TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Hillsborough Community College hosted its 16th annual Black, Brown, and College Bound Summit where Hollywood actor Jay Ellis served as the keynote speaker.
Jay Ellis is known for his key roles in the hit HBO series, Insecure, BET’s The Game and he stars in the Top Gun Maverick movie, which is currently nominated for an Oscar.
On Friday, March 3, Ellis made his way to Tampa from California to speak to hundreds of minority college students as a part of HCC’s 16th Annual Black, Brown, and College Bound Summit.
“I have seen some of the folks who have been here in the past and I was like, are they sure they want me to come here?” Ellis jokingly said.
Rather, he was very grateful to be a part of an event that is all about representation, motivation, and education.
“I think back to when I was growing up and I don’t know if anything like this existed when I was in my journey of figuring out college and what I wanted to do with my life,” Ellis said.
In WFLA’s exclusive interview with Ellis, he shared a lot about his journey to success.
“I grew up in the 90s so it was a wild time,” he said. “A lot of new messaging coming at young Black men. I didn’t know if I was supposed to hoop or bang, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. Thankfully I had several people and family who could guide and help me along the way.
After college, Ellis started working as an intern in public relations for the Portland Trailblazers. He always had his heart set on entertainment, so he moved on to modeling where he worked with Nike, Adidas, and others. In 2004 he followed his dream of acting, so he moved to Los Angeles.
He began his acting career with small roles and made appearances in Grey’s Anatomy and How I met Your Mother in 2011. In 2013, Ellis got his first main actor role starring in BET’s The Game, and in 2015, he starred in HBO’s Insecure, which ran for five seasons.
While still acting, he uses his platform to give back.
“I’ve had a very fortunate career but I’m often in rooms where I’m one of,” he said. “To shoulder the diaspora in that room is a lot to ask of a person. When I step away I realize there should have been more of us in that room.”
That’s why being in a room filled with minority men for HCC’s Black, Brown and College Bound Summit meant a lot to him. His message to the students he spoke to at the summit talked about embracing one’s journey and never giving up.
“The journey is as sweet as the destination and make sure you are taking every opportunity to soak things up along the way, to learn more about yourself, the world around you,” he said.
HCC’s President Dr. Ken Atwater said Ellis’ message was exactly what those minority students needed to hear.
“As Jay said, never quit. Because you have setbacks or failures, his term was I pivot. Guess what? Pivot again, pivot as much as you need to be successful,” Atwater said.
Atwater hopes the students were not only inspired by Ellis’ message, but truly grasp that their dreams are possible.
“A lot of times we do not see ourselves that are very successful,” Atwater said. “If I turn on my television set, I’m a sports advocate, I see a lot of black males playing sports. A lot of young males feel like I can do that too. Why can’t I see a lot of doctors, a lot of attorneys?”
HCC hopes to continue pushing this message to the several schools across the country that participate in the summit annually.