psychologist and social worker for public schools.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I define leadership as the personification of a cause, movement, or message. When you are the living breathing example of what you believe, there’s a level of inspiration and trust you exude that attracts people to follow or contribute to your objective.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Find a therapist. As an actor and program director, hearing no can become so normal you don’t realize how much disappointment you carry subconsciously. Having the space to unpack that kind of rejection would give room to refuel and recover a lot faster than just going through the motions.
  2. Travel — I recently took my first trip out of the country since going back home to Nigeria in 2013. I could not believe how connected indigenous people are outside of America. Also, the realm of creativity goes beyond our soil. I was able to see beautiful murals by local artists and listen to poets deliver in their language. I’m ready for my next trip!
  3. Learn a trade — One of the most difficult things to navigate as a creative is having a job with a flexible schedule. I would’ve loved to be certified in a trade right out of high school such as a barbers license or HVAC technician. This way I could’ve better provided for myself without sacrificing auditions due to my work schedule.
  4. It’s ok to say no — I love helping people, but there were too many times where I sacrificed my priorities to help someone else. I didn’t like telling people no. Unfortunately, I’ve heard enough no’s from friends and family to ultimately realize people will not put their priorities on the back burner to make room for your requests. Saying no to keep your priorities in order is not only ok, but responsible.
  5. You need a team — The last event I produced for G.P.A. wiped me out. I tried to produce, host, perform, and fundraise all at the same time and I was incredibly exhausted afterward. So exhausted I almost slept through the after-party. It would’ve been worth it had I met my fundraising goal, but let’s just say I only raised enough to pay the DJ.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“It took me years to learn how to play like myself.” — Myles Davis

For most of my life, I’ve tried to do things the “right way” or how it’s “supposed to be done.” It hindered my growth as a creative. I am just getting to the point in my life and career where I’m not seeking approval from a person, institution, or industry. I have so much creativity in me that’s been neglected by the need for approval and validation. I’ve become very comfortable in my own skin lately so following my instincts speaks louder than how it’s “supposed to be done.”. When I want to bounce ideas off of someone now, it is to gain perspective not ask for permission.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Denzel Washington. He’s one of my muses.

Denzel personifies the dual functions of my passions. 1. As an actor, I view him as the greatest I’ve ever seen and pray my journey through the film industry prospers in that direction. 2. His commencement speeches and the perspective he shares in interviews have inspired me more times than I can count. I want to inspire on that level at the very least.

If I could add Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, The Hip-Hop Doctor in there too, that would be amazing! No one speaks to social justice issues through the lens of hip-hop like the doc!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can follow me on social media @dayoolatokun or by visiting dayoolatokun.com

They can follow my work with the youth on our webpage at gpainc.org or follow @gpaincorporated

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


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