by L.A. Warren
Jackson State University theater professor Yohance Myles overcame many obstacles growing up to become a highly regarded theater performance instructor and Hollywood actor. He’s played many characters in film and onstage, having recently completed dramatic roles in Fox’s Shots Fired and OWN’s Queen Sugar.
After surviving life-threatening conditions as a teenager in his Alabama neighborhood, Myles, 37, carved a career as an instructor and actor. In Shots Fired, he portrayed the father of a son who witnessed the fatal shooting of an unarmed white college student by an African-American police officer. In Queen Sugar, he’s the love interest of lead character Nova (Rutina Wesley). His dedication to his craft has resulted in other major network appearances: NBC, CBS, AMC, CW, Lifetime and Sci-Fi.
Growing up, however, he had to fight foes and navigate his once-upscale community that had become overrun by drugs and violence from a notorious gang known as the Bloods. Unfortunately, high school didn’t provide a haven because it, too, was invaded by menacing rivals such as the Crips and Disciples in Birmingham.
Gang members didn’t harass Myles, his sister and three brothers because the siblings’ mother taught ringleaders and their followers. By high school, many of the gangbangers had been imprisoned or killed. Another struggle for Myles was being raised in a household headed by a single-parent mother of five children. It was not until he was 34 that he got to speak to his father for the first time since age 5. During that void, Myles had started his own family, enrolled in college and embarked on a fulfilling career.
Reminiscing, he said, “Going to college was a beautiful yet painful period of growth for me because I started my family at a young age.” Eventually, he graduated from Alabama State University in 2006, but because of the responsibility of caring for three boys it took him eight years to complete his undergraduate studies.
Now, life is good for the actor-professor who has taught nearly seven years in the Department of Art and Theatre in the College of Liberal Arts.
Today, he is a husband and father whose newest addition is 5-month-old Jackson Morgan Myles.
This brings his total offspring to four sons and a daughter. His wife of four years is former Miss Mississippi Kimberly Morgan Myles, who was crowned in 2007. Subsequently, she placed in the Top 10 of the 2008 Miss America pageant and is his staunchest supporter.
Myles’ acting career began when he was threatened with suspension in high school for being a “silly kid and the class clown.” He pleaded for clemency from school administrators and vowed repentance to avoid the wrath of his stern mother who, after being laid off as a schoolteacher, began working in the correctional system.
To avoid punishment for misbehavior, school officials gave him an ultimatum — straighten up within a month or face suspension. Myles was then instructed to work out an agreement with the drama teacher, who eventually taught him the basics of acting and sent him to competitions.
Myles credits JSU alum and renowned actress Dr. Tonea Stewart for his success as a performer. While at JSU, she was instrumental in the development of its theater department and was Myles’ instructor at his alma mater, Alabama State University. Stewart has appeared in the film A Time to Kill and is best known for her television role in In the Heat of the Night.
As an instructor himself, Myles said he finds joy in the classroom with his students because “they have done a great job with helping me to grow.” In return, he stays current on the changes in his field so that they can learn from his experiences.
His next film role is Created Equal, an acclaimed story led by renowned director Bill Duke and set in present-day New Orleans. It’s a riveting drama about a Catholic nun who wants to become a priest. She files a lawsuit against the archdiocese of New Orleans for sexual discrimination. Myles plays one of the lead defense attorneys named Willis Tompkins, aka Silk.
“We’re trying to do whatever we can to help her pursue religious freedom and equality,” Myles said. A nationwide release is expected this month or early next year.
Despite his hectic schedule, Myles directed the esteemed stage play Drums of Sweet Water by noted playwright Thomas Meloncon. The story takes place in 1968. It focuses on mental awareness and wellness and the plight of the African-American male then and now. It was presented Nov. 9-13 in the Rose E. McCoy Auditorium on the main campus in collaboration with Tougaloo College’s theater department.
His message to students is to “understand and know who you are” as the film industry continues to struggle with achieving colorblind casting. He says race remains an obstruction. Despite barriers, he suggests that performers improve their skills by learning the business and “know what roles you’re fit for when choosing and reading scripts.”
He especially wants students to feel comfortable asking questions. “Doing so doesn’t lower your standards or your IQ. Eventually, you’ll learn that time and experience equate to wisdom.”