Actress Kimberly Elise returns home to inspire the next generation


Award-winning actress and Minneapolis native Kimberly Elise will be the keynote speaker for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder’s 15th annual Graduation Celebration, “It’s a Family Affair,” on May 20. Elise has gained critical acclaim for her roles in The Manchurian Candidate, Great Debaters and John Q, all three movies with Denzel Washington; Beloved opposite Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover; a featured role in Bait with Jamie Foxx; and Gifted Hand: The Ben Carson Story opposite Cuba Gooding , Jr., just to name a few. 

But she is most recognized for her powerful performance as the mild-mannered, docile wife “gone mad” in the Tyler Perry film Diary of a Mad Black Woman.

Elise grew up in Minnesota. She first lived in North Minneapolis on Washburn Avenue until she was nine years old. Later her family moved to Wayzata, where she attended Wayzata High School. Elise later earned her undergraduate degree in communications from the University of Minnesota.

In a brief interview recently, the MSR spoke with Elise (KE) about her acting career that began in Minneapolis.

MSR: When did you leave Minneapolis for Hollywood?

KE: I want to say August 1993.

MSR: What theaters did you work with in Minnesota?

KE: I did all of my work at Illusion Theater. They were the ones that took me in and gave me my first job on stage. I did a play called Miss Dessa.

Then I did a play that Marion McClinton wrote called Enlightenment. I did work with Illusion and did show after show after show. That allowed me to hone my craft on the job. So, I still consider Illusion my theater home.

MSR: Well, I guess we should give kudos to Illusion Theater?

KE: Yes!

MSR: You have done very well at capturing all of your characters. It seems that you study your roles and absorb them – is that true?

KE: I do. I allow it to work through me. It’s a beautiful experience. I love it.

MSR: Were you also a film study student?

KE: Yes, I took a few classes at MCTC, formerly Minneapolis Community College (MCC), from a supreme teacher named Bruce, but I can’t remember his last name.

I learned everything from how to take a camera apart and put it back together to how to edit raw film, as well as learning about all of the mechanics behind filmmaking and storytelling.

MSR: Can you tell me about some of your upcoming film and/or TV projects?

KE: Yes. I’m getting ready to do for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf. It’s directed by Tyler Perry, and I’m so excited about this project and look forward to starting this summer.

MSR: What are some of the projects that you are involved in that strike your passion?

KE: I have been involved for a long time with the Best Buddies Program. It’s a nonprofit that matches mentally challenged individuals with a mentor/buddy. I had a wonderful buddy named Shirley who passed away.

Now, I’m waiting to be matched up with someone new. She was African American, and the program needs more African American buddies.

MSR: How did you get involved with that program?

KE: I got involved because several years ago I did a film called The Loretta Claiborne Story. I played a woman who had a lot of success with the Special Olympics. Eunice Shriver, who passed away recently, started the Special Olympics, and one of her sons founded Best Buddies. That is how I got involved.

MSR: We are looking forward to hearing your message at the Graduation Celebration.

KE: I’m excited because I’m coming home. These are my brothers and sisters, and I can’t wait to meet the graduates.

MSR: I’m sure they feel the same. Thank you for the time, and Happy Mother’s Day.

KE: Thank you, take care.

It’s not too late: If you are a graduating senior of African or African American descent, there’s still time for you to join the Celebration. Every spring for the last 14 years, the Spokesman-Recorder (MSR) has hosted this celebration in honor of the late Cecil E. Newman, the newspaper’s founder.

Over the years, some of the featured speakers have been Nick Cannon, Tavis Smiley, L.L. Cool J and Hill Harper. The celebration is designed to support and reward graduating seniors of African and African American descent and their families. Several $1,000 individual Cecil Newman Scholarship Awards are announced, along with individual scholarships from event sponsors.

The May 20 event will be held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel located at 1300 Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis, and will feature dinner, an awards ceremony, and – in addition to Kimberly Elise’s keynote address – entertainment from a variety of local performing artists, live musicians, and local actor/singer T. Mychael Rambo as the master of ceremonies.

The presenting sponsor for this year’s event is Medtronic Corporation, cosponsored by Best Buy, The Pohlad Foundation, Fairview Hospital and Target Corporation.

To reserve space for you and your guests, call 612-767-2599, or register online at www.spokes (click on the “RSVP Here” button).
Jimmy Stroud welcomes reader responses to