Actor balances Hollywood roles and his work serving the homeless

In his long and impressive acting career, Afemo Omilami has appeared in movies that starred Jennifer Lawrence, Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hanks and Tyler Perry.

In his tenure with Hosea Helps, long known as Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless, he has spent time with people on the opposite end of society’s spectrum.

The two divergent roles temper each other, and Omilami himself.

“Hosea Feeds the Hungry has given me the foundation to stay sane as a creative person, so I wouldn’t be so obsessed with the (acting) work,” he said. “At the first part of your career, that’s what you’re obsessed with. That could be me, had not this (advocacy) work said, ‘Hey wait a minute.’ That has balanced my life.”

Omilami has recently portrayed police Chief Holloway on the HBO series “True Detective,” with Matthew McConaughey, Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Rachel McAdams, Michelle Monaghan, Kelly Reilly and Vince Vaughn.

Afemo Omilami as Chief Holloway in "True Detective." Photo: HBO

Afemo Omilami as Chief Holloway in “True Detective.” Photo: HBO

More importantly, he recently celebrated his 38th wedding anniversary with Elisabeth Omilami, daughter of the late Rev. Hosea Williams and CEO of the organization that carries on her father’s legacy.

A Petersburg, Va., native, Afemo Omilami met his future father-in-law before he met his wife. He got to know the crusading civil rights activist during his time at Morehouse College. He was inspired the minute he met the irrepressible and forthright Williams.

“He said, ‘I’m feeding these people. I need you college students to help me,’” Omilami recalled. “I said, ‘Yes.’ That’s how I started being involved with him.”

Afemo Omilami and his wife Elisabeth Omilami carry on the work of the late Rev. Hosea Williams. Photo: Jennifer Brett

Afemo Omilami and his wife Elisabeth Omilami carry on the work of the late Rev. Hosea Williams. Photo: Jennifer Brett

He met Elisabeth, an actress, while working on a play called, presciently enough, “Contributions.”

These days, Omilami is in talks about several filming projects and is getting ready for the Labor of Love job fair planned for 10 a.m-3 p.m. Thursday at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park.

The event will feature job readiness training, interview preparation and resume review. More than 40 companies looking to hire workers will have representatives on-site. Free groceries and school supplies will be distributed as well. For details see 4hosea.org/page/labor-of-love.

Omilami’s work as chief operating officer at the nonprofit informs the characters he has portrayed in films such as “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” “The Good Lie,” “Forrest Gump” and “Madea’s Family Reunion.”

“It keeps me grounded. It keeps my heart broken and considerate,” he said. “It leaves me open to explore, what if this was my life? All this is fertilizer for potential for all these characters.”

Omilami also is a respected member of Atlanta’s live theater community. AJC theater reviewer Bert Osborne praised his “towering portrayal” in a 2011 performance of Nathan Louis Jackson’s play “Broke-ology” at True Colors Theatre.

Afemo Omilami and Phylicia Rashad in a stage performance of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" written by Todd Kreidler and directed by Kenny Leon, based on the screenplay "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" by William Rose. AJC file photo/ Tyson Alan Horne / The Horne Brothers

Afemo Omilami and Phylicia Rashad in a stage performance of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” written by Todd Kreidler and directed by Kenny Leon, based on the screenplay “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” by William Rose. AJC file photo/ Tyson Alan Horne / The Horne Brothers

He’s grateful for the success he’s had onstage and in films, and is inspired by the work he does with Atlanta’s neediest.

“I feel appreciated,” Omilami said. “I feel honored when people really get the message and respect what you do.”


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