"Every day we are faced with challenges and choices. Some are harder than others. It's often easier when we're younger because many decisions are made for us, and there are many rules to follow. Be patient and know that if you can make it through today, tomorrow's challenges and choices will be a lot easier."
"While it is important to have friends, it's also important to realize that you - completely on your own - have to be able to make yourself happy. It is by making the right choices in our life (that include our friendships, family relationships, education, careers and other things we do ... or don't do) that we learn how to bring true happiness into our life."
- Hill Harper
Hill Harper was born Frank Hill Harper on May 17, 1966 in Iowa City, Iowa. His late father, Harry Harper, was a psychiatrist, and his mother Marilyn, an anesthesiologist. They both graduated from Howard University Medical School, where they met.
Like many youth today, Hill was raised by a single parent, only it was his mother who was absent while his father raised him. He recalls that, “Many a Mother’s Day passed with me feeling the sting of what I perceived as rejection from my mother’s abandoning me. It made me question my worth, and I wondered if everyone who looked at me could see what she saw – that I was leave-able.”
Luckily, as he matured, Hill got to know his mother and realize that her leaving wasn’t about him or his worth as a human being. Rather, she left the situation she was in – a situation that at the time wasn’t healthy for her. His parents later divorced and Hill came to see his parents as flawed individuals with their own set of problems who could not always protect him. So, he learned to depend more on himself and less on his parents.
Hill’s main positive messages while growing up came from both of his grandfathers. His grandfather on his mother’s side, Harold E. Hill, educated himself during the 1920’s and became a pharmacist. In 1936 he opened the only pharmacy in Seneca, South Carolina where black people could fill their prescriptions and be treated equally. As a boy, Hill remembers sitting at the marble soda fountain in the pharmacy reading comic books, licking popsicles, and watching him fill prescriptions one by one. Hill’s grandfather on his father’s side was Harry D. Harper, a family doctor in Fort Madison, Iowa. Harry and his three physician brothers opened a state-of-the-art medical clinic and lab that for many years was the number-one private medical practice in the state of Iowa.
To this day, Hill Harper is proud that he is named after both of his grandfathers. "They both were great men who really worked hard for their family and also their community," said Harper, "and I look at them as my inspiration for feeling like I can have an impact in any area of society I want."
After moving into the California bay area when Harper was five years old, the family lived in Oakland, San Francisco, and then Sacramento, where Harper graduated from high school. He went on to graduate magna cum laude in economics and sociology from Brown University and with honors from Harvard Law School, where he and U. S. Senator Barack Obama were classmates.
A simple decision Harper made while studying at Brown changed the whole course of his life. The then football receiver needed just one more class that would fulfill his academic requirements and allow him to arrive on time to football practice. Hill's choice — Theater Arts 21: Voice For The Actor — opened new doors for him, completely changing his career direction.
Hill Harper's first paid acting job was as a background extra in the movie Malcolm X, for which he received $60. He first came to acting prominence as the aspiring filmmaker with the ubiquitous video camera documenting the Million Man March in Spike Lee's 1996 film, Get on the Bus. In 1997, Hill played a philandering rapper and romantic rival to Christopher Scott Cherot in the comedy, Have Plenty; and in 1998 he re-teamed with Lee to play the cousin and overshadowed teammate of an NBA prospect in He Got Game.
More recently, since 2004, Hill stars in the hit CBS drama series, CSI: New York, where he portrays Dr. Sheldon Hawkes, an insightful former forensic pathologist, now crime scene investigator. His character projects the “guy next door” image but with the seriousness, depth and intelligence rarely offered to young black actors. Harper says the role gives him an opportunity to tear down stereotypes associated with African-American men.
Beyond his dedication to being an excellent actor, Harper engages himself in reaching out to young African-American and Latino men in need of guidance. “I want young men to have knowledge of the things that can bring them true empowerment: education, a strong sense of purpose, compassion, confidence and humility,” says Harper.
In April 2006, Hill released the first in a series of books targeting youth referred to as the “lost generation” with words of encouragement and guidance. As to why he wrote the book, Hill said, "I get invited to speak at a lot of colleges, High schools and middle schools all the time, and I get so many different questions from young men after I speak. These young brothers were asking me these questions and I don’t know if they could see it behind my eyes, but I was looking at them, saying to myself, 'There has to be someone in their lives to help them answer these questions.' So I decided that I needed to write Letters To A Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny to deal with some of the questions and issues that young men deal with in their lives." Harper's new book is called, Letters To A Young Sister: DeFine Your Destiny.
Proceeds from his book and speaking engagements go to the MANifest Your Destiny Foundation, a non-profit organization Harper established to empower, encourage, and inspire under-served young men. He is also developing a website where they can ask other young brothers and sisters questions on how to navigate through an issue.
As Hill Harper’s success as an actor and author continues, he also regularly speaks to youth in public schools, often emphasizing the values of a good education. “Education has always been really important to me and my family,” he says, “and I’m a big proponent of trying to get young, urban kids to go to school and educate themselves, because the world offers a wealth of opportunities.”