In Ephraim’s world, Brooklyn is the star, though he’s not entirely willing to forfeit the limelight. After all, every actor needs his stage, and it was the dejected streets of Bed Stuy that not only raised him, but that still lead him home today. When all is said and done, it seems Ephraim owes his fortune to this unique crevice of New York, as it was by sinking into the depths of its playing field that he proved his resilience.
“I was born into a middle class family with everyone supporting one another,” explains Ephraim. “My family was doing well. We owned a lot of businesses and restaurants, but then came the ‘80s. It was what I call the ‘Great Depression’ era of Brooklyn, when the crack epidemic hit. A lot of my family got hooked and suddenly we moved into the projects.”
Ephraim quickly adapted his mindset to survive in a climate of desperation. Raised by his mother and stepfather, he constantly had a support system, yet still found himself dabbling into the crime-ridden world surrounding him. His creative spirit led him to broader endeavors, and in high school, he gained allegiance in a visual art program before branching into the world of acting. Nevertheless, there were road blocks, which tested his endurance.
“In art school, I made some choices I know I shouldn’t have, but which ultimately gave me the opportunity to get where I am today,” he comments. “I was kicked out; I should have gone to jail, but I was put in remedial school where I learned good judgment, and was given a second chance.”
In Ephraim’s world, ‘today’ refers to his flourishing career in the film industry. He already counts pictures like Precious, American Gangster and Bamboozeled among his credits, and continues to appear regularly in the movies and on television. Even so, his eyes aren’t solely focused on the clouds, but on the path beneath his feet. His most recent endeavor, ‘Chillin’ On Da Corner and Beyond’, is a testament to such fortitude. The nonprofit venture is an outdoor summer film festival, nestled in the heart of Bed Stuy, where nearly every week from June to September, Ephraim has arranged a movie screening in the park. His aim is to expose the community to films they would not have otherwise had the chance to see.
“Most films portray stereotypical roles of my community,” he comments. “They are dumb-downed versions of reality, which are brainwashing people without them even knowing it. The only way to fight it is with the same strategy.”
For two years, he built his dream, now bringing arthouse message films to Brooklyn, complete with red carpet, press line and security team. The series is a testament to his profound love for his neighborhood, and the people he knows still haven’t received the respect they deserve.
“My community is deprived of good films,” he says. “They don’t know anything about ideas beyond what they are taught in school. They learn about Martin Luther King, but not Malcolm X because he was too controversial, too progressive. The films we’re showing help re-program the mind.”
His audience is diverse, encompassing not only local Brooklyn-ites, but a respective crowd from the city. He’s partnered with several ventures including Rooftop Films, and continues to lobby corporate entities for greater support. In Ephraim’s world, Chillin On Da Corner will stretch beyond its initial boundaries—that means cities and countries around the world. Along with presentations, he brings in directors and guest speakers to address issues of AIDS, drugs, and other factors afflicting his people, lest they never be hindered by lack of knowledge.
“Growing up, I always tried to find the easy way out,” he adds. “I had to get knocked around a lot to finally figure it out.”
Nowadays, Ephraim can be found on location with the likes of Spike Lee, Denzel Washington, or, just this week, John Legend and the Roots. His margins are few, and his prerogatives, great. It’s hard to escape the pride of a young ingénue, though Ephraim has managed to put his audacity towards grander endeavors. Incidentally, ‘Chillin On Da Corner’ was motivated by an idea to host a premiere for his own short in Brooklyn. A big ado in his name, in the place he first learned to walk. It seems he was given an inch, and stole a mile; his life being a marathon in the making.
“Everyone needs to believe in something,” he comments. “If the streets are where kids think they can find it, then that’s where they’ll go, but they are looking for something else.”
By redefining reality with his imagination, Ephraim offers them a new corner to plant their hustle.
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– Courtney Garcia