Meet Mr. Showmanship
Actor Maurice G. Smith Strives to Increase Health Consciousness in African-American Communities
by Dann Dulin
Photographed Exclusively for A&U by Sean Black
Mr. Smith’s attributes may be in his DNA or it may have been nurtured when he was a Boy Scout back in his hometown of Philadelphia. When he was eighteen in 1988, Spike Lee’s film School Daze solidified his aspirations to be an actor. Maurice graduated with a Theater Arts degree from West Chester University, then pursued acting at the prestigious Mountview Theater Conservatoire in London. For several years afterwards, he polished his skills and established a strong foundation in theater, winning Wilmington Drama League’s Best Actor award for The Piano Lesson. The thespian segued into playing film parts in Alternate Endings, Mr. Deeds, Bruce Almighty, and on TV in Girlfriends, Charmed, 24, ER, and The Middle. His new feature, Better Criminals, should be released soon.
Along his journey, Maurice worked as an overnight security guard, waiter (“of course”), and a TSS (Therapeutic Support Staff), a trained counselor with children challenged by autism or behavior/emotional problems. The work also extended to overnights at a group home.
Giving is in Maurice’s nature. Active in the HIV community, he’s also involved in the fight against diabetes, having lost his father, Gilbert James Smith (the “G” in his name is Gilbert) and several other family members to the disease. Frequently he likes to shop at the thrift store, Out of the Closet, which directly benefits AIDS organizations.
The AIDS epidemic first impacted Maurice during his college days when Eazy-E died and Magic Johnson revealed that he was HIV-positive. This was the early nineties and one of Maurice’s fraternity brothers from another chapter (Kappa Alpha Psi) suddenly died and rumors spread that AIDS had taken his life. The rumors were not unfounded. “It was a shock! There were so many myths about how you could contract the virus. At the time it was a taboo subject, but his death brought acute awareness among my peer group.” This tragic incident led Maurice and his buddies to practice safer sex. It was also the impetus for him to get tested. It was scary and nerve-wracking, because, then, if you were diagnosed, it was feared to be “instant death.”
Before Maurice was an aspiring actor, he was a musician, playing the piano, saxophone, and clarinet. Nowadays he enjoys listening to an eclectic array of music, from classical to New Age, including hip hop, R&B, blues, jazz, gospel, and house.Currently in a relationship with a nurse, one of Maurice’s hobbies is cooking for his girlfriend, either seafood, Jamaican, or an Italian dish. A committed and passionate Democrat, Maurice was a Hillary supporter. He was ready for a female president!
Dann Dulin: What is your outlook on having Donald Trump in the White House?
Maurice G. Smith: Well it’s hard to say. They are going to do everything to make Trump look competent and I guess we’ll have to just wait and see. What’s done is done.
What do think of when the AIDS epidemic is mentioned?
That people live in a world where they may be treated unfairly because of their status. People need to be tolerant. I pray for all of the people, their families, and loved ones who are directly dealing with it. Some of our most talented people are being affected and that impacts our artistic world. I believe it all comes down to common humanity with one another as we come closer to curing this illness.
Where do your philanthropic roots stem from?
I just love people! That’s why I love to act. We all need to escape from the difficulties of life, especially if you or your loved one is dealing with HIV or AIDS, or any other health issue. So coming home to a good laugh or a good cry by watching a movie or television…really helps. The arts, sports, and other entertainment are God’s gift to us to enjoy life. I like being a vessel to help that. People and relationships are so important.
Can you address HIV in the African-American community?
It’s hard because we are very private and have a hard time with stereotyping among us. Oftentimes we don’t seek counseling or have check-ups, like for breast cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and so on. It just seems like in our community a lot of things don’t get dealt with until it is critical. We have to start changing attitudes in the schools at a young age. I can remember as a youth smoking was a big issue and as a small boy I was able to help my dad quit. Happily, I never picked up the habit.
You’ve battled weight in the past. What is your sure-fire way of losing it?
High protein, low carbs, and get moving! Walk, go to the gym; keep a couple of dumb bells at home. You know the old push-ups saying: “Push up off that eating table!”
What keeps you going in life?
Positive people! Many of them have had a solid impact on me. I’m like a sponge….
You’re passionate about diabetes awareness. What concerns you the most?
Well, it’s big in the African-American community. It’s something that can be controlled via diet and exercise, but, especially in our community, we don’t take advantage of that. We seem to be locked into meds for the rest of our lives. I pray for a cure and more education for kids. Their sedentary lifestyles, by sitting in front of the computer screens and grubbing on bad foods without burning it off, are developing the disease. It’s happening to too many young people—as is HIV. Get tested!
Anything else you’d like to say?
Communication is so important. When my frat brother contracted HIV, people were silent about the disease. Fast-forward twenty-some years, and thankfully people talk more freely about it. This helps everything from research to tolerance.
Dann Dulin interviewed Siedah Garrett for the February 2017 cover story.