At one point in his life, Award-Winning Playwright/Actor/Director/Producer Dr. jeff obafemi carr could easily have become a statistic. He was living the stereotype for young black males in high school, living a dream that was, unbeknownst to him at the time, a self-destructive nightmare.
By day, he was a gifted young choir section leader, band drum major, actor, and devoted church member who even taught bible class. But at night, he would morph into the person he fantasized of being: a part-time thief, hustler, and mischief maker who hid his straight F’s in school and penchant for the street life from all who knew his other side. Eventually, jeff’s two worlds collided: A vandalism prank got him expelled two weeks before he would have—barely—graduated from high school.
He landed in a juvenile detention cell, and that’s when jeff obafemi carr decided he’d had enough. He couldn’t risk being a statistic anymore.
Although it took him another seven months, he graduated from high school with the determination to make his way over the obstacles he faced. He studied hard enough to get into Tennessee State University, where he made his mark as a campus leader, an activist, and a scholar. As president of the Student Government Association his senior year, he lead hundreds of students in the now historic 1990 sit-in that effectively loosed the purse strings of Tennessee government to the tune of more than $140 million in campus improvements for the HBCU. As a direct result of the sit-in – and jeff’s leadership – a new campus center, administration building, performing arts center, and many other physical structures were built over the next 14 years. More importantly, the experience gave jeff the skills that would see him through additional challenges that were yet to come.
After graduating cum laude from TSU with a degree in speech communication and theatre (and a minor in radio and TV production), carr began an artistic career that placed him on a unique path to success. But as a multi-talented individual in a world that encouraged singular focus, knowing where to start was a bit of a quandary. It wasn’t as if his gifts were a passing fancy. He could act. He could sing. He could write all genres of fiction and non-fiction. And he could communicate. So jeff chose the path less traveled: He focused, singularly, on doing all of these things well. Thus was born the moniker, “The Media Scientist,” a term he created to describe a process through which he would utilize the scientific method of Observation and Experimentation to create art that could touch people through various forms of media.
The rest, so far, is his-story. For 11 years, jeff published The Third Eye, a monthly Nashville newspaper with a circulation of 10,000. At various points, jeff interviewed, wrote, edited, and even distributed the paper. Because of its popularity, he was offered a chance to host a struggling community radio talk show on historic WVOL, the station that gave Oprah her start. He actually learned to engineer shows on the same board she used, expanding a weekly talk show, Let’s Talk, into a nightly event that was one of the most popular programs in the city.
Returning to the stage, where he hadn’t appeared since college, jeff immediately blazed a trail. He earned his union card and established himself as a force to be reckoned with, an actor known for his quick thinking and ease of movement and character. By the mid-‘90s, he had built enviable careers in several areas. But something was missing, some hole that needed to be filled. jeff believed that he needed to be attached to something higher in his life, something special. With a child on the way, and a career in flux, he attempted marriage – or, you might say, marriage attempted him.
Six years, one child, and two failed marriages later, jeff learned that the special “something” he sought had nothing to do with the people in his life, and everything to do with the life that was inside of him. It was a life he almost relinquished to depression and self-doubt. Some of it came from being with in relationships with people who didn’t believe in him, who even belittled his life’s work to his face; some of it came from being so poor that he almost lost his home, lived without heat and a telephone, and had to gather loose coins from between seat cushions of a borrowed car just to get by. Wherever it came from, whatever the obstacles, he came to the realization that he possessed something that some people search their whole lives for and never find; something he believed, at first, was a curse, but came to know as a true blessing.
jeff obafemi carr was in possession of a unique calling.
It was a fateful night in 2001 when carr realized that the obstacles in his life had strengthened him for higher and greater things. He had cried his tear ducts dry when he looked up from the floor of his study and saw the faces of his family and mementos of his life. He realized that his personal struggles took a back seat to the vision that was placed within him from a higher voice. And from that night, he never looked back. He began to spell his name in all lowercase letters as a reminder of the need to be humble and in submission to the Higher Will, and his accomplishments to date are a living testimony to his acceptance of his true calling in the arts.
jeff co-starred in the 2006 Sony feature film, The Second Chance (now on DVD), with recording artist Michael W. Smith, and he appears in the forthcoming Steve Taylor film Blue Like Jazz (2012). He is the founding artistic director of Amun Ra Theatre, a not-for-profit, professional theatre company in Nashville dedicated to exposing the world to “The Hidden Light” of African-American culture. A former commentator on the nationally syndicated The Tavis Smiley Show, he was a regular roundtable member on the groundbreaking National Public Radio Program News and Notes with Ed Gordon. A popular commentator, he co-founded Freestyle, a media talk show in Nashville that airs weekly, keeping his streak of radio presence alive for 19 continuous years. He is also viewed as one of the most insightful commentators on the round table of TV-One’s popular show Black Men Revealed.
jeff is a veteran of more than 30 professional stage productions, having appeared at regional theaters nationwide, including The Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Portland Center Stage Company, The Tennessee Repertory Theatre, Bristol Riverside Theatre, The 1996 Olympic Arts Festival, The American Negro Playwright Theatre, and Nashville Children’s Theatre. He has appeared in works from Shakespeare to August Wilson and all points in the middle, learning to love and appreciate the master storytellers.
A personal student and friend of the late playwright John Henry Redwood, jeff has also written ten plays. He wrote and directed a children’s choreo-poem, Before The People Came, in a collaboration between Amun Ra Theatre and Nashville Children’s Theatre in 2004. The play sold out 38 solid performances and was featured at the prestigious Provincetown Festival of New Works for Young People in New York, NY in the summer of 2004. It was also selected as a Mainstage Production at the National Black Theatre Festival in the summer of 2009. Before The People Came sold out the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s 1,300-seat Polk Theater for 9 shows for student audiences in April of 2011 and was subsequently invited for an encore to the National Black Theatre Festival.
Route 66: Finding Nat King Cole, carr’s most recent 1-Man show, which parallels the life of the great singer/pianist with the lessons taught to him by his father, opened to rave reviews in the Fall of 2010, and was chosen for its national premiere at the 2011 National Black Theatre Festival, making him the only living playwright with 2 shows featured as Main Stage Productions at a legendary festival that draws over 50,000 visitors every two years. His landmark play on the Nashville Civil Rights Movement, Ordinary Heroes, won him the 2008 Tennessee Historical Commissions Merit Award.
jeff has authored two books: Black Stuff: Poetry and Essays on the Afrikan-American Experience, and his most recent, Leave God Alone (He’s tired of you bothering Him): Liberating Essays from a reformed Church Addict (2010). His essays have appeared in Essence, The Black World Today, and The Tennessee Tribune. His essay, African-Americans: Where Do We Go From Here, is published in the millennium archive book, Nashville: An American Self-Portrait, and his essay, The Game of My Life, appears as a model of a well-written composition in the textbook, Wordsmith: A Guide To College Writing.
Not bad for a kid who once made straight F’s in English.
Driven by a desire to touch the limits of his calling’s potential, jeff continues to strive to create and tell the story. When not confined to the safety of his over-crowded study, laboring away at the latest creative endeavor, he can be found on the road, reaching people through speaking, coaching, acting, teaching, or performing shows like his one-man, seven-character play, How Blak Kin Eye Bee? The show was once performed to standing ovations at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, and has since been taken to colleges and universities nationwide.
His current project is the Found-Footage film thriller, He Ain’t Heavy, which recently won the TN Spirit Award for BEST FEATURE FILM at the prestigious Nashville Film Festival. The film is currently seeking theatrical distribution, but has already sparked an underground buzz with its head-on, fearless look at Fraternity Hazing. See the Trailer Here.
A licensed and ordained minister, Rev. carr founded Nashville’s Infinity Fellowship, a trans-religious, inter-faith congregation, in 2014. Infinity’s motto, “Ancient Wisdom for Modern Living,” defines a commitment to deep spiritual knowledge and social action. carr spends his personal time with his wife and five kids, friends, young people, or with total strangers, looking for opportunities to share the one thing he has learned through experience with hard knocks and overcoming obstacles.
“It’s all about the spirit we have within us,” this true Renaissance man says. “And that spirit comes from a source that created the universe. So we can all rest assured in the fact that we absolutely cannot fail, when we embrace and live the thing that we were born to do.”
For more info, feel free to keep surfing at www.jeffobafemicarr.com. You’ll never know just what you might find. If you’d like to book Route 66: Finding Nat King Cole or Before The People Came, click here.