“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
The moment four-year-old Malik Yoba laid his eyes on the eccentric costumes of the cast in the Off-Broadway production of Alice in Wonderland, he knew he wanted to be an actor. At 13, he joined the Metropolitan Opera’s Children’s Theater Guild. Feeling inspired, he gave his autograph to his teacher and said, “I’m going to be famous, you should keep this.” This confidence and swagger has followed him into adulthood. He is not arrogant. His acting and his art are inspired.
Growing up, his Dad instilled in him the value of hard work. His father would tell Malik, “Build your own generator so when they turn off the power, you still have lights.” His words became the philosophy Malik would live by for the rest of his life.
Malik’s humble beginnings started in the Bronx, but he mostly grew up in Harlem, New York. While his neighborhood was rough, he was lucky to have parents who exposed him to the “whole city and the world through travel.” In his household, his parents emphasized the importance of being a “global citizen.” Lying around the living room table were publications like Vogue, Essence, National Geographic, and Architectural Digest. Through these publications, Malik could transport himself into a different world. In his childhood home, there was no television. His dad was convinced it was an “idiot box.” He wanted his children to be independent thinkers. Instead of TV, Malik’s childhood home was filled with books about Black culture and history.
Through his schooling, he was exposed to kids who had a lot, kids who did not have much, and those who were in-between. “I remember in middle school going to my friend’s grandfather’s house on Fifth Avenue, overlooking Central Park. He was an executive at General Motors,” Malik says. “He lived in a building called the Park Five, which was on 61st street at Central Park. I had never seen a grand piano in anyone’s house before or all white carpet. You walked to the window and you saw Central Park. I couldn’t believe it.”
“Build your own generator so when they turn off the power, you still have lights.”
When Malik arrived in Hollywood in the 90s, he was not mystified by the glitz and glamour so many young stars get wrapped up in. He worked on his craft and created a place for himself among the distractions. “There is a moment where you arrive in Hollywood and you are literally standing on a studio stage and you look down and say ‘I’m here,’” Malik says. “But I knew, you are only as good as your last five minutes. Fame and even the opportunity to do the work is fleeting. For me, I’ve never felt like I made it, no matter how much I’ve done. I always strive to continue to create my own way.”
When speaking to Malik you get the impression of a determined artist who knew all his life where he was going, but he also looks back in amazement that it really panned out. “When you get to grow up and do the things you dreamed about as a kid, you realize that for one, you’re very blessed. There is also something very satisfying about it. I wrote plays as a kid and performed them in front of my parents and charged them money. I still do that as an adult,” he explains.
“There is a moment where you arrive in Hollywood and you are literally standing on a studio stage and you look down and say ‘I’m here.’”
Malik was taught to not let his environment limit his possibilities. He believes in the law of attraction that says “what you think about is what you become.” “Many people don’t believe it’s possible to invent your future, and they prove themselves correct. The Bible says, ‘you ask it and you are given.’ If you aren’t religious, you can refer to so many other teachers like Wattles, Napoleon Hill, or Abraham-Hicks that also convey this principle,” he explains.
“That truth is absolute—you dream about things, think about them, speak them into existence, and step into the vision from them. Even when proper circumstances do not show you that it is possible with the naked eye, you still have the ability to manifest ideas based on the power of thinking and then doing,” he says. In Malik’s life, there are specific moments that serve as testament to these beliefs. He remembers the time he wanted to be an Olympic bobsledder and ended up playing the fictional Olympic bobsledder, Yul Brenner, in Cool Runnings. Consequently, he wanted to know how it felt to get shot, and at 15, he was shot and left for dead. The power of the mind is no joke.
The law of attraction came to him recently when he received the news that ABC was rebooting New York Undercover. Malik recalls meeting with TV producer Dick Wolf many years ago to reboot the 90’s police drama. It wasn’t until this year when that wish began to fully materialize. The show began shooting last month. “I remember in 2018 telling my former co-stars that I’m no longer going to push for the reboot, and for it to manifest anyway is very powerful. It’s something that speaks to a collective consciousness. I can tell you, after 30 years in this business, out of all of the things I’ve ever done, I’ve never had something with such strong and focused support from so many people.”
“Even when proper circumstances do not show you that it is possible with the naked eye, you still have the ability to manifest ideas based on the power of thinking and then doing.”
He explains that Dick Wolf wasn’t necessarily looking to reboot the series, but ABC came to him with the idea because they needed more diverse content. “We were looked at as the little ghetto show that could,” he says. “Something that they would say mainstream audiences were not ready for, and now it’s as if the world has caught up and understands the need for more diverse content.”
Malik is excited for new talent to have their chance on the show. He always tells young people to “build their own generator,” but he also wants them to realize the power of doing and believing they are capable of greatness. “Create, ask a lot of questions, surround yourself with people who are smarter than you,” he advises. “Believe in the magic because the magic is real. It is as simple as that. One ounce of doubt and you’re out. If you believe you can’t do it, then you’re correct. If you believe you can, then you can. Just know it’s not easy. It takes tenacity.”
He believes we are more alike than different and negative forces try to divide us and allow people to feel lesser than. “The biggest challenges in the world— from immigration to racism—are often about fear and lack of opportunity,” Malik explains. “We are all capable of greatness as part of this abundant universe and too often the politics of distraction tell us we are not worthy.”
Malik is always making connections and working to help others, even in moments of supposed relaxation. While staying at a bed and breakfast recently, he noticed an inconsistency in the service. The owners, a couple fairly new to the resort business, had invested millions and were still learning. Malik pulled the wife to the side and spoke to her about what he had observed. He shared with her his expertise in the restaurant business. After all, he owned the Soul Cafe for nine years and was trained by one of the top restaurateurs in the country, Keith McNally. She was grateful for his advice. The next day, he ends up talking to her husband who does business in Boston. Malik is on the board of the Boston Arts Academy (BAA). They make that connection and Malik ends up getting support for BAA’s fundraising gala in May. “Even when I’m on vacation, there is always an opportunity to push my dreams forward or create new opportunities for myself and others,” says Malik.
“We are all capable of greatness as part of this abundant universe and too often the politics of distraction tell us we are not worthy.”
If there was one man that could lift the whole world with his hands, Malik Yoba would be the first to try. Be the change you wish to see in the world and “build a generator!”