Inspiring People

David Paladino, Ovation Award Winner, Playwright and Actor

David Paladino
In 1999, David made his life-changing discovery which lead to many other discoveries and a national radio interview.

In May 2002, David's life story aired nationally on NPR's Award Winning Radio Show - This American Life. The 'This American Life' interview about David's life story has led to offers for its film/television rights.

David has used his life story for the basis to write a one-act play entitled Champion, in which he also stars.

Champion was originally produced by Camelot Artists Productions in November of 2004. In August 2005, David, co-actor Ski Carr and director Tommy Hicks were invited to perform Champion at the Nation Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Champion received rave reviews and became the hit of the festival.

Many producers around the country have offered David and his compatriots the opportunity to perform Champion in their city.

Famed producer and director Woody King Jr. brings Champion to New York this spring. In addition, David just finished co-writing his first screenplay, in which he will also star.

David is also the 2003 Ovation Award Winner (Los Angeles' Tony Award) Best Lead Actor for his role in Athol Fugard's 'The Island'. (The play was actually devised by Athol and the two original actors, John Kani and Winston Ntshona.) David also received an NAACP Nomination and an LA Weekly Award for the same role. He was also one of the producers for the play.

Born in Dekalb, IL David currently lives in Los Angeles.

What is, at first, obvious about David Paladino is his calm and thoughtful spirit. He occurs, instantly as someone who knows who he is -- ironic when you stop to consider "the what" that he has come from; the circumstances that have colored his life.

I met David for morning coffee and I was very moved, not only by his story, but by the human being that would unfold. He is charismatic, lively and fun to talk to, but what was not so obvious at first, and what I would discover is, the courage with which he has lived his life. He has a forgiver's heart and an amazing capacity to accept, matched only by his commitment to go beyond.

I saw Champion, the play that David has written and stars in, and I unexpectedly cried. It was moving; a must-see.

His story is a must-read.

DR: So, David

DP: Yes, yes, yes...

DR: Tell me about your life...

DP: Well, it's an interesting thing.

I was born in Dekalb, Illinois which is just west of Chicago. It's kind of like farm country a little bit, but then there's Northern Illinois University. That is where my parents went to college. So I was born out there and then we moved closer and closer to Chicago which is essentially where my parents are from -- the suburbs of Chicago.

I was the first kid born on both sides of an Italian family which is an amazing thing because that made me -

"The King"!

There was nothing I could do wrong. I would entertain and sing and dance and all of those things, but I was basically "The King" because I was the first grand kid and, I was a guy, too.

So, we lived in Chicago until I was twelve and then my Dad got transferred and we moved to Los Angeles. My parents were still together at that time. I have two younger sisters, Laurie and Shari and we all moved to LA, which was a big culture change from living in the suburbs of Chicago - sunny Southern California...

One of the key elements to my whole story, which I have written my play about and which I have been interviewed on the radio show This American Life, is that I grew up much darker than my siblings and basically my family in general - darker skin that is. And, when I had hair, it was dark, black, curly, wavy hair. Not necessarily "Black" or straight but it was wavy and there were certainly elements of an afro there.

Growing up was a very interesting thing because, in any new place that we moved, I would always get questioned:

"Are you adopted? Who's your real Dad? Is that your real Mom?"


"Those are your sisters?!!"

People always asked these questions and essentially, I never mentioned it to anybody.

DR: You mean you never mentioned the questions...

DP: Yeah. I never mentioned the questions to any other family member. I just kind of found my ways to deal with it which was:

"I am Italian!"

I mean, that is what I knew.

"No, I'm a dark Italian, ya know, like Sicilians."

My sisters and everybody had the same kind of explanation for why I was darker:

"Oh, Mom never knew her biological father, really."

Apparently he was an Italian guy with darker skin. His family came via Brazil on the way from Italy to Brazil to The States. My Dad's side of the family is very fair skinned Italian. My grandmother had very curly dark hair. My uncle on my Dad's side basically had an afro but he was white.

So, if you kind of meld these things together you get...

DR: Logic.

DP: You get -- ME.

That is the apparent logic. It didn't always make sense but it was the easier thing to do and I never really told anybody or talked about it so...

I would go from place to place and my challenge was that when people thought that I was Black I was treated differently. I certainly ran into prejudices and racism; sometimes more overt than other times and sometimes more covert. But once I announced myself as Italian or people got to know me just for me, as being Dave, then the questions would go away until we would move to a new place or I met new people or I was at church with my family and people would be kind of like:

"Oh. How ya doin'?" --

Ya know, ME with "the family".

I was kind of like the "black sheep" even though I wasn't a trouble maker.

Being in Los Angeles after kind of setting up somewhat of a way to approach things in Chicago, well, Los Angeles was a whole new thing. We moved to the outskirts of a very affluent, White neighborhood so there were new questions. But once I would do well in sports and do my explaining or whatever, I would have certain friends that were set up.

That whole thing ended up becoming a lot of the story for what I have written but it also became my impetus for being an artist.


New York Times Review

Two New Plays at Abrons Arts Center, With Their Playwrights as Actors


Published: April 17, 2006

Two sets of fine performances are on display in the New Federal Theater/Black Spectrum Theater's bill of new plays, "Champion" by David Paladino and "The Stuttering Preacher" by Levy Lee Simon, at the Abrons Arts Center of the Henry Street Settlement. Both Mr. Paladino and Mr. Simon appear in their own plays; as actors they are memorable, as playwrights they are generous to their fellow cast members and to their audiences.

"Champion," directed by Tommy Redmond Hicks in an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink set designed by Anthony Davidson, is a twist on the old story of father and son reunited. Mr. Paladino plays an actor, a light-skinned black man who has passed for "dark Italian" all his life. With time off from a film shoot in Florida, he visits his black biological father in Memphis for the first time. Mr. Paladino brings a spare but powerful passion to his role, meeting his match in his dissolute and fading father, played in an engaging and textured performance by Ski (Cutty) Carr.

The evening opens with Mr. Simon's brash and ribald romantic comedy "The Stuttering Preacher," though here Mr. Simon leaves the plum role to Joyce Sylvester as Efay, a single woman in the early summer of her life.

Quite unexpectedly, Efay finds herself the target of the affections of a popular but lascivious preacher who stutters (everywhere but from the pulpit, that is, where he is inspired by his love of God). Efay spends most of the hourlong play talking to the audience, sharing hard-won and sarcastic wisdom derived from her history of failed relationships.

Ms. Sylvester's performance is so winning and charming that from the first few minutes she has the audience happy to be in the palm of her hand. Mr. Simon plays the preacher with considerable wit, style and physical presence, and when he stops stuttering as he is inspired by his love of Efay at the end of the play, it's a resolution well founded.

The New Federal Theater's founder Woodie King Jr. directs "The Stuttering Preacher" with an easy leisure born of confidence in the play and performances.

I always wanted to act as a young kid, even in Chicago. We would watch shows or I would watch Fame which was that famous show about the school of the arts. There were actors and dancers and then there was -


He was the Black guy! He could kind of a sing but not really. He was a great dancer. Anyway, I wanted to be a performer. But, I was an athlete and that was not the cool thing to do.

I developed, during those years, a strong connection for people of color, even though I didn't realize I was a person of color -- until later. Then, going into high school and then, starting to become more of a man really, realizing whether I was Black or not, I got that I was a person of color because of how people would view me walking into any area or situation...Now I wish that it never mattered but that was the reality at that time and it is still the reality now.

Cut to -

I am 29 ½ years old. I have finished college. I am out on my own. I am working as an accountant. I am starting to get into acting -- I finally decided to do that. And, I had this question burning inside me. I felt that there was something about my life that I didn't know. I woke up one day. At the time, the girl I was dating was pregnant. I wasn't in a very good place. "How am I going to have a kid? Do I want to be with this woman? Do I want to have a kid?" I woke up and I said:

"I have to ask my Mom. Today is the day."

My Mom and Dad had divorced when I was 21. She was remarried and my Dad was remarried and they were both still in Los Angeles. So, I called my Mom and went to see her. We exchanged small talk and then I just point blank asked her. I had dreamed about it, fantasized about it thought about how to do it and all of that went away and I simply just asked her. She broke down and started crying and said:

"David Paladino, Sr. is not your biological father. Your real father is a guy named Keith Rash and he is Black."

No surprise. By that time it was really not a surprise to me. It was like a relief because now I had some truth here. And she said, "He doesn't know you exist and she told me her story which was a very interesting story about 1969, Chicago Italians:

She was a cheerleader. He was a Black basketball player. They had some "goings on" while she was still dating Dave Paladino. She got pregnant towards the beginning of the summer. She didn't realize she was pregnant when she went back to Dave Paladino in college. She had her own things to explain. She never told her family. When she found out she was pregnant they got married but she didn't know even when she had me whether I was going to be Black or White or how I was going to come out. It wasn't until I was in high school that she started to go.

"Oh. Let me actually confront this."

She said that she would open up the year book and look at Keith's picture and be like, "Hmmm".

But she never told anybody and nobody ever asked her. My high school football coach, when I was 18 years old, asked my Mom "Dave, Jr. is not Dave, Sr.'s kid, right?" That was the first person in her entire life to ask and she said. "Nope. You're right." She knew it but she also had her own denial growing up. From being a kid to having a kid in a very highly racist group and, you know -

I understand why she kept her secret.

So, that was the whole thing that set up a chain of events, not bad, but going to find Dave Paladino, Sr. and saying "Hey, I know this now." And he said "Well I didn't find out until you were 18. You are my son I saw you born. You are my son."

Then started the quest to find my biological father and basically the play is based on me going to find Keith. You have to pretend when you go to see the play that you don't know the whole story.

DR: O.K. I'll pretend...

DP: So all of that to say, this is a long way to say, you know, when you ask me about my life...

I went to find Keith, a man who didn't even know me. I was in Florida doing a film. All I had was an address and I just got inspired and I said "I have to know this". They gave me a few days off, I rented a car and drove from northern Florida to Memphis, Tennessee, where the address was; twelve hours, four or five states...

DR: Alone?

DP: Alone.

Raining cats and dogs. I drove through the day into the night, got there at two or three in the morning. I stayed in a hotel and woke up the next day and I just kept saying to myself

"Let yourself be led. Let yourself be led",

because I couldn't find the address on the map. I found a main drag and I just kind of felt it out and within five minutes of leaving my hotel, in all of Memphis -

I drove right to his door.

He was there. I found him.

He didn't even know that I existed. He kind of knew that my Mom was pregnant. A friend saw me when I was a little boy and gave him a hard time

"I don't know Keith! The baby looks a little dark to me..."

That moment in time, being able to see someone who finally looked like me was such a huge accomplishment for me. I had already become an actor and I had already known that my purpose as an actor was...

I had a unique insight. I got to "live as a White person". Then I could also go into groups that were Black. Now sometimes I couldn't go into Black groups because I was lighter skinned, but other times I could be "down". Then I could also be Hispanic. People would always be speaking Spanish to me - I used to speak better Spanish than I do now - but I would always float in between and be a chameleon between different groups. I always kind of recorded that. I always wanted to be an artist and these are the things that I want to put out there to help shed some more light on the truths of a group or the misconceptions of a group because I kind of got to live in between these different groups. I feel that my purpose, and it is a very big purpose, but it is to:

Eradicate racism and handle race relations on the planet

And if it gives one or two or three people more insight or different views so that it spreads...

The irony of me being a person of color and growing up in this Italian family and me being "The King" and then later, even if they had their suspicions, me still being accepted. I mean, I was around that family and I heard them talking about Black people! I was around friends and I contributed myself. I talk about it in my play! I didn't want to be Black because of how people treated me. That is not a fun thing for me to say. It's not anything I'm proud of but it's the truth. But I think if I say the truth or if we really get honest and straight with each other, then we can actually grow and move beyond the pettiness of color or religion or whatever it may be. I think that every person is here on this planet to try and survive and we find whatever means we can to survive. Even the guy on the street, he is trying to survive in some way. He is trying to survive. We may not agree with how he is trying to survive or he may have had different choices that he has made but everybody is just trying to survive. Once we kind of get that, then there is a way to make it all work.

DR: When people look at you, David, what do you want them to see?

DP: I just want them to see -


I am not my body. I am a spiritual being. I was catholic...

This is going to really throw you here. You can put this or not in your interview, I don't know. Then I became a Buddhist because I was in search and Buddhist believe that you are a spiritual being and that you live many lives and you come to this lifetime. You choose your parents. After Buddhism I became a scientologist. They believe the same thing, that we are spiritual beings. Now the last thing on this planet that I wanted to be was a scientologist. After experiencing prejudice and racism, for me, it resonated as truth and all of the misconceptions and the black propaganda that I had heard about it, wasn't true. It is actually like a compilation of all of the religions. It was a real basic way for me to get help and to give help to other people.

I want to be seen, to answer your question, I want to be seen as me, which is a guy who respects others and somebody who wants to create art; art that hopefully inspires life, that they look beyond my bald head or my dark skin or my pale skin or however I may be viewed or my big smile...I want people to look beyond the immediate. I want people to see me for who I am. That is not cliché. I am trying to get better and better myself at trying to get rid of the pre-conceptions in life about life and stuff and go "Hey Dana! It's not just whatever you are that I see. You are much more than that." Being aware and not being stupid in situations...I know that I have prejudices. I hate to admit it, but I know that they come up and I try and get past that and really see a person, man woman whatever for what they are. That's what I want people to do with me. I am going to play characters that are black, I am going to play characters that are Hispanic, I am going to probably play middle-eastern characters, Greek, and I am going to play Italians. I am probably not going to play your straight Caucasian character but I am going to play the colors of the rainbow because I enjoy doing it but also that is what I can do, and,

I just want to be viewed as a person as a human being just looking to try and do some good.

The more people that are trying to do some good, I believe, the more good will be done.

DR: If I had a magic wand and I could wave it right now and get you anything that you wanted, what would you want?

DP: Freedom for all people, whatever that may mean for each individual...that everybody would have that...the real freedom that I think we all seek...

South Africa...That Apartheid was eradicated in the early '90s? If you really think about the things that were going on there and the things that are still going on there...Africa is very close to my heart. I did a play called The Islands. It is a South African Prison play, that Fugard and Johan Kani and Winston Ntshona wrote back in the early '70's during the height of apartheid. It's about these guys on Robben Island prison where Nelson Mandela spent nearly 18 of his 27 years in prison. It was about these two men in the prison and what they go through with each other but also in the fight, that they use aesthetics to try and fight back in the prison during this prison concert...I just see in all of these different pockets that people have a desire for freedom; freedom to live and raise their children and all of those kinds of things.

DR: If there were one question that you would want me to ask you that would reveal something that you want people to know about you, what would that question be?

DP: That is a good question. That is a very good question. Well, maybe I could get to it by starting with one of the major questions that I get "How did you find your Dad?" because if you really break it down then:

I'm just in a strange place in Florida and I just rented that car...

It's not even something that computes to me that, I did (Laughs) I look back and I think "Yeah. That was pretty ballsy! That was pretty good." When people ask me that question "How did you find your Dad?"...

We all have something that we desire. But it takes the willingness; it starts with the willingness. That willingness coupled with an energy toward something; that intention to find something out or get something done...Anyone can have a career or an education...Are certain people going to have more difficulty and obstacles to overcome than others? Possibly. Are we going to have different obstacles than certain people? Yeah. But anyone can achieve or find out anything they want to find out based on their willingness to learn and their willingness to go that extra step with intention. All of our powers, I believe as people...

There is no doubt tomorrow that you are going to eat right?

DR: Right...

David Paladino
David Paladino with his Ovation Award

DP: Yeah. You have decided that you are going to find a way to eat today. So, if you are going to find a way to get your project done, you are going to make your movie. If you don't have that doubt, if the doubt doesn't creep in

"Hey, I'm gonna make this movie!"

O.K, you run into obstacles, yes but

"Hey, I am still going to make the movie!" And you don't get down.

"Hey, I'm still gonna eat."


"I don't have any money today.


"What do I have to do? I gotta go hustle. Let me move these boxes. Can you give me a couple of bucks?"

You are going to find a way to eat. So that film or that education or whatever it may be is like -


You can make the decision and back it up with action and really make it happen. That is the question that gets asked of me and that would be the question that I would want to have asked of me. Its not that I have done anything super human and its not that I have done anything that other people haven't done. People have certainly done greater. And, I have had a lot of help. I have had a lot of great support. Whether it has been writing my project or going to find Keith, in my life, help is a basis. Anything is possible for anybody. I am not special. We are all special and we all have the ability to do far more than we think and some people are doing it. A lot of people are. It's all possible.

DR: What is the source of your inspiration?

DP: The source of my inspiration is creating a future for other generations that has freedom, that people have the ability to come and go as they please and that they have the ability to practice whatever religion they please without trying to blow shit up, that there becomes a new level of understanding of people.

My inspiration is...

I don't believe that I am money motivated. I need money to pay for what I want. I want things and they cost money but I am not purely money motivated. I am more duty motivated. I feel it is my duty to help others. Am I some martyr? No. I'm just a guy who's trying to make a difference here or there. If I can make a difference with a couple of people, which I know I have with my play...

"You know what? I am going to try and find my Dad."


"I am gonna talk to my son. We just had a fight."

A guy told me that the other day. If that little piece can help - that is what motivates me. I also get motivated to pay the darn bills. Don't get me wrong. But helping people, I hope, is the senior thing. Yeah. I want to promote my piece or promote myself so that I will hopefully have a broader stage to help.

I think that is the best way that I can kinda answer that...

DR: A hundred years from now, what do you want to be remembered for?

DP: Wow. Basically as a guy who made a difference. I could say "the most famous this" or "the most exquisite that" but I like the simplicity of

"That guy changed some lives. He helped some people. He made a difference."

The simplicity of -

That guy made a difference.

Thanks David!



by David Paladino

Saturday, August 5th
8:00 pm @ Harris Chapel Life Enrichment Center

In Association with Chief Jimmy Brown

Ticket Price $25.00

Their passion will make you think. Their courage inspires change. Your heart will never be the same. One man's discovery is another man's reason for change. 'Champion' is a tale of two men from different worlds who find common ground. A journey of redemption, discovery and truth.

2351 NW 26 Street, Oakland Park, FL 33311

Click here to purchase tickets.

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