In his role as Coach Billy Baker in The CW's show All American, actor Taye Diggs helps promising young athletes reach their full potential and follow their dreams. In real life, the dedicated father, author and teacher wants to make those same dreams a reality for children across the country who will be returning to school this fall without the adequate school supplies and tools to set them up for a productive and successful school year. On average, dedicated teachers spend $740 of their own money to provide supplies for their classrooms and students. More than two-thirds of all classroom supplies are purchased by teachers for students whose families cannot afford adequate school supplies.
To address this startling trend, Diggs has teamed up with Burlington in support of a charity initiative, AdoptAClassroom.org, now in its third year of operation. On July 16, Burlington Stores, AdoptAClassroom.org and Taye Diggs were joined by the New York City Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza to surprise teachers spanning the six Manhattan school districts with a $100,000 school supply donation. This is the largest one-time donation that the retailer has made to-date through this program. From now until August 17, Diggs is asking for support for this cause -- simply visit any Burlington store and donate as little as $1 to help raise funds for this back-to-school initiative.
In this BET interview, Diggs explained why this project is so special to him, reminisced on his own school days as well as some well-loved characters he's played whose education inside the classroom and in the school of life have made some of our most beloved movies memorable.
BET: The charity that you've come out in support of, AdoptAClassroom.org, is gearing up to make a $100,000 donation to six school districts across Manhattan so that teachers don't have to spend their own hard-earned money to purchase school supplies. Why is this project so near and dear to your heart, and why did you want to get involved with it?
Taye Diggs: It's near and dear to my heart because arts and education and educators have played a major role in my growing up and into who I am as a performer and person and adult male today. Growing up, my mother always emphasized education. She was an educator herself, my sister is a teacher, I teach whenever I have the opportunity just because it has influenced me in such a positive way that now, given the opportunity, any chance I get I want to support drives such as this. My sister made known to me recently that a lot of teachers across the nation have had to go into their own pockets to provide supplies for their classrooms, and that's something that unfortunately... that has to stop, so I'm partnering with Burlington and we're trying to raise awareness and funds. We're trying to get out there that all people have to do is go to the nearest Burlington store and donate at least a dollar, and it can help get these students the supplies that they need so that they can continue their much-needed education.
BET: Every child should be able to enjoy the experience of getting prepared to embark on another year of learning in school, and it's unfortunate that far too many children are denied that joy and childhood rite of passage. Do you have any vivid memories of being a child in school and getting prepared for the new school year?
Diggs: One hundred percent, and I'm glad you brought that up because that's something that I haven't really spoken to all day today. You're absolutely right. The years that we did have money and could afford supplies, it completely changed the energy and the vibe of my going and being prepped for school. Absolutely. I have a lot of great memories and not so great memories of when I felt prepared [for school] and when I did not.
BET: With your son, Walker, is there any special ritual that you do each year to prepare him for the start of school?
Diggs: Ah, man, we're lucky enough to have him going to one of these artsy fartsy schools where they make something special out of everything, and it's awesome, because he gets an opportunity to experience so much that I did not. And that is the dream. And hopefully, what we're doing can further that with other kids in need. But we jump at every occasion for parent-teacher conferences and certain performances, and the days when the parents can come in and see all of the projects that the kids have worked on, poetry readings, and the list never ends, so his mother and I feel very blessed.
BET: Let's talk about your movie The Wood, which turns 20 today. That movie featured flashbacks of three best friends coming up through school together, so it's relevant to what we're talking about here! All of these years later how do you feel about playing the character Roland, and how do you feel about this nostalgic movie 20 years later?
Diggs: I'm still bothering and being a pain to the director trying to get him to do a sequel -- all of us are, because that was one of, I think that was one of the first ensemble movies I did. I think I did that before... I can't remember if I did that before The Best Man or after, but it was right around that time, and the memories are so fond. And you're right, it deals with students and school, and distractions, and coming of age, dating, and all that stuff, so it was great to see the movie and go back in time, watching the younger versions of us, and it was even better playing the older versions and getting to kick it with Omar [Epps] and Richard T. I just ran into Richard T. Jones on the Warner Brothers lot, so next time I see him I'll tell him it's -- you said it's the 20th [anniversary]? That's ridiculous. Thank you for that, I'm going to have to post something! It holds up, it holds up. Yeah.
BET: The theme of school is present in your current role as a high school football coach in All American. What was that experience like playing a coach?
Diggs: It was awesome. As I've said before, I've been really lucky. I've gotten to play a lot of different kinds of roles, and I've repeated them a bunch -- I've played a bunch of lawyers, I've played a bunch of doctors, I've played a bunch of cops, but coach I had never played, and now that my son is starting to go into athletics, it plays right into my personal life as well. So, the fact that it was a role that I hadn't played before, coupled with really great writing, and then you add very kind of current and pertinent themes of today with today's young people, and it was something that I kind of couldn't turn down. We just had a table reading for the opening of the second season, so it's exciting. I think the viewers are going to be really pleased, and I know all the cast mates as well as myself are really excited to begin.
Tiggs: Oh yeah, it's a series. We've written three, me and my co-writer, Shane Evans. We have three out now, we're working on the fourth, and we are going to continue. We're not stopping. It's been great, and any opportunity we get to stop by a school and have the students grace us with their presence and let us read our little books to them has been wonderful, so we're going to continue along that path.
BET: In your unforgettable role as Winston in the 1998 cult classic How Stella Got Her Groove Back, based on the best-selling book by Terry McMillan, you forgo medical school to pursue love. How do you feel about you and your co-star Angela Bassett reuniting to do a follow-up movie?
Diggs: I would love to have some kind of a sequel to see where they are now, and tell a new story. Somebody else brought that up today, so I consider that a good sign.
To find a Burlington store near you to donate and support this cause, visit Burlington.com. To enter your school for a chance to win a school supplies grant and to learn more, visit Burlington.com/AdoptMySchoolSweepstakes.
Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)