“Coming from Northern Virginia, I was the one Black kid in school for my entire public school life,” Jerold Solomon says. When he looked at VCU’s diversity stats, he thought he could find a community.
“My first year, I had a circle of friends who were Black like me, but also interested in theatre like me,” he says. “I felt a sense of belonging.”
He also credits Gary Hopper with challenging him from day one.
“When I was a freshman, Gary Hopper questioned my work on a scene, which made me question my own natural abilities for the first time,” Jerold says. “His no BS approach knocked many of us high school stars off our pedestals. I’m forever grateful that he made me humble right at the beginning and kept me working to get better and to accept that criticism.”
Later, Jerold worked at The Lost Colony the summer that Terrence Mann directed. That lead to his audition for the national tour of Ragtime for a year. He then moved to NYC, where Broadway actor Kenita Miller and her husband were his first roommates.
Jerold says he sometimes ran into casting challenges as a light-skinned Black actor. “A lot of times if it wasn’t a specifically Black play,” he says, “there would be a white cast with one Black couple in the ensemble, always paired together. It was hard to cast me because they were afraid that I might not read as Black from the stage.”
Still, Jerold says he has no complaints about his career. “Being Black didn’t hinder me,” he says, “because I got the opportunities based on merit and have been cast in non-Black roles.”
In 2014, he was cast in Virginia Rep’s The Color Purple, but only accepted if he could bring his family and stay for summer. Five years later, they’re still in Richmond, where he teaches high school theatre and still performs.
About the Black Lives Matter movement, Jerold muses, “What makes it feel different this time is that there’s a contingent of white people just as angry and fed up with injustice as Black people.”
Written by Liz Hopper and Jerry Williams for the July 2020 Alumni Newsletter