When Art Imitates Life
How a Hollywood actor made it out of one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods
American Actor Cory Hardrict grew up in a deeply divided Midwestern city, which has become even more separated since he moved to the West Coast in the late ‘90s to pursue a film and television career.
Division is seen among various population segments of Chicago, the third largest city in the U.S. Here are the top six conflicts between groups who mostly agree to disagree:
- African-Americans constitute 33 percent of the city’s population, but 74 percent of those shot by officers in recent years were black, according to AP reporters. In 2015, footage revealed a white officer shot a black teenager 16 times, stated NPR.
- There are 12,000 officers vs. 100,000 gang members, according to ABC News.
- Rival gang clashes contributed to the city’s highest homicide rate in 16 years, with 51 deaths in January 2016 alone, according to USA Today.
- Citizens in underprivileged areas believe the government is not equally diverting resources, an Al Jazeera journalist stated.
- Teachers’ unions continue to protest government- enacted budget cuts. The New York Times reported the Chicago Board of Education voted in 2013 to close 54 of 681 public schools.
- Residents have taken a stand against large developers who are gentrifying neighborhoods and displacing tenants, stated Progress Illinois and other outlets.
Chicago is home to more than 2.7 million in which there are the haves and the have-nots. The most affected groups are working-class minorities, low-income college students and the youth. Among locals, this atmosphere stirs rumblings of the existence of “Two Chicagos,” which Hardrict addresses in his film project.
“I’m developing a movie called ‘Inglewood.’ It will [discuss] what’s going on today,” Hardrict shared. “I feel like the way to feed the community, to feed the kids and feed Chicago is through art, so I can touch them through the movie and talk about school closings and uniting them.”
With a new TV show and five films coming out – – including the Tupac biopic “All Eyez on Me”; “Car Dogs,” starring opposite Octavia Spencer; and “Destined,” which he executive produced — Hardrict has put “Inglewood” on the backburner until late 2016 or 2017. He continues to make time for bettering Chicago.
The goal to uplift the youth of their shared hometown is what bonded Hardrict and his business manager, Sherman Ormond (pictured right). Coming from a major plumbing contractor family, Ormond said he has also protested against developers who only hire minorities for the bottom-of-the-barrel minimum wage jobs or don’t hire them at all.
“With Sherman, we are out here trying to inspire the youth and bring back programs for the inner city,” Hardrict stated. “We refocus their attention to positive outlets. We hold events. We take them to Six Flags and bring them together for a peaceful cause. They look up to someone who has made it out. I’m living proof.”
Ormond got Hardrict involved with the Chicago Peace Org, a non-profit organization that helps resolve inner city conflicts. It includes a network of 50 clergymen, politicians, celebrities and companies that donate their time.
“We started in 2011 with getting rival gang members to come to a prominent local church called St. Sabina with Father Michael Pfleger,” Ormond explained. “We partnered with him to unite gang members across the Chicagoland area. Rival gang members play [basketball] against each other to see who will win the championship. With that, more members of the community started building relationships with each other – – the Chicago Police Department, the mayor’s office and other organizations.”
Hardrict seeks to be a good role model for young people like his mother was for him. His mother was the one who steered him toward acting. She shaped him as much as his experiences growing up on the South Side of Chicago.
“My mother got sick. She said if anything happened to her, she wanted me to go to California to pursue acting. After she passed, I sat in Chicago for three years, not sure what I wanted to do,” he said. “I got my strength from her. I hustled up a plane ticket. I only had $70, and I didn’t know anybody in Los Angeles.”
“Battle Los Angeles,” a 2011 action film, was a personal movie for Hardrict. The character he played had lost his mother and brother, which happened to Hardrict in real life.
“I gravitate toward the reality side of acting. I like pulling from life experiences. Growing up, I’ve seen it all, been through it all and I’m still here,” he added.
Making it as an actor in Los Angeles was not easy for Hardrict. He slept on the floor of an apartment belonging to a guy he barely knew. Also, he worked the graveyard shift at Kmart for minimum wage.
Perhaps worst of all was the time he innocently wore a blue shirt in a gang-infested neighborhood in Inglewood, Calif., and got chased by members of a notorious gang in the area. He bought new shirts after that day.
Eventually, Hardrict got a local talent agent who sent him on auditions. He was rejected numerous times for two years straight until he finally landed a role in 1998.
Now that he’s made the Los Angeles area his home with his wife, actress Tia Mowry, and son, Cree, Hardrict continues to give back.
“Once a month, I gather a few friends and go to Subway, Burger King or McDonalds. I buy a $1,000 worth of food, and I take it to Skid Row in Los Angeles to hand out,” Hardrict shared. “I’ve been doing this for the last five years. I’ve never told anybody I do this. I love helping others.”
Hardrict said he is proud of how far he’s come in his career and is grateful for what has become his biggest year yet. He still has more to achieve, such as winning a Best Actor Oscar, but for him, making movies for the people and inspiring the youth is more important than any award.