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MK Asante: “The Black Candle”

All of my work deals heavily with promoting positive social change and justice. Now I’m producing and hosting two shows for Snap. “Free Tuition with MK Asante” and “While Black with MK Asante.” These shows are at the forefront of digital storytelling, being vertical, mobile, split screen, and highly relevant. We reach millions of people each […]

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All of my work deals heavily with promoting positive social change and justice.

Now I’m producing and hosting two shows for Snap. “Free Tuition with MK Asante” and “While Black with MK Asante.” These shows are at the forefront of digital storytelling, being vertical, mobile, split screen, and highly relevant. We reach millions of people each week with inspiration, news, history, poetry, and perspective.


As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing MK Asante.

MK Asante is a best-selling author, award-winning filmmaker, recording artist, and distinguished professor who the Los Angeles Times calls “One of America’s best storytellers.” Asante previously starred in Snap Original “While Black with MK Asante,” which explores what it’s like to be young, gifted and Black in America through candid conversations with young people across the country. He is now returning to Snapchat with a timely and topical series — “Free Tuition with MK Asante” — driven by his “in the moment” interpretation of highly specific current events related to race and racial justice in America.


Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?

Thank you. I was born in Zimbabwe and raised in Philly. I come from an artistic, scholarly fam with deep roots. I struggled in school initially — suspensions, expulsions — however, it was the blank page that saved me, challenged me, and pushed me to fill it with rhymes, stories, and ideas.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

I was directing a film called “The Black Candle” that the late Dr. Maya Angelou narrates. We shot the narration at her house, in her living room, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. We were about to roll when The Sound Guy picked up some outside birds noises in his headphones. He took off the headphones, and announced to us “Those birds are making too much noise. I’m going to go chase them away.” As he walked toward the door, Dr. Angelou’s voice rose in a spectacular, beautiful authority: “No you will not! You will let those birds be just as they are.” Each word hit and the sound guy stopped dead in his tracks and he did a 180. He put his headphones back on and if you listen to the narration in the movie closely, you can hear birds singing.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

Dr. Maya Angelou was an extraordinary mentor and collaborator. I cherish the funny, enlightening and inspirational moments we shared together. It was amazing. I just soaked up game.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Now I’m producing and hosting two shows for Snap. “Free Tuition with MK Asante” and “While Black with MK Asante.” These shows are at the forefront of digital storytelling, being vertical, mobile, split screen, and highly relevant. We reach millions of people each week with inspiration, news, history, poetry, and perspective.

“While Black with MK Asante” explores what it means to be young, gifted and black in America and “Free Tuition with MK Asante” fuses entertainment and education to explore social change.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

Pioneers! For instance, Oscar Micheaux, the first African American filmmaker. He was an author, filmmaker, and entrepreneur. He was prolific, making over 40 films. He gave Paul Robeson his debut in Body and Soul in 1925. Understanding Micheaux and his model for business and black ownership helps you understand Tyler Perry.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

All of my work deals heavily with promoting positive social change and justice.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

My pops told me if you want to be a writer, “sit your a** down and write!” That was motivating. He was born in a shack, one out of sixteen children in Valdosta, Georgia. He went on to write over 90 books. I’ve always been motivated by his profound journey and, for me, it really meant No Excuses!

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

In Episode 7 of “Free Tuition with MK Asante” we feature a girl named Amanda. She was formerly homeless in Philadelphia as a teen. Five years ago, after reading my memoir “Buck,” she reached out to me on social media and told me she was homeless. I went to the bus station she was sleeping at and provided her with some food, money, and a signed book. In episode 7, I speak to her again for the first time since the bus station meeting. She is now a mother and a business owner as well as an advocate for homeless youth.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

Vote! Subscribe to Free Tuition and While Black, Get Buck and get involved.

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

I don’t have those wishes. The mistakes, the bumps, those are lessons that I’m grateful for. I’m an experiential learner.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Don’t ask for permission to get involved. Just do it. Your story needs to be told. Tell it!

We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I love collaborations and have many people I want to work with in the future. I’d love to work with Lupita Amondi Nyong’o.

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

Ovid said, “Be patient and tough, someday this pain will be useful to you.” I find that when facing life’s challenges, these qualities are important to have. Later on, after the storm has passed, the experience can be valuable not only to me, but others. That quote opens my memoir, Buck. All of that pain was useful.

How can our readers follow you online?

My website is mkasante.com / Snap @mkasante / IG @mkasante / Twitter / @mkasante

This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!

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