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Malik Yoba: From Reels to Real Estate

Malik -a moniker meaning chief, leader, and king in various languages- Yoba lifted off in the 90s as Detective J.C. Williams on the hit hip-hop-inspired police procedural New York Undercover, and he continues his climb to icon status to this day, on the big and small screen with mainstream roles in Empire, Why Did I Get Married and a recurring role on the Last O.G. 

But, the distinguished and highly accomplished Mr. Yoba is more than just an O.G. on screen and stage. 

He’s a man who embodies his name, leading and achieving in his work as a philanthropist, father, founder, and flat-out living legend. He’s the epitome of hard work, longevity and self-empowerment through education and enterprise. 

I’m confident that after 30+ years of continued success in acting, education, real estate- through yobadevelopment.com, promoting black fatherhood and inspiring others in his (Black) community to break generational curses and build long lasting legacies, Malik the chief’s work is far from finished.

Who do you want the world to remember you as? What do you want your legacy to be after all is said and done? My legacy will be about… He cared. He gave. He left the world and places he occupied better than they were when he found them. I really feel like the work that I’m doing right now is the legacy work, around equity and generational wealth building, particularly in the space of the real estate community and economic development and education. The film career has been great, but where I am with Yoba Development, that is really what I feel.

My legacy will be the work that we do at the intersection of education, real estate development, and community development, and the storytelling that’s really what I feel it’s going to be. He made life in the world better for other people.

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People know you as a thespian, do you have another talent that you haven’t shared with the world yet? I think that you know, yes, people know me as a thespian or an artist in general, and a musician as well. But I feel like my talent as a business person, and the ability to galvanize people around strong ideas, and motivate people to take action, is something that I’m experiencing at a level I haven’t experienced before, particularly as, again, back to real estate

and education and what we’re doing is really a unicorn. I’ve not encountered another real estate company that is at the intersection of education and the media and storytelling. I would say my talents and business around, strategy around how to really make cooperative economics work, how to lift as we climb.

What would you consider your best acting role? Worst acting role? Dream role? My best acting role is probably Cool Runnings. I was able to fulfill a dream with that one. When I was 13, I knew that I wanted to bobsled. I never thought it would be (featured) in the context of a movie. So, in terms of dream fulfillment, that would be the best. So, the worst acting role…That’s always a tough question because I’m truly grateful for every role I’ve been given. However, if I had to choose, Empire was probably my least favorite experience. I felt like my character could have been developed more. Ultimately, you know, they killed the character off which they can do, that’s their shit. But that’s the role where I felt the most uncomfortable, long before they killed the character. 

I think my dream role is when I do my one-man show, as I’ve done where I play almost 20 characters. That to me is like the best role because I get to play, you know, and that I’m the writer, I’m the creator, and I get to exercise all these talents that most people have never seen.

Tell us about a defining moment in your career. Um, I think there have been many. I feel like I’m in the middle of one right now in this where I am, again, as a business person and being able to bring together my passions, working in the arts and storytelling, working in education, and working in business, particularly real estate. What I’m creating with Yoba Development is not just defining, but it’s redefining. And it’s the thing I’m most excited about at this point.

What advice would you give the high school version of yourself? The advice I always give people is to build your own generator, so when they turn off the power you can light your own path. Don’t just sit around waiting on a job.

Tell us a little bit about the “fatherhood project”. What was the inspiration being the movement? How would you describe your journey as a black father in America? I founded the Fatherhood Project in 1998 as a young father who was looking for support as I was taking my kid’s mom to court for custody. At that time there weren’t many resources, support groups or information for me.

So, I felt that I needed to provide the very thing that I was looking for, which was a way for men to be able to share resources and information and give each other support as we assert ourselves as responsible fathers.

What are some of the challenges you are currently facing or have overcome in your real estate investment journey? I think the challenges are always around education because, you know, there are all kinds. I’m like just this morning, you know, I’m on a call about a development site that we’re partnering on and just all the details of what it takes to manage the city, those relationships.  It was always a challenge around raising funds. It’s a never-ending story in terms of what you have to learn because each deal is different. And so, fortunately, I have some great mentors and business partners when I run into these challenges. I can reach out to them and say “Hey! This is what I’m faced with. Please help me figure out what’s the best approach to make this happen.” 

A lot of folks like to, again, spread the narrative that Black people don’t work well together, and we can’t do business together. That’s simply not true. It’s true for some people in certain circumstances, but I can absolutely tell you my journey over the last seventeen years in real estate development wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for Black men in particular.  There are about four or five brothers that have been constant supporters and mentors to me. Some are younger, some older, and some the same age, but they see my work ethic and they continuously pour into me. 

And then of course, there’s God and Google. 

White double breasted shawl lapel tuxedo (jacket and pant) by Garcon Couture, garconcouture.com Blue bowtie by Garcon Couture, garconcouture.com White tuxedo shirt by Sayki, Sayki.com Gold Black panther cufflinks by Johnny Nelson, johnnynelson.nyc Black patent leather shoes by Sayki, Sayki.com

One thing that brings you joy and that you are unapologetic about? Honestly, the thing that brings me a lot of joy is knowing that I was able to help someone discover something about themselves. It’s a gift and an opportunity to see them flourish. I love hiring people. I love being able just to see people live out their dreams because I feel incredibly fortunate. 

I’ve pretty much never worked in an environment that I didn’t want to work on. You know, sometimes you get there, like I mentioned, and a particular production may not be the most pleasant environment. But in terms of how I’ve made money, how I’ve been able to sustain myself and take care of myself, and my family, it’s been about doing things that I actually love. And a lot of people don’t have that benefit.And so anything that I can do to help other people have that type of life experience, I take that seriously, and that’s a joy.

Check out Malik Yoba in his role as Police Chief Sam Johnson on the popular Netflix film The Good Nurse, and check out his real estate development work at “Yoba Development.”

Photographer/Producer: Francesca Andre

Associate Producer: Maxine St Louis

Wardrobe Stylist: Tuesdai Win

Groomer: Daryon Haylock