Black Panther actor inspires Lowcountry students

Black Panther actor inspires Lowcountry students
April 20 18:34 2018 Print This Article

While growing up in West Ashley public housing, Cyrus Birch never dreamed he would become an actor. Birch landed a role in the blockbuster movie Black Panther and is now inspiring students throughout the Lowcountry to make the best of their opportunities in life. He spoke to a school-wide assembly at Burke High School Friday and told the student, “Pursue your dreams with reckless abandon!”

About 92% of the Burke students are living in poverty. Birch told them about growing up in a roach-infested apartment and recalled the embarrassment of having roaches crawl out when he opened his book bag. He pointed to the Burke students and said, “I am you and you are me … Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it!”

Birch told the students about a turning point in his life while he was in middle school. A popular classmate who had the the most expensive shoes and jeans tried to get him to sell drugs so he could afford those things. Birch told them that he had a vision that selling drugs would either result in prison or death and declined the offer. He later witnessed his classmate being shot to death. He said, “That could have been me. The decisions you make today can impact the rest of your life!”

Basketball became a way out of poverty and out of trouble for Birch. A star at the former Middleton High School, Birch earned a scholarship at Spartanburg Methodist College and later at UNC-Pembroke, where he earned a degree in computer science and had a chance to play on the big stage against the UNC Tar Heels. He said he was the first person in his family to attend college and told the students, “A lot of you will be the First Generation in whatever you choose to do.” Several students shouted out what their dreams are.

Birch told the Burke students that they have to be prepared for opportunities that come their way. He had Facebook friends who advised him to go into modeling. He made that happen. Later, one of his modeling associates told him about a casting opportunity for Black Panther. He got in the car, drove to Atlanta for the audition, and made the cut. He was cast as a Jabari warrior who came down from the mountains to help the Black Panther take back his country from hostile forces. He will be re-cast in a sequel being filmed in the fall.

State Representative Wendell Gilliard honored Birch with a proclamation passed in the General Assembly to honor his accomplishments. Birch now has a Ladson-based foundation called Roses in Concrete, based on a poem by rapper Tupac. He told the Burke students, “I am the rose who grew out of the concrete, and you can be one, too.” The focus of the foundation is to promote character development, career development and leadership among disadvantaged students. He will be making many other appearances in Lowcountry schools in the coming weeks.