Baltimost: Jefferson A. Russell, actor with Everyman Theatre

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Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography

Baltimost is a Baltimore Fishbowl feature series that asks locals what they love about their city. The idea is to celebrate Baltimore and the people who make it so unique.

So what makes Baltimore the Baltimost to you? It could be a favorite place, a great meal, a memorable interaction or something else entirely. Email suggestions to Karen at [email protected]

Jefferson A. Russell, 53, actor

As a member of the Everyman Theatre’s resident company, I have steady work and an artistic home.

I’m from Baltimore. I went to Baltimore public schools, and I was a Baltimore police officer.

It means a lot to me when students from the city schools come to our shows. It’s important that they see someone who looks like them up on that stage.

I grew up in Roland Park and went to Gilman School for second through 7th grade. I was the only African-American student in my class for most of that time. There were a couple of incidents, including a note or two in my locker, which made me realize I needed a change. So I transferred to Fallstaff Middle School, then went to City College for high school.
At some point, my mother enrolled me in the youth theater at Arena Players and another local children’s theater association. I was shy, and she thought it would be good for me.
I went to Hampton University, but I was homesick and wanted to transfer. My mom wouldn’t have it. She said college is what you make of it, and told me to join the theater. It’s one of the best things I ever did.

We qualified for the National Association of Dramatic and Speech Arts competition, which was in Chicago that year. I met other African American student actors, and I saw that acting could take you anywhere, both literally and metaphorically. I was completely smitten. Bit by the bug, as they say.

Still, I knew I wanted to be a Baltimore police officer, so I majored in sociology and criminal justice. I graduated in 1988 and was hired that August. My philosophy was that I was there to help people. I wasn’t there to knock heads.

After college, I also began acting for Arena Players, the nation’s oldest continually operating African-American community theater. It started in 1953! The people and community of Arena Players taught me so much about my craft, my culture, and my history. I’m forever grateful. For two years, my police shift was midnight to 8 a.m. I’d do a show and then go straight from the theater to work. I had my uniform in my car.

I left the force in 1992, to spend more time with my mom, who had terminal cancer. For a time, I worked as a juvenile probation officer for the state, but through the wisdom of my mother and also my father, I decided I was not going to sacrifice my dream of being a working actor.

Fortunately, at the time they were filming Homicide: Life on the Street in Baltimore, and I got on one or two episodes. Since then, I’ve done everything from musicals and children’s theater to voice overs.

One thing I love about Baltimore is the National Great Blacks in Wax museum. There’s a slave ship on display. It’s very disturbing, but it should be disturbing.

The museum is a true Baltimore thing. It ought to be more of a destination for people who live in the city. I think part of what we see going on in this country is that people don’t have a full realization of our history.

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