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Samuel L. Jackson, Condoleezza Rice and Ruth Simmons

Samuel L. Jackson, Condoleezza Rice and Ruth Simmons

Renowned cultural critic and Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr presents this major new ten-part series in which prominent Americans trace their ancestry. Your Family Tree magazine describes the series as: ‘Brilliant, so much better than the other celebrity genealogy shows’. In each of the ten episodes, Gates features a group of famous people who share an intimate link, although they are not always aware of the fact. As he takes his subjects on a trek through layers of ancestral history, he uncovers secrets and surprises of their family trees and shares life-changing discoveries. The series features cutting-edge DNA analysis to enable the celebrities’ family trees to be traced with scientific precision. Featured guests include Kevin Bacon, Harry Connick Jr, Robert Downey Jr, John Legend, Michelle Rodriguez, Kyra Sedgwick, Martha Stewart, Barbara Walters and Rick Warren. In the first episode, Gates meets Hollywod star Samuel L Jackson, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Ruth Simmons, President of Brown University. All three have climbed to the pinnacle of their profession, yet each started life as a second-class citizen in the Jim Crow south. They have some remarkable stories to uncover as they trace their past back to their enslaved ancestors and their African roots.

FYR_logo_canvas_900x227px_3Samuel L. Jackson, Condoleezza Rice and Ruth 

fiyo-jackson-155 Samuel L. Jackson

Respectfully labeled as one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood, Jackson is an undisputed star as demonstrated in the fact that his films have grossed the most money in box office sales than any other actor in the history of filmmaking.

Jackson made an indelible mark on American cinema with his portrayal of ‘Jules’, the philosophizing hitman, in Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.”  In addition to unanimous critical acclaim for his performance, he received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations as Best Supporting Actor as well as a Best Supporting Actoraward from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

Jackson recently made his Broadway debut at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater in Katori Hall’s The Mountaintopco-starring Angela Bassett and directed by Kenny Leon. The Mountaintop is set on the eve of the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., whom Jackson portrays. The play runs until January 22, 2012.

Following his theatre run, Jackson will begin production on Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.” Jackson will play the role of ‘Stephen,’ alongside Christoph Waltz as ‘Dr. King Schultz,’ Jamie Foxx as ‘Django’ and Leonardo DiCaprio as ‘Calvin Candie.’  “Django Unchained” is set in the Deep South during the 1850s and tells the story of a slave-turned-bounty hunter setting out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.

Jackson has recently completed production on “The Avengers,” which is one film in a multi-picture deal with Marvel Studios. The highly anticipated film will be released May 4, 2012.

Recently, Jackson was seen in HBO’s “The Sunset Limited,” an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s play.  Tommy Lee Jones co-starred and directed the telefilm.

In September 2010, Jackson played ‘P.K. Highsmith’ in Columbia Pictures’ “The Other Guys.” Additionally, Jackson co-starred in the indie drama, “Mother and Child,” directed by Rodrigo Garcia. He received an Image Award and an Independent Spirit Award nomination for his work.  Jackson was also seen in Marvel’s “Iron Man 2” as ‘Nick Fury,’ after making a surprise cameo appearance in “Iron Man” in 2008.  He reprised the role in “Captain America” in the summer of 2011.

Currently, Jackson is in production on Marvel’s “The Avengers,”as Nick Fury, another film in his unprecedented nine-picture deal with Marvel.   “The Avengers” will be released in May 2012.

Jackson’s career began onstage upon his graduation from Morehouse College in Atlanta with a degree in dramatic arts.  Among the plays were Home, A Soldier’s Play,Sally/Prince and The District Line. He also originated roles in two of August Wilson’s plays at Yale Repertory Theatre.  For the New York Shakespeare Festival, Jackson appeared in Mother Courage and Her Children, Spell #7, and The Mighty Gents.

In 2008, Jackson’s films included the Neil LaBute thriller, “Lakeview Terrace,” which premiered at the Deauville Film Festival, followed by the Dimension Studios comedy“Soul Men,” alongside the late Bernie Mac, and the Frank Miller action drama “The Spirit,” in which he portrayed the nemesis, “Octopus.” Also in 2008, Jackson starred in the Doug Liman directed sci-fi, action film, “Jumper” for 20th Century Fox.

In 2007, Jackson had a starring role in the acclaimed drama “Resurrecting the Champ,” and a co-starring role in the very successful horror film for the Weinstein Co., “1408,” based on the Stephen King novel. Earlier that year, Jackson starred in the Craig Brewer film “Black Snake Moan,” and Irwin Winkler’s MGM war drama “Home of the Brave.

In 2006, Jackson starred in the cult classic film “Snakes on a Plane,” directed by David Ellis. Jackson also starred opposite Julianne Moore in Revolution Studio’s“Freedomland,” directed by Joe Roth, based on the best-selling novel of the same name. He also appeared as ‘Agent Derrick Vann’ in New Line’s “The Man,” opposite Eugene Levy.

In early 2005, Jackson topped the opening weekend box office charts with the success of the Paramount Pictures film, “Coach Carter.” Jackson portrayed real-life high school basketball coach, ‘Ken Carter’, a dedicated role model and advocate for students succeeding in the classroom as well as on the basketball court. “Coach Carter” was screened as the opening night film of the prestigious Palm Springs Film Festival.   Jackson received the Career Achievement Award for Acting from the Festival.

Jackson also starred in the indie film opposite Juliette Binoche in the Sony Classics, “In My Country,” based on the best-selling novel, “Country of My Skull,” by South African writer, Antije Krog.  Jackson portrayed an American reporter coping with the aftermath of apartheid as his newspaper assigns him to cover the Truth and Reconciliation Trials, established by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. “In My Country” was directed by John Boorman and produced by Bob Chartoff and Mike Medavoy.

In 2005, Jackson reprised his role as ‘Agent Augustus Gibbons’ in “XXX: State of the Union” and as ‘Mace Windu’ in “Star Wars:  Episode III – The Revenge of the Sith.” To no one’s surprise, “Star Wars:  Episode III – The Revenge of the Sith” made an incredible impact at the box office, breaking numerous opening day records.

In 2004, Jackson “appeared” as the character ‘Frozone’ in the Disney animated action-adventure film, “The Incredibles,” which was released to record box office results. The film was directed and written by Brad Bird and earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture as well as two Academy Award nominations.

In 2003, Jackson starred in “S.W.A.T” for Columbia TriStar. Directed by Clark Johnson, “S.W.A.T.” is about an arrested drug kingpin who is transported by a Los Angeles Police Department S.W.A.T. team and led out of the city and into Federal custody. Plans go awry when the kingpin offers $100 million to anyone who can free him.  Colin Farrell and Michelle Rodriguez are also in the film.

In 2002, Jackson starred with Ben Affleck in the box office and critical success, Paramount’s “Changing Lanes.” Jackson delivered an intense yet sympathetic performance of a father who was down on his luck, but intent on getting even with the man that wronged him. Also in 2002, Jackson starred and executive produced the Sony/ Screen Gems film “Formula 51,” with Robert Carlyle; co-starred in the sci-fi thriller,“XXX”; and reprised his role as ‘Mace Windu’ in the second installment of George Lucas’“Stars Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.”

In 2001, Jackson starred in Jersey Franchise/Universal’s “Caveman’s Valentine.”Directed by Kasi Lemmons, the film followed the story of a homeless man in New York City who discovered a murder.  Jackson also served as an executive producer on the project, which was the most successful independent film of the year.  This was Jackson’s second project with Kasi Lemmons with the first being the applauded, “Eve’s Bayou,”which he also produced in 1997.

In 2000, Jackson co-starred opposite Bruce Willis in writer/director M. Night Shyamalan’s suspense drama, “Unbreakable” for Disney. Jackson’s character, ‘Elijah Price,’ a highly suspicious and wheelchair-bound man with a far-fetched theory, holds the key to the film’s underlying question of, “Are You Unbreakable?”

Also in 2000, Jackson starred in John Singleton’s “Shaft” in the title role opposite Christian Bale and Vanessa Williams. Jackson also starred in Paramount’s courtroom drama “Rules of Engagement” where he played Col. Terry Childers, a military officer on trial for ordering his soldiers to open fire on civilians.  Directed by William Friedkin, the film co-starred Tommy Lee Jones.  Both “Shaft” and “Rules of Engagement” were screened at the 2000 Deauville Film Festival, where Jackson was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 1999, Jackson starred in Warner Bros. “Deep Blue Sea” for director Renny Harlin. Jackson also made a cameo appearance in George Lucas’ highly successful and popular“Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace.” In 1998, Jackson also starred in “The Negotiator” and in Francois Girard’s “The Red Violin.”

In 1997, Jackson starred in “Jackie Brown,” his second film with director Quentin Tarantino.  For the latter he received a Golden Globe nomination and the Silver Bear Award for Best Actor in a Comedy at the Berlin Film Festival.  Later that year he starred in “187.”

Jackson starred opposite Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey and

Kevin Spacey in Joel Schumacher’s 1996 film “A Time to Kill,” an adaptation of the famous John Grisham novel. For his performance Jackson received a Golden Globe nomination and an NAACP Image Award.  He also starred opposite Bruce Willis in “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” the top-grossing movie internationally in 1995.

In 1991, Jackson made movie history with his portrayal of a crack addict in Spike Lee’s“Jungle Fever” when he was awarded the first and only Best Supporting Performance Award ever given by the judges at the Cannes Film Festival.  He also won the New York Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor for that performance.

His other film credits include “Twisted,” “Sphere,” “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” “Hard Eight,” “Kiss of Death,” “Losing Isaiah” and “Amos and Andrew.” Additional film credits include: “Ragtime,” “Sea of Love,” “Coming to America,” “Ray,” “Do the Right Thing,” “School Daze,” “Mo’ Better Blues,” “Goodfellas,” “Strictly Business,” “White Sands,” “ Patriot Games,” “Jumpin’ at the Boneyard,” “Father and Sons,” “Juice,” “Fresh” and “True Romance.”

On the small screen, Jackson serves as Executive Producer for the animated series for Spike TV, “Afro Samurai which premiered in 2007 and returned for a third season in January 2009.  The series received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Animated Program from the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences. The first edition of the “Afro Samurai” video game launched in February 2009. A film version of “Afro Samurai” is in development with the Indomina Group for which Jackson is one of the producers. In October 2009, Jackson’s UppiTV secured two projects at CBS, a multi-camera comedy from writer Bob Kushell and a medical drama from writer Andrea Newman. In 2010, Jackson extended a first-look television deal with CBS Studios and their properties to produce and develop upcoming projects for another two years. Jackson and Neil LaBute are currently developing a series for Showtime.

On television, in addition to “The Sunset Limited,” Jackson starred in John Frankenheimer’s Emmy Award-winning “Against the Wall” for HBO.  His performance earned him a Cable Ace nomination as Best Supporting Actor in a Movie or Miniseries, as well as a Golden Globe nomination.

220px-Condoleezza_Rice_croppedCondoleezza Rice in February 2005

Early Life – Rice was born in Birmingham, Alabama, the only child of Angelena (née Ray) Rice, a high school science, music, and oratory teacher, and John Wesley Rice, Jr., a high school guidance counselor and Presbyterian minister.  Her name, Condoleezza, derives from the music-related term, con dolcezza, which in Italian means, “with sweetness.” Rice has roots in the American Southgoing back to the pre-Civil War era, and some of her ancestors worked as sharecroppers for a time after emancipation. Rice discovered on the PBS series Finding Your Roots that she is of 51% African, 40% European and 9% Asian or Native American genetic descent, while her mtDNA is traced back to the Tikar people of Cameroon. Rice grew up in the Titusville neighborhood of Birmingham, and then Tuscaloosa, Alabama, at a time when the South was racially segregated.

Early Education

Condoleezza Rice as an undergraduate student at the University of Denver

Rice began to learn French, music, figure skating and ballet at the age of three.  At the age of fifteen, she began piano classes with the goal of becoming a concert pianist.  While Rice ultimately did not become a professional pianist, she still practices often and plays with a chamber music group. She accompanied cellist Yo-Yo Ma playing Brahms’s Violin Sonata in D Minor at Constitution Hall in April 2002 for the National Medal of Arts Awards.

High school and University Education

In 1967, the family moved to DenverColorado. She attended St. Mary’s Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school in Cherry Hills VillageColorado, graduating at the age of 16 in 1971. After studying piano at the Aspen Music Festival and School, Rice enrolled at the University of Denver, where her father was then serving as an assistant dean.

Rice’s initial college major was piano, but after realizing she did not have the talent to play professionally, she began to consider an alternative major.  She attended an international politics course taught by Josef Korbel, which sparked her interest in the Soviet Union and international relations. Rice later described Korbel (who was the father of Madeleine Albright, a future U.S. Secretary of State), as a central figure in her life.

In 1974, at age 19, Rice was inducted into the honor society Phi Beta Kappa, and was awarded a B.A.cum laude, in political scienceby the University of Denver. While at the University of Denver she was a member of Alpha Chi Omega, Gamma Delta chapter.  She obtained a master’s degree in political science from the University of Notre Dame in 1975. She first worked in the State Department in 1977, during the Carter administration, as an intern in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. She would also study Russian at Moscow State University in the summer of 1979, and intern with the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California.  In 1981, at the age of 26, she received her Ph.D. in political science from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Her dissertation centered on military policy and politics in what was then the communist state of Czechoslovakia.

From 1980-1981, she was a fellow at Stanford University‘s Arms Control and Disarmament Program, having won a Ford Foundation Duel Expertise Fellowship in Soviet Studies and International Security.  The award granted a year-long fellowship at Harvard,StanfordColumbia UniversityMassachusetts Institute of Technology or University of California Los Angeles – Rice contacted both Harvard and Stanford but claims Harvard ignored her.  Her fellowship at Stanford began her academic affiliation with the University and time in Northern California.

Early Political Views

Rice was a Democrat until 1982, when she changed her political affiliation to Republican, in part because she disagreed with the foreign policy of Democratic President Jimmy Carter, and because of the influence of her father, who was Republican. As she told the 2000 Republican National Convention, “My father joined our party because the Democrats in Jim Crow Alabama of 1952 would not register him to vote. The Republicans did.”

fiyo-simmons-155Ruth J. Simmons

Was sworn in as the 18th president of Brown University on July 3, 2001. She also holds an appointment as professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Department of Africana Studies. She was president of Smith College from 1995 until the time of her appointment at Brown.

A native of Texas and a 1967 graduate of Dillard University in New Orleans, Simmons received her Ph.D. in Romance languages and literatures from Harvard University in 1973. She is fluent in French and has written on the works of David Diop and Aime Cesaire.

In 1983, after serving as associate dean of the graduate school at the University of Southern California, Simmons joined the Princeton University administration. She remained at Princeton for seven years, leaving in 1990 for two years to serve as provost at Spelman College. Returning to Princeton in 1992 as vice provost, she remained at the university until June 30, 1995.  In 1995 she became president of Smith College, the largest women’s college in the United States, where she launched a number of strategic initiatives to strengthen the college’s academic programs and inaugurated the first engineering program at a U.S. women’s college.

Simmons is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the American Philosophical Society, and the Council on Foreign Relations.  She serves on a number of boards, including the Dillard University’s Board of Trustees, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Texas Instruments.  She was appointed by President Obama as a member of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships.  Active in a wide range of educational, charitable, and civic endeavors, she holds honorary degrees from numerous colleges and universities, including Amherst College, Bard College, Howard University, Dillard University, Princeton University, Lake Forest College, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Dartmouth College, Boston University, Northeastern University, New York University, University of Pennsylvania, Mount Holyoke College, Washington University in St. Louis, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, The George Washington University, Columbia University, Harvard University, Ewha Womans University in Korea, University of Southern California, Tougaloo College, Jewish Theological Seminary, University of Toronto, Providence College, University of Vermont, Morehouse College, Spelman College, Union College, The American College of Greece, Wesleyan University, Rhode Island School of Design, and Morgan State University.

Simmons is the recipient of a number of prizes and fellowships, including the German DAAD and a Fulbright Fellowship to France. In 1997 she was awarded the Centennial Medal from Harvard University, in 1999 the Teachers College Medal for Distinguished Service from Columbia University, and in 2001 the President’s Award from the United Negro College Fund. She has been honored with the 2002 Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal and the 2002 “Drum Major for Justice” education award from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference/W.O.M.E.N. In 2004 she received the ROBIE Humanitarian Award, given by the Jackie Robinson Foundation; the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal; and the chairman’s award of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. She was selected as a Newsweek “person to watch” and as a Ms. Woman of the Year in 2002.  In 2001 Time magazine named her America’s best college president, and in 2007 she was named one of U. S. News & World Report’s top U.S. leaders and – for the second time – a Glamour magazine Woman of the Year.  In 2010 she was awarded an Ellis Island Medal of Honor and a Foreign Policy Association award.

In recent years, Simmons, an articulate spokesperson and writer, has written and delivered papers or presentations on a wide array of educational and public policy issues, including institutional governance, foreign language study, diversity, liberal arts, science education, leadership, and women in higher education. Among numerous educational institutions and national forums, she has been a featured speaker at the White House, the World Economic Forum, the National Press Club, the Association of American Universities, and the American Council on Education. In September 2001 ABC News tapped her to serve as a respondent during its live telecast following President Bush’s address to Congress.

During her tenure at Brown University, Simmons has created an ambitious set of initiatives designed to expand and strengthen the faculty; increase financial support and resources for undergraduate, graduate, and medical students; improve facilities; renew a broad commitment to shared governance; and ensure that diversity informs every dimension of the university.  These initiatives have led to a major investment of new resources in Brown’s educational mission and a successful $1.6 billion campaign.

As an academic leader, Simmons believes in the power of education to transform lives. She champions the university as a haven of reasoned debate with the responsibility to challenge students intellectually and prepare them to become informed, conscientious citizens.  She has spent her career advocating for a leadership role for higher education in the arena of national and global affairs.

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